D.C. City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, impatient with one of the council's committee chairmen for failing to approve legislation authorizing a cable television system in the city, yesterday moved to speed matters by introducing his own bill.
He claimed that his bill could bring a cable system to the District of Columbia within two years.
Cable television legislation has been languishing in the Public Services and Consumer Affairs Committee chaired by council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) for months, sparking criticism from community groups that the council was dragging its feet on the issue. Some private cable operators have warned that, unless the city moves soon, it could become one of the last major cities in the country without a cable system.
Dixon yesterday said he planned to bypass Rolark with his bill by sending it directly to the full council -- without having it considered by her committee.
Rolark said the unusual maneuver caught her "as a lightning surprise." She criticized Dixon's bill as unnecessary and duplicative of her own legislation and said she planned to object to the chairman's tactic at a council meeting today.
The flap over cable television apparently is only the latest in a series of policy disputes between Dixon and Rolark that has tied up several major pieces of legislation. Besides the cable bill, Rolark's panel also has been sitting on a no-fault auto insurance bill that Dixon sponsored and actively championed. Rolark, a lawyer, says she is opposed to the concept of no-fault car insurance.
Dixon has refused to schedule full council consideration of two bills that passed Rolark's committee nearly a month ago -- a bill on auto repossessions and a measure that prevents city hotels from signing exclusive contracts with individual cab companies. Dixon said he had "policy concerns" about both matters.
Dixon yesterday denied that he was feuding with Rolark.
Under Dixon's cable television bill, a 13-member Cable Design Commission would be appointed that would formulate guidelines for a cable franchise in the city and review applications by potential bidders. The commission would then make recommendations to the council, which would have final power to award a city cable franchise.
Under Dixon's timetable, the design commission would issue "requests for proposals" by next June and make its recommendation to the council by September.
A cable bill that Rolark drafted, on which no action has been taken, calls for the creation of a 15-member Design Commission to formulate guidelines. It also would require that 10 percent of the city's cable channels be operated by the city and creates an Office of Telecommunications to oversee their operation.
Rolark noted that the two bills are essentially similar, but they differ in several respects. Under Dixon's bill, he would appoint the chairman of the cable commission. Under Rolark's bill, she would name the chairman.
Both bills presuppose that the city will turn to a privately owned cable system. They thus implicitly reject the recommendations of a cable task force appointed by Mayor Marion Barry that the city consider some form of public or quasi-public ownership.