D.C. Council members criticized Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday for not consulting them on several recent decisions, including his proposal to fire 1,000 city employees next year if Congress puts an additional $20 million in the District's budget to cover severance costs.
Although Williams has said that he wants to trim the city's work force, council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the finance and revenue committee, said that in months of budget meetings, the mayor never raised the idea of dismissing 1,000 workers.
Evans said Williams's proposal to Congress is the latest in a string of episodes--including a short-lived proposal last spring to relocate the University of the District of Columbia--in which the mayor has acted unilaterally. Evans said Williams is alienating council members and community leaders by not building consensus for his actions.
"There seems to be a systematic failure of consultation," Evans said. "I was not consulted at all. I think the mayor is making a major mistake by not consulting the council on these types of issues."
"This is all news to me," council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) said of the proposal to Congress. "You have to justify it and not bring these things from out of the blue. The city has tremendous service needs, and so if the mayor wants to go this route, he would certainly have to justify it to me."
Besides the mayor's payroll proposal, which was first reported by The Washington Times, Evans said the mayor recently failed to consult sufficiently with council members and community leaders on his move to oust procurement chief Richard P. Fite this week.
Schwartz said the mayor recruited a new director for the Department of Public Works and was preparing to announce the appointment without involving her, even though she heads the council's committee on public works. Schwartz said the announcement was delayed briefly at her request so she could meet the new director.
Evans said Williams also bungled a visit to neighborhoods plagued by violent crime last weekend by not including council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who has been involved in talks with neighborhood leaders about community policing.
"I was deeply offended," Graham said. "The mayor apologized to me. . . . It wasn't just about Jim Graham. It was about community policing."
Abdusalam Omer, the mayor's chief of staff, said that "Mr. Graham has a point. He should have been there."
But Omer also vigorously defended Williams, saying he consulted with the chairmen of the D.C. Council and the D.C. financial control board before sending a letter to Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.) last week outlining how he would spend an additional $60 million in federal funding next year, if it were available.
Omer said the mayor and his team are convinced that the District's payroll should be cut and are prepared to spend a third of that money on severance pay in firing about 1,000 workers.
"We need to right-size this government," Omer said yesterday. "If certain individuals don't accept the concept, we disagree. If you want to right-size it in the appropriate manner, then you have to give funds to people" who have worked for the city.
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) said she was given only an hour or two to review the mayor's letter to Istook before it was sent last week, insufficient time for her to consult the council on such a controversial proposal.
"The council ought to have an opportunity to weigh in," Cropp said. "There is great concern that the lines of communication between the mayor and council have not been what they ought to be."
Omer said the short timetable was dictated by a congressional request. He said the mayor not only consulted with Cropp but also made significant changes in his proposal so that about one-third of the spending incorporated her views. "At times like this, we do our business through the chair," he said.
"On one hand, we need to consult with all the parties who are elected officials. On the other hand, we need to make decisions and be accountable," Omer said. "I don't think that the president of the United States picks up the phone and calls everybody when he is making a decision."
Several council members said the mayor's penchant for acting unilaterally has been apparent since he released his fiscal 2000 budget earlier this year. It included the proposal to move UDC from Northwest Washington to a site east of the Anacostia River, an idea that was dropped amid protests by UDC students and faculty.
Evans said that the city sent a "consensus budget" to Congress in June and that if that spending plan is going to be changed, council members should be involved.
"I can't sit in a hundred hours of meetings from March to June only to have the meetings become meaningless because they go up to the Hill and try to do something else," Evans said. "If it has become a free-for-all and Istook wants to put his 2 cents in . . . and the mayor wants to put his 2 cents in . . . then I might as well troop up to the Hill and put my 2 cents in."
In his June 24 letter to Istook, Williams said he would spend an additional $15 million for drug testing and treatment of people on probation; $10 million to clean up and revitalize neighborhoods; $10 million for additional performance-based employee pay; and $5 million to improve city technology systems.
Omer said the mayor also has asked the D.C. Council to direct $2.7 million more to the mayor's and city administrator's offices. He said those offices are taking over work formerly done by the chief management officer's operation, which no longer exists.
CAPTION: Council member Jack Evans said that in budget talks, Williams never spoke of dismissing 1,000 city workers, a proposal he has made to Congress.