The D.C. City Council gave final approval last night to a bill that would expand the authority of the people's counsel office under circumstances that moved some council members to laughter and others to a bitter shouting match.
The council also received a proposal from Mayor Marion Barry that would give the city's 10,644 employes who are not covered by collective bargaining a one-time bonus payment of 3 percent or $500, whichever is greater, to be paid in a lump sum in December.
The pay proposal was patterned after the first year of a recently negotiated three-year pay agreement with 13,640 unionized District employes. Barry asked that the council vote on the pay proposal later this month.
The measure affecting the People's Counsel, which represents consumers in utility cases, would give the office greater independence in assessing utility companies for expenses the office incurs in pursuing cases. Council members have asserted that the measure would prevent the Public Service Commission from interfering with the manner in which rate cases are conducted by the People's Counsel.
The measure also would prevent the PSC staff from advocating positions in cases as if it were a party to them. Some council members argued that such action by the staff causes confusion.
But last night, City Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) proposed an amendment that would strike the provision regarding the PSC staff. Crawford said he was introducing the amendment on behalf of City Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), who had not yet arrived, and it passed.
But when Rolark came in, she immediately began moving from one member to another, apparently indicating that the amendment did not have her support. As the members became aware of what had happened, some were overcome with laughter and City Council Chairman David A. Clarke had to recess the meeting for a time.
"He Crawford had no right to speak on my behalf on an amendment which is the opposite of what I've been arguing for three years," Rolark said when the meeting resumed. "The amendment absolutely guts the series of amendments I introduced to the bill."
Crawford apologized and said that he had confused Rolark with City Council member John Ray (D-At Large).
Rolark refused to accept his apology and urged the council to reconsider the amendment. They did, and it failed by a vote of 9 to 4.
After the meeting, Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) said the amendment had come from the PSC and was sent to all council members. She also said that the PSC had pressured the mayor to persuade the council to delay action on the bill.
Meanwhile, City Council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) said that Crawford had "read a misrepresentation into the record; I just can't believe it."
Later, Mason and Crawford got into a shouting match in Crawford's office over the latter's action.
"I'm a proud black man. I made a mistake," Crawford said.
"You made up a big lie," said Mason, moving toward Crawford.
"Hopefully, you will retire," said Crawford.
"I'll retire when I'm damn ready to," Mason shouted.
After a few more words were exchanged, the two walked away.