It all started when the city's top lawyer blew the whistle on free parking for members of the D.C. City Council, who were shocked to get past-due parking bills for more than $15,000.
It will probably end soon with the council not just excusing itself from paying past and future parking fees, but also giving free spaces to the top lawyer, Louis P. Robbins, and eight other high-ranking city officials.
What the council must do to make this possible is to pass a bill innocently titled the "Enactment of Resolution No. 1-137 Act of 1978," introduced on Tuesday, which would now enact a law the council thought it had approved in 1976.
In 1976 the council passed Resolution No. 1-137 saying that parking fees of $45 a month that had been instituted in 1973 on a city-owned lot outside the District Building did not apply to council members.
Earlier this year, Robbins ruled that the resolution was legally ineffective, and that the council had to pass an "act" - that is, a law, which must be signed by the mayor and reviewed by Congress.
On the heels of the ruling, the city's Department of General Services sent about $15,000 in past-due bills to council members. Some paid, and some grumbled, and the issue was finally dumped in the lap of the council's lawyer, Edward B. Webb Jr., for a solution.
Webb's staff drafted a simple measure that would turn the 1976 resolution into an act, and make it retroactive to 1976, thus excusing any past-due bills. Webb suggested that the bill be passed as emergency legislation, putting it into effect immediately on passage for 90 days until permanent legislation could be enacted.
Robbins, whose advice was sought on the new bill, balked at the emergercy provision, saying that would require "a condition of crisis" - something that hardly describes overdue parking fees.
Robbins also suggested that the council "should consider expanding [free parking for] designated executive branch officials or employes" who park in the same lot.
The council's administration committee, which considered the bill on Wednesday, agreed, and authorized free parking for eight high-ranking officials who now occupy free spaces. Robbins is among them.
The lot contains 24 spaces. Of those, 12 are assigned to council members and four to high-ranking council employes. Council Chairman Sterling space, as does Mayor Walter E. Washington.
The charge for parking was begun in 1973 to encourage city employes to use mass transit. Similar charges are made it other city-owned lots.
Sam D. Starobin, director of general services, said a list compiled by his office in August showed that nine council members then owed $1,050 each. They were Democrats Arrington, Dixon, Willie J. Hardy, Nadine P. Winter, Polly Shackleton, John A. Wilson, David A. Clarke, Douglas E. Moore and William R. Spaulding and Republican Jerry A. Moore Jr., sponsor of the free-forgiving bill.