Mayor Anthony Williams recently announced a plan to reclassify some 900 D.C. government mid-level managers who, in case of poor performance, could be fired without explanation. Since then apocalyptic rhetoric in a city known for its ability to lay it on thick has reached new heights. Let the reclassification plan prevail, goes one angry charge, and families in this majority-black city will start falling apart, white men will soon dominate the city bureaucracy and life in the District of Columbia as we know it will ultimately come to an end.
Chances are, however, that if the collapse of the black family and a racial Armageddon are right around the corner in the District, they aren't likely to be the consequence of any mid-manager reclassification plan.
At least the actual numbers don't appear to support such a contention. An examination of employee data (obtained, as we say in this business, from a source who's proven reliable in the past) reflects a different picture of the population most likely to be affected by the reclassification plan. The data also shed a little light on the gap between rhetoric and reality:
"About 900 mid-level managers," according to two Post accounts, represent the workers who could be fired without explanation for poor performance. Actually, the number is 776. There are an additional 79 vacant positions that could be subject to the new rules.
"We're just average citizens," as one incensed manager told The Post. Indeed, they may be average in thought, word and deed. But in annual salaries, the 776 managers are well above the $37,848 that the average city worker is paid.
The 776 managers occupy salary grades ranging from 11 to 18. The largest category, Grade 12, has 203 employees averaging an annual salary of $49,925. In addition, 180 employees average $43,337; 193, $57,235; 145, $66,553; and 51 average more than $83,000. Four managers make more than $90,000.
"[The plan will] devastate some families in the majority-black city," The Post reported some believing. The plan is not supposed to be a pretext for wholesale dismissals, according to the mayor and D.C. Council supporters. But managers who don't prove their worth and are judged unsalvageable may be given pink slips. For them, the job loss could be overwhelming. But would it also bring the District to its knees?
The numbers suggest that if City Hall went to extremes and dismissed the entire mid-manager group (which certainly isn't supposed to happen), the losses would fall more heavily across the District line. Notwithstanding the profuse woe-to-D.C. cries now being heard, nearly 60 percent of the affected D.C. government mid-level managers live in Maryland and Virginia.
In fact, the suburbs have been the chief beneficiary of D.C. government payroll inflation. Most city workers now live outside the District.
In the case of mid-level managers, 357 collect their D.C. government checks each payday and take them -- untaxed by the District -- to counties in Maryland. And Virginia counts 104 of its own in the ranks of D.C. government mid-managers.
With the exception of Grade 15, where D.C. residents hold a slim 27-24 margin, and Grade 18, where there's a D.C. vs. suburban 2-2 split, Marylanders and Virginians rule the mid-manager ranks. Consider the categories, one by one: Grade 14, D.C. residents, 62; Md.-Va., 83. Grade 13, D.C. residents, 81; Md.-Va., 112. Grade 12, D.C. residents, 77; Md.-Va., 126. Grade 11, D.C. residents, 66; Md.-Va., 114.
If anyone should be feeling shock waves about the possible carving into the D.C. bureaucracy, it should be Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry or his Montgomery County counterpart, Douglas M. Duncan.
"We're women," said one complaining D.C. manager. True. But there are men in those ranks too. In fact, 401 of the mid-manager employees, or 52 percent, are of the male persuasion. And they dominate grades 14 and 18. In contrast, 290 of the 375 women mid-managers are concentrated in grades 11 through 13.
None of the foregoing data is meant to be dismissive of the concerns of those managers who fear that the loss of civil service protection may subject them to arbitrary and subjective evaluations by hostile superiors, or that the ax will fall more severely -- and unfairly -- on women of color who are heads of households. The burden, indeed, is on the mayor to show that his plan aims to strengthen and reward good managers. And he needs to reassure employees that their performance will be measured by objective criteria, not whim, fancy or politics.
It certainly didn't help the mayor's cause when one of those smart alecks who surround him told The Post anonymously, "We're trying to find a more humane way to fire people." If that's all the mayor is up to, his plan deserves to be defeated; if not, he needs to get some grown-ups in his inner circle.
Regardless of the mayor's juvenile delinquents or the pyrotechnics of race-baiting opponents, the reclassification initiative should not get sidetracked. The District government requires a first-rate group of mid-level managers. Many on the current payroll pass muster. But goodness knows, some don't. The reclassification effort should be all about improving the performance and accountability of people filling managerial positions. If it turns out that after training and close scrutiny, some managers remain unmotivated, unimproved and resolutely beyond redemption, then -- regardless of race or gender -- they should find work elsewhere. Good managers are essential to achieving a productive work force. There's nothing hard to understand -- or sinister -- in a city's wanting to have that.