A dispute between Mayor Marion Barry and the City Council over the council's power to control mayoral decisions threatened yesterday to jeopardize a D.C. home-rule protection bill before an apparent settlement of the issue was reached last evening.
The disagreement developed when top Barry aides decided late Tuesday to withdraw the administration's support of a provision in the bill that had been sought by City Council Chairman David A. Clarke.
Clarke and aides to Barry ended up disagreeing before a Senate subcommittee yesterday, and Clarke, who said he learned of the Barry administration's change in a phone call shortly before midnight Tuesday, exploded at top Barry aides, including acting Corporation Counsel Inez Smith Reid, in a hallway outside the Senate hearing room.
"This is absolutely ridiculous," Clarke said angrily. "It's just a shame!"
The dispute centered on a section of the bill that attempted to define the council's authority to approve or disapprove mayoral actions by passing resolutions, which do not require approval of the mayor or Congress. Clarke maintains that the bill does not increase the council's power in passing disapproval resolutions, but the Barry administration believes that it might.
Following the hearing, Clarke and members of his staff met for several hours with Barry aides discussing possible modifications in the bill, and late yesterday it appeared that an agreement had been reached. A Clarke aide said that both the council chairman and City Administrator Thomas Downs had approved modified language for the measure and had sent a letter confirming this to Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.), who presided at yesterday's subcommittee hearing.
The extent to which the bill was altered was unclear last night, but Downs, who is acting in Barry's stead while the mayor is hospitalized, told a reporter last night that the new language was an attempt to respect the concerns of both the council chairman and the mayor.
The bill that caused yesterday's controversy is aimed at protecting the city's Home Rule Act--which for a decade has given the city the authority to legislate for itself--from possible court challenges that might arise from a recent Supreme Court decision declaring legislative vetoes unconstitutional.
Introduced in both the Senate and House, the bill would enable Congress to overturn city-approved legislation by a joint resolution that then would have to be approved by the president. Currently, District bills can be vetoed by a majority vote of one or both houses of Congress, depending on the type of legislation, and the veto does not require presidential approval.
The section dealing with the council's authority to pass resolutions of approval or disapproval is one Clarke said he believes is crucial to the legislation, if it is to remove any possible threat to the city's home rule authority caused by the high court's decision.
Clarke told Sen. Eagleton he was upset by the Barry administration's last-minute decision to withdraw its support for the provision. "A deal is a deal," Clarke said.
Eagleton, who said he was also surprised by the administration's decision, said, "I think this bill is in jeopardy unless we can reach some kind of accommodation."
Complicating the issue further, the House District Committee yesterday struck the section on the power of council resolutions from the House version of the bill after Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) voiced concerns similar to those of the Barry administration.
Barry aides were concerned that the section as originally drafted might fundamentally change the balance of power between the council and the mayor and might sharply increase the council's influence over mayoral actions. Parris said he was concerned that the section in question would also dramatically alter the council's relationship with Congress, enabling the council to make policy decisions without having to submit them for congressional review.
Clarke denied that the language would increase the council's power and said that it would simply affirm current practices followed by the council.
Clarke stressed that the council could use resolutions to approve or disapprove of mayoral decisions only for specific laws that include that requirement, and that such laws must be approved by the mayor and reviewed by Congress before they are enacted.