Mayor Marion Barry's personal staff aides, acknowledging that his political image has been damaged by his handling of the District's financial crisis, yesterday blamed a runaway city bureaucracy for many of Barry's problems. They urged the mayor to fire any department heads who were not "team players," sources said.
The recommendation that Barry be tougher on city department heads was made at an early morning meeting of the mayor's appointed staff, including his special assistants, press officers, legal staff and other top aides. The meeting called "frank and candid" by one participant, lasted nearly three hours.
Persons who attended the session said that much of the discussion centered on Barry's public image as the city's chief executive. Many of the aides felt, the sources said, that the budget crisis have revealed a deeper problem in the Barry administration: Despite nearly 18 months in office and numerous well-publicized appointments of key department heads, Barry has been unable to take control of an independent-minded bureaucracy long viewed as inefficient and unresponsive, and establish a new style of government.
People see that Marion Barry is up here, but it's still Walter Washington's government out there," said a staff member who attended the meeting. "Look around. The same people are out there as before. Some of our managers are new, and the people in the government are just running a game on them."
Sources said Barry's staff was particularly critical of department heads who have publicly attacked the mayor's proposals to solve the budget crisis. Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson, for example, has criticized proposed police department cuts, indicating that they might leave the department too thin to do its job.
"The feeling was that people are given a budget and a policy direction," one Barry adviser said. "If they can't function within those limits, then they should leave."
Sources said the mayor reacted "diplomatically" to his staff's suggestions at yesterday's meeting, and told his disgruntled aides that in his opinion there might be a "problem of communication" between his office staff and city department heads.
However, a department head who asked not to be named said he believed the criticism resulted from "paranoia". amoung Barry's close aides over political losses from the budget crisis.
"They don't really have management responsibilities and they don't have a feel for what's really happening in the deaprtments," the official said of Barry's political aides, particularly his special assistants.
"They try to make department heads click their heels," the official said. "There is resentment to that, out right opposition. They call me and say, "This is the mayor's office.' I ask them, "What the hell do you think this is?".
Many city hall observers believe that the underlying problem high-lighted by yesterday's meeting is a longstanding rift between Barry's "palace guard" of generally younger, special assistants, many of whom were campaign aides, and the several dozen department heads, some of whom are career bureaucrats, young and old.
In recent months, some department heads have rebelled against what they considered highhanded treatment by the special assistants by refusing to attend meetings of the mayor's cabinet, sources have said. Some have complained privately that political concerns surrounding the budget crisis have paralyzed other operations of the administration.
Department heads have said that new initiatives in youth employment, commercial revitalization and health care, as well as proposals to reorganize some parts of the government, have been "put on the back burner" while the administration grapples with the worsening budget crisis.
"The budget issue is distracting from long-range planning from looking at goals," one department head said.
The special assistants and other personal staff aides, on the other hand yesterday faulted department bureaucrats for program snafus that they said had contributed to the mayor's image as a chief executive not in control and not effectively running programs.
As an example of alleged failures by city agencies, the mayor's aides reportedly cited confusing information about the city's youth summer jobs program allegedly given out by the Department of Employment Services. As a result, interest in the program has lagged, with some youths saying they do not understand the regulations Last month, Barry made a personal appeal to youngsters to sign up for the jobs.
The aides also accused the Department of human Services of failing to notify clients of three city health centers that the centers were being closed because of budget cuts and that the clients would be served by other nearby facilities. The closings are now being challenged in federal court by clients who maintain, among other contentions, that they were not properly informed.