City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon had one question this week for his 12 colleagues:
"Does the council want to be independent?"
"Yes--but" came the collective answer, and the latest legislation to sever cumbersome administrative links to the mayor and give the council authority to manage its own administrative budget went back to the drawing board.
"I don't think the homework has been done," said council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1).
"I don't see the pressing need," said William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5).
"A step in the right direction," said H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7).
Why discuss it this week, asked Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3). The council has been consumed with budget issues.
"We have not had independence for 7 1/2 years," John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) said, alluding to the bill as an attempt to throw off "the yoke of slavery. I don't think two more weeks will kill us."
Dixon got the message.
"I will withdraw it today and bring it back," he said gloomily. Dixon noted that the legislation was first introduced a year ago and that a public hearing was held last fall. He encouraged the council members to tell him how the council should go about the business of independence.
Dixon's proposal is a comprehensive bill that would make major, and minor, changes in how the council operates. For the first time, it would give the council complete control over administering its own budget and a separate personnel system.
It also would give the council say-so over mundane issues, like who will clean the council chambers and stand guard at the doors.
The bill is part of Dixon's effort to make the fledgling council a clearly separate body of government, out of the administrative shadow of the mayor and the executive branch of city government.
Currently, the council is dependent on the mayor's offices for postage for sending out mail, writing checks for council services, signing off on council staff changes. The council has had a continuing battle to get Mayor Marion Barry to take it seriously on budget matters.
Though the council supports Dixon's independence efforts in general, nearly every member had a question about the plan.
Clarke, who is actively considering challenging Dixon in the Sept. 14 Democratic Primary for chairman, has suggested that Dixon's bill simply takes institutional control over the council members from the mayor and gives it to the chairman, leaving individual members no better off.
"It's not a question of independence, its a queston of control," Clarke said in an interview.
Clarke cited, among others, a provision in Dixon's bill that would give the council chairman the right to "open and manage a checking account for all funds appropriated to the council."
Several members questioned the need and cost of Dixon's provision for a separate official register of council actions, now done on a city government basis in the District Register.
Dixon has maintained all along that he is open to changes in the plan, but wants the council to act quickly on the measure.
"I don't know any business in the world that wouldn't want similar" control over it own affairs, Dixon said. He has been urging the council to play more than a "rubber stamp" role in formulating the city's budgets and said he sees the council independence as an natural extension of its oversight role.
Dixon said he would bring the bill up again in two weeks, with amendments.
CITY MAPS AVAILABLE: The District government has nine maps, one for each ward and one for the city as a whole, that show in full color the present uses of land in the District.
Primarily used by developers and zoning attorneys, the maps also are sought after by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs), civic organizations and citizens.
The wall-size maps are in English and Spanish and show a wide range of residential, commercial, institutional and other land uses, according to James Gibson, assistant city administrator for planning and development. The maps, in limited quanties, are available free in Room 401 of the District Building.