D.C. Mayor Marion Barry has removed the chairman of the D.C. Hacker's License Appeal Board, which hears complaints against cabdrivers. At the same time, the board is searching for ways to fight a proposal to strip the board of its powers.
The actions come at a time when the City Council is considering a bill aimed at weeding out drivers who violate hacker regulations by engaging in such behavior as refusing to transport people to some destinations, the most common complaint.
Robert O.D. Thompson, administrator for transportation systems, said that the hacker's board chairman, Joan Bailey, was recently replaced because of perceived conflicts with City Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), the sponsor of the proposed taxicab legislation.
Thompson said that Bailey felt that she had been placed on the spot and "unnecessarily chastised publicly" by Crawford during a public hearing on the taxicab bill.
Bailey declined to comment on her ouster as chairman.
During that hearing, Crawford had demanded to know why Bailey had not come prepared to testify on the bill. Crawford indicated that he had asked Bailey to be prepared and questioned her ability to be responsive to the public.
The two had clashed before. In July Crawford appeared before a hacker's board hearing chaired by Bailey in connection with a complaint he had filed alleging that two cabdrivers had failed to transport him. Crawford became angry, called the hearing a waste of time, dropped his complaint and stormed out.
"Rather than to get into a situation where her credibility was questioned," said Thompson, " . . . I felt it would be easier for the department to recommend the appointment of a new chair, which is what he [Crawford] seemed to be asking for anyway."
Although he said Bailey should have been prepared to testify, Thompson said that Bailey, who assumed the chairmanship this summer, could have received better advice from his department. Nevertheless, the Department of Public Works recommended that the mayor appoint a new hacker's board chairman, Thompson said.
The mayor appointed Stanley K. Foshee, who works as a hearing examiner for the city's traffic adjudication division, another part of the public works department. Bailey remains on the board, Thompson said.
The 13-member hacker's board is made up of one government representative, six from the taxicab industry and six city residents. Each complaint filed with the board is heard by a three-member panel. Board members estimate that there is a backlog of about 200 cases.
Meanwhile, Thompson acknowledged that he met with board members on Monday and proposed using hearing examiners who now hear minor traffic cases to also decide the taxi complaints.
Thompson stressed that his proposal, which would confine the hacker's board to hearing appeals of the hearing examiners' decisions, is not an official proposal and it had not been presented to the mayor.
"I think I can more effectively run that operation by assigning a hearing examiner," said Thompson, a former hacker's board chairman. "It would be a more orderly process. There is a tendency to creep into a backlog of cases mainly because of the number of people involved."
But board members have taken the proposal very seriously, and in a heated meeting with Thompson charged that a single hearing examiner would be an unfair method.
"We don't like it at all," said William J. Wright, a board member and the chairman of the Taxicab Industry Group. "We feel that there would be hearing examiners who may not understand the problems of hackers. There would be no industry representative as there is now, and we feel that that is crucial to giving the hackers a fair shake."
Wright said that some board members plan to appeal to the mayor to allow the board to continue hearing complaints.
Meanwhile, the City Council is scheduled to vote on Crawford's bill on Tuesday. The bill has been changed substantially and is expected to be further amended to drop a two-year residency requirement for all drivers, including those who already have a license, and a provision that would require all drivers to take a college training course on industry regulations and to learn their way around the District.