THE D.C. COUNCIL is on a collision course with Inspector General Charles C. Maddox and the federal law that establishes his office as an independent watchdog over the D.C. government. Mr. Maddox, in turn, is at odds with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and the campaign finance office and has trained his sights on them. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has come under the scrutiny of the council, the inspector general, the elections board and the campaign finance office, isn't sure what he thinks of the whole developing mess. Unless wise heads prevail, the institutional clashes could wind up on Capitol Hill for resolution. That is a solution no sane city official should want.

Thus far no side wants to give in. Contending that they have lost confidence in Mr. Maddox's ability to aggressively investigate fraud and abuse in the Williams administration, council members are considering a bill that would change the qualifications for his job, a move that would make Mr. Maddox ineligible for his position after June. But Mr. Maddox notes that federal law sets his term at six years and authorizes his removal by the mayor for cause. The effect of the council's bill, therefore, would be to fire Mr. Maddox by legislative fiat, an action arguably contrary to the law's intent. The bill is up for a vote on Tuesday, but Mr. Williams should think twice if it reaches his desk. Chances are the measure wouldn't survive congressional review.

With or without the council's bill, Mr. Maddox is in an untenable situation with city lawmakers. Last year, after concluding that he was ineffective and too cozy with the mayor's office -- which was under investigation by the inspector general's office -- the council unanimously voted no confidence in Mr. Maddox. The intervening months have done nothing to alleviate council concerns. Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the council's Committee on Government Operations, which oversees the $11 million budget and 107-member staff of the inspector general's office, suggested that Mr. Maddox had failed to follow up on allegations of contract steering by the mayor's office, thus ignoring a chance to uncover alleged misspending by Washington Teachers' Union officials. At the same time, council Chairman Linda W. Cropp charged that the inspector general's office appears to have "a vendetta" against the elections board and the campaign finance office -- the offices most noted for having fearlessly probed campaign and election irregularities associated with Mr. Williams. Some council members worry that by searching for misconduct among elections and campaign officials, Mr. Maddox is doing the mayor's bidding.

The increasingly acrimonious dust-up between the council and Mr. Maddox is no trivial matter. The legitimacy of Mr. Maddox's work has been called into question. The legislative branch considers the work of the inspector general's office a "colossal waste of taxpayers' funds," as council member David A. Catania (R-At Large) put it. And fears of a less-than-arm's-length relationship between Mr. Williams and Mr. Maddox are hurting the credibility of both. For the city's sake, we hope the official connections aren't fractured beyond repair. Calling in Congress would only make matters worse.