Seeking to deflect political and governmental fallout from a critical Labor Department report, the D.C. City Council voted yesterday to adopt stiff rules to bar future abuses in a federal jobs program.
The new rules prohibit preferential hiring for council jobs under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program, limit salaries to $12,500 a year and require rotation of jobs at least every 15 months.
They also firmly put control of the City Council's 60 CETA employes under council staff officials rather than elected council members.
Proposed by Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, a mayoral candidate who has been stung by reports of past abuses in the council's CETA program, the rules were adopted by voice vote. At least one of the 10 council members, John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), voted no.
Adoption of the new rules came when the CETA program is under three-pronged attack nationally and locally. As a measure of the urgency felt by council members, they interrupted a six-week summer recess for yesterday's extraordinary session.
For the council, the issue exploded July 17 when the Labor Department reported it had found at least 78 instances in which the hiring or aassignment of past or present CETA-paid employes violated federal guidelines.
It questioned the hiring of at least three specific CETA employes, including Lorethea Davis, the wife of a prominent dentist who is Tucker's campaign treasurer. She since has been transferred to the regular council payroll.
The report voiced concern at high wages paid several workers whose CETA pay is supplemented by city funds. Nine individuals are paid above $15,000, the report said.
To end such practices, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to prohibit the District of Columbia from supplementing CETA wages above $15,000 with city funds and to bar continued assignment of CETA employes to staffs of council committes.
Meanwhile, both the House and Senate are in the process of adopting new nationwide restrictions on CETA jobs. One House-voted provision would set a lid of $12,000 on CETA wages. Another would prohibit any city from using a CETA worker to do a job that would ordinarily be done by a regular city employe.
The council's timetable in adopting its new rules is designed to show the Labor Department that the city can deal responsibly with its affairs.
Mayor Walter E. Washington, who has responsibility for the city's CETA program, must file a response to last month's Labor Department report by Thursday, and the council's new rules are expected to accompany that response.
If the response is not satisfactory to the Labor Department, the city must be required to repay several hundred thousand dollars of CETA funds to the U.S. Treasury.
The reform proposed by Tucker are 10 typewritten pages long, but the key provisions deal with hiring practices.
In the future, no potential worker can be considered for a CETA job unless he or she has been referred to the council by the D.C. Labor Department. All hiring will be done by a three-member selection panel of council staff officials.
The federal report complained that many council CETA workers were selected in advance by council members, then sent to the D.C. Labor Department for certification. Sometimes, the report said, they were hired before certification occurred.
Yesterday's action was not without some grumbling. Wilson and Marion Barry (D-At Large) both said they or their committee aides needed a say in hiring if they were to politically responsible for the work done by CETA employes.
In other matters yesterday, the council:
Approved new guidelines requiring a disclosure of any personal relationship of connection between firms doing business with the council and any member of staff official of the council.
Enacted emergency legislation giving organizations of tenants of apartment buildings 90 days to negotiate for purchase of buildings that owners plan to sell. The present law requires 45 days. The bill was sponsored chiefly by David A. Clarke (D - Ward 1).