Fairfax Gets New Leader
Griffin Vows to Continue Reforms
One of the country's largest counties soon will have a new leader.
But Anthony H. Griffin isn't really new--he has worked for Fairfax County for 10 years and is now deputy county executive. In fact, he was passed over for the top job two years ago in favor of Robert J. O'Neill Jr. But this time, after O'Neill resigned to head a government think tank, the Board of Supervisors unanimously backed Griffin, forgoing a national search.
"We know Tony. Tony knows us. This was clearly the way to go," said Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason).
Griffin, 52, says he'll stay on the same track as O'Neill, aiming to reform the huge bureaucracy that keeps the wheels of government turning in the county of almost 950,000. The former Marine is expected to undertake such initiatives as linking employee raises to performance and farming out some government functions to private contractors.
"I think the kinds of things that Bob O'Neill initiated were great for the organization and should be continued," Griffin said. "Because I'm the, quote, insider, that doesn't mean we're going back to the way we did business here years ago. The intent is to keep the organization moving forward."
D.C. Bonuses Meet Opposition
GOP Lawmaker Fights Use of Fund
District officials are still hopeful that Mayor Anthony A. Williams can make good on his promise to give some city employees $1,700 bonuses, but a key Republican congressman is fighting the plan.
Williams (D) wants to reward 6,500 unionized workers who gave up wage increases during the city's financial crisis. At the same time, he intends to use the one-time bonus as leverage to link pay raises to performance and to have some D.C. agencies compete with private firms for city contracts.
The problem, said Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr., is that the mayor wants to pay for the bonuses by tapping an $18 million fund intended for severance payments to fired city workers. That, the Oklahoma Republican said, would be "a serious and illegal breach of the purpose of this funding."
D.C. officials say Istook misunderstood the city's intent in setting up the severance fund. "We're not illegally diverting anything," said Williams's spokeswoman, Peggy Armstrong.
But if it turns out that the severance fund language in the D.C. budget doesn't permit the plan, Valerie Holt, the city's chief financial officer, said she has a backup plan to find the money for the bonuses. "Obviously, we're going to exhaust every opportunity we can think of to come up with a way to get this done," she vowed.
Across the Region
Execution Stayed; New Year's Plans
* Takoma Park is renowned for listing leftward in matters of politics and personal proclivities. But four police officers and a former officer in the Montgomery County city of 18,000 have filed a 200-page complaint with the federal government, saying the department denied them promotions because they are Latino or black. The 42-member force includes two Latino and 16 black officers; there is only one black and one woman above the rank of corporal.
* A kinder, gentler oath will replace a plan to require voters in Virginia's Republican presidential primary to pledge support for the party's nominee in the general election. Reversing an earlier decision, the state's Board of Elections ruled that voters in the Feb. 29 primary must vow only that they won't take part in any other party's nomination process.
* Bobby Lee Ramdass had only three hours to live when the Supreme Court agreed to delay his execution for the murder of a Fairfax County convenience store clerk. The high court now must decide whether to hear an appeal of his sentence in the 1992 shooting of Mohammad Z. Kayani. Ramdass's attorneys say the jury might not have given him the death penalty had it known that the only possible alternative was life without parole.
* If Robert Duvall, Jessye Norman or Will Smith don't inspire you to join a star-studded New Year's weekend on the Mall, maybe Honest Abe will. The Lincoln Memorial will serve as the backdrop to a three-hour, nationally televised extravaganza that will start in one millennium and end in another. As midnight approaches Dec. 31, images chosen by Steven Spielberg will play on huge screens at the Reflecting Pool.
* The battle over the proposed relicensing of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant has taken an unexpected twist. In a move that legal experts called highly unusual, a federal appeals court tossed out its own judgment backing a watchdog group's efforts for a wider review of safety issues concerning the Southern Maryland facility. A new hearing will be scheduled.
* It's never too early to start thinking about a drought, and though the Washington area survived last summer's parched conditions, experts say dry conditions are setting the stage for more problems next year. Mountain areas west of Washington never escaped the drought, causing wildfires recently over 1,600 acres in Shenandoah National Park, and streams in the metropolitan area are quite low, meteorologists said last week. Heavy precipitation this winter could solve the problem, but forecasters expect only normal levels of rain and snow.
* Can the skipjack be saved? A panel appointed by Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer will try to keep the dwindling fleet afloat by providing subsidized insurance, among other things. Fifty years ago, as many as 70 of the broad-beamed, single-masted oyster dredgers plied the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Today, there are only 10 of the working vessels.
* You already sensed this, didn't you? A new study concludes that the Washington area has four of the country's 20 worst highway bottlenecks. And they're all along the Capital Beltway. But the area's worst, very worst? The American Highway Users Alliance awards that distinction to the interchange of the Beltway and Interstate 270.
-- Erica Johnston
Employees Protest Fouled-Up School Payroll System
One Worker Received a Generous $65,489 Paycheck--Instead of the Expected $818
One D.C. schoolteacher reportedly got a paycheck for $65,489.20. Not bad for a couple weeks' work--especially when the teacher had been expecting a more earthbound $818.64.
But it was bad for thousands of other school employees who've been stiffed by a new city payroll system that spit out thousands of inaccurate paychecks--or, for some, no paycheck at all--over the past six weeks. All first- and second-year teachers are getting paid too little. Many others haven't gotten stipends for coaching or tutoring. And Washington Teachers' Union President Barbara Bullock says some teachers have quit in frustration.
"This is demoralizing. You work, and you expect to get paid," said school librarian Gloria Reaves. "After a while, you owe more for your bounced checks than you have in your account."
D.C. teachers' next payday is Wednesday, and school officials vow to pay school employees who report a problem by the close of business the next day. Six workers will also be examining paychecks to make sure they're correct before they're issued.
"There's a total commitment to fix this," said Constance B. Newman, vice chairman of the D.C. financial control board.
Bringing Home the Cup
D.C. United Wins Third National Championship
Women's soccer has the U.S. national team: the champions who brought fame and flash to an underappreciated sport.
Men's soccer has D.C. United, if only we'd pay attention.
The team has three national titles in Major League Soccer's four-year history. It has stars Marco Etcheverry (El Diablo) and Jaime Moreno (La Bomba). It has diverse and devoted fans.
What it doesn't have is a whole lot of fans. Not like the Redskins or the Wizards. Which, as you may recall, haven't won three national titles in the last four years, to put it delicately.
D.C. United players who rode in a 10-block victory parade along Pennsylvania Avenue had their name tags affixed under their faces on the trolley, just in case onlookers needed a little help.
But there's hope yet. Younger fans, especially, seem to know a good thing when they see it. Why did Anna Goldman, a soccer player herself, make the trek from Arlington to watch the victory procession?
"One, they're the home team," the 12-year-old declared. "Two, they're the best."
"Three," cut in friend and fellow preteen Carrie Tucker, "they're cute."
CAPTION: More than 300 teachers protested outside the offices of the D.C. control board last week over missing or inaccurate paychecks.
CAPTION: Peggy Akers, a teacher at Seaton Elementary School, added her voice to the protest over the District's payroll problems.
CAPTION: Captain Marco Etcheverry, left, celebrated D.C. United's 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy to capture the Major League Soccer Championship last Sunday. Teammate Carlos Llamosa hoisted the trophy.