IT'S NOT AS if District leaders do not have enough problems on their plate, confronted as they are by police and emergency rescue service problems and the challenge of slashing $68 million this year and $132 million from next year's budget. Now city lawmakers and the mayor are at loggerheads over Charles C. Maddox, the city's inspector general, who has managed to make himself simultaneously persona non grata with the council and a political albatross for the mayor. The whole affair would be another amusing chapter in D.C. government high jinks if the consequences weren't so serious.

The D.C. Office of Inspector General serves, or at least has the potential to serve, an important function. For many years the city lacked an official entity, independent of both the executive and legislative branches, with authority to initiate investigations into waste, fraud and abuse at all levels of D.C. government. The law creating the city's inspector general promised just such a watchdog. But the gulf between legislative promise and political reality could not be greater. Relations between council members and the inspector general are so tattered that the council unanimously passed an emergency bill last week to force Mr. Maddox out of his job. It was so determined to show Mr. Maddox the door that a last-minute request from the mayor to delay the vote was ignored. Now the mayor must decide whether to veto a bill, and likely have his veto overridden by the council, or sign a measure that is open to legal and congressional challenge.

Meanwhile, Mr. Maddox has managed to widen the breach -- if that's possible -- by charging in a statement following the vote that the council wants "someone in office who will not continue to conduct sensitive investigations that could lead to findings of misconduct at the highest levels, including within the council itself." Mr. Maddox's not so thinly veiled suggestion that he is being dumped because his office is closing in on wrongdoing within the council is serious and disturbing -- especially as he has not produced any credible evidence to support his charge. On the other hand, the council, in voting to force out Mr. Maddox, contends that it has compiled sufficient reasons for the mayor to fire Mr. Maddox for cause, which is permissible under the law. The mayor has 10 days to veto the bill. Mr. Maddox, who has tussled with city lawmakers over possible violations of city residency laws, his independence from the mayor and qualifications for the job, is in the worst of all worlds. He could do himself, his office and the city a favor by embarking on a search for a better one.