D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, whose administration has been slowed by vacancies in several top jobs, named three new top executives yesterday and vowed to make another two key appointments in coming weeks.
The mayor, at a news conference announcing the appointments, also said he has decided to play a more prominent role in the effort by some D.C. activists to press Congress for expanded voting rights for city residents.
Yesterday's appointments would fill top spots at the Office of Contracting and Procurement, the Emergency Management Agency and the new Office of Competitive Services. Williams nominated Navy procurement executive Elliott B. Branch to become the city's new procurement chief, D.C. police official Peter G. LaPorte to oversee emergency management, and Michigan budget official Chere A. Calloway to head the competitive services agency.
Within two weeks, the mayor said he will send the D.C. Council his nominations for the top jobs at the health and parks departments. He also indicated that he is reviewing finalists for the corporation counsel job.
Nevertheless, several D.C. Council members yesterday again criticized the pace of Williams's appointments, saying that more than six months into his term, the mayor should be much further along in forming his administrative team.
"We don't have a fully functioning executive branch at the moment because of the large number of vacancies," said council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), chairman of the council's Government Operations Committee.
Branch, who would be paid $128,618 annually, would oversee an agency with a $15 million budget and 213 employees that is notorious for its problems in buying basic goods and services for city agencies.
Williams joked yesterday that the three years it took the city to buy trash trucks is longer than the time needed to build the Hoover Dam. In recent weeks, he also has expressed disappointment about the 15 months it took to hire a contractor to recover money owed to the District by the federal government, a delay that might have cost the city tens of millions of dollars.
Branch said he recognizes the importance of the assignment.
"Procurement stands behind every city worker, whether it is the policeman answering a 911 call or a fireman responding to an [emergency] call," he said. "If we don't put the tools in place to allow those city workers to do their job, then we fail."
Branch, if confirmed by the D.C. Council, will replace procurement chief Richard P. Fite, who is leaving D.C. government at Williams's request, despite a city law that says the procurement chief serves a fixed five-year term. Fite's contract ran until 2002.
Patterson said she considered Branch a strong candidate and "anticipates supporting his nomination," but she criticized Williams for ousting Fite, noting that the procurement chief's contract is aimed at insulating the post from political influence.
Patterson also expressed disappointment that Branch, who lives in Alexandria, does not plan to move to the District, meaning Williams would have to grant him a waiver of the city's residency requirement for top-level officials. Branch explained yesterday that he cannot move because his wife is blind and cannot easily rebuild her life in a new environment.
LaPorte, who would replace the retiring emergency management director, Sam Jordan, previously worked as the chief of staff to Terrance W. Gainer, the top aide to D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. He also was executive director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, coordinating disaster preparedness and the state's response to flooding in October 1996 and the blizzard of 1997. He will be paid $102,400.
Calloway would oversee a new agency, the Office of Competitive Services, which will be charged with improving the operations of D.C. agencies. Among her duties would be to set up competitions between city employees and private-sector contractors for the right to provide certain services, such as building and vehicle maintenance. Her salary would be $99,500 a year.
About the push for expanded voting rights for D.C. residents--particularly the election of a voting representative to Congress--Williams said he will meet with activists to plan a strategy.
"Rather than going off on my own, we are going to bring a group of the interested parties together, broadly based . . . and get their views about what the best coordinated strategy should be," he said.
CAPTION: Elliott Branch
CAPTION: Peter LaPorte
CAPTION: Chere Calloway