D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who has criticized Mayor Marion Barry for delaying action on a new prison, brokered an agreement yesterday that would shelve council discussion of the politically sensitive issue until after the Sept. 9 primary election.
The agreement between Barry and council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), who heads the committee with jurisdiction over the prison, calls for a public review of the mayor's plans on Sept. 10. The arrangement kills a proposal made earlier by Barry to hold extraordinary hearings on the prison during the council's recess this summer.
The move drew a stinging rebuke of Clarke from council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), who accused the council chairman of making a deal to quash debate on the prison until after the election. Barry, Clarke, Winter and four other council members are seeking reelection.
"It irks me to no end that you, of all people, a self-professed advocate for the voice of the people, would entertain such an arrangement, much less encourage it," Winter said in a letter to Clarke. "When has the leadership of the council been deferred to 'private' deals between a committee chairperson and the mayor?"
The agreement to delay the hearings came after Rolark, a staunch opponent of the prison proposal, forcefully told Barry and Clarke that she preferred to delay action until after Barry submits more detailed plans Sept. 5.
Clarke, who has repeatedly called for participation by the council in the prison planning process, said through a spokesman yesterday that he was "very happy" an agreement had been reached between Barry and Rolark, who heads the Judiciary Committee.
Although council sources said yesterday that Clarke could have maneuvered to overrule Rolark, Clarke said that any such move would violate the council's tradition of deferring to the "prerogative rights" of a committee chairman. No committee chairman has been overruled in the council's 12-year history, according to several council members and their aides.
Disclosure of the agreement was made by Barry yesterday at his monthly news conference. The mayor, responding to questions a week after inmates at the city-run Lorton Reformatory burned 14 buildings, made it clear that he intends now to cut short further discussion of prison issues. The disturbance left 32 inmates and public safety officers injured.
"You are not going to like this," Barry told reporters, "but we are not going to have much more to say about prisons from now until the end of the summer, unless there is something that breaks out, something happens at Lorton."
Acknowledging that the problems of D.C. prisons have placed him in the "hot seat," Barry said he believed further discussion would be unproductive.
"In talking with Mrs. Rolark and Mr. Clarke and others, we have come to the agreement that talking about this problem doesn't solve it," Barry said. "We have to have time and room to do it. I know that might not set well with some people in this city, but we are trying to do all we can to manage a very serious problem."
The agreement between Barry and Rolark grew out of a hurried effort by the council to respond to Barry's unexpected submission to Clarke late Monday of his prison construction timetable.
The proposal, in the form of a resolution accompanied by a letter urging hearings on the matter, was delivered by Barry aides just hours before the council began its summer recess. Clarke, forewarned by the mayor earlier in the day, attempted to formally "clock in" the resolution but the electric timer in the council secretary's office was locked up.
The next day, Gregory Mize, general counsel to the council, crafted a proposal to get around the problem and enable the body to call a special meeting to consider the resolution. Meanwhile, council members' reaction to the proposed hearings was mixed, with some members in favor and others saying they would defer to Rolark.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Rolark announced that she opposed holding hearings in the summer, arguing that the mayor's resolution was not substantive and that she preferred to examine the more detailed plans he has promised to submit Sept. 5.
Rolark said yesterday she restated her opposition later that night in a conversation with Clarke and the next morning when she called Barry. Clarke characterized his role as that of a broker between the two.
"I must say, the mayor had placed Clarke in an awkward position," Rolark said yesterday. Clarke "does respect the committee chair's authority."