Mayor Anthony A. Williams's nominee for the top job at the Public Works Department does not appear to have the experience necessary to run such a large and important agency, several D.C. Council members said, adding that, even so, they expect she will be confirmed.
The council is scheduled to vote today on the confirmation of Vanessa Dale Burns, who currently is public works director in Evanston, Ill., a city of about 72,000, compared with the District's 523,000.
"I just don't think her experience is equal to the job," said council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6). "The public works director is second only to the police chief in terms of where the rubber hits the road in the community."
Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) expressed similar reservations. Each also questioned the circumstances of her departure from a city administrative job she held in Cleveland in 1995.
"There is a question in everyone's mind about what happened in Cleveland," Evans said.
Schwartz said she would still vote to confirm Burns, because Williams (D) is "the captain of the ship, and you should let the captain pick his crew."
Burns said yesterday that she is ready to manage the D.C. agency, which has 1,400 employees and a $156 million operating and capital budget. In Evanston, she supervises a public works department with about 200 employees and a $40 million budget, she said.
"I have no lack of confidence in my ability to run the District of Columbia Public Works Department," she said.
Burns, who served as public works director in New Haven, Conn., for four years before moving to Cleveland in 1994, said she left the Ohio job after about a year because of a personality conflict, not because of dissatisfaction with her performance.
Peggy Armstrong, Williams's press secretary, said the mayor has full confidence in Burns. "When you have the skills and right attitude and a vision to reform and commitment to make it so, you can tackle it," Armstrong said.
Burns would replace former D.C. public works director Cellerino C. Bernardino, who resigned last year after some criticized the pace of progress in improving agency services.