The brouhaha over the D.C. inspector general has lasted too long. As a March 24 editorial said, Charles C. Maddox should "do himself, his office and the city a favor by" looking for other work.

The D.C. Council sent the same message more than a year ago when it unanimously passed a no-confidence resolution requesting Maddox's resignation. It said, "The facts call into question the candor, credibility, integrity and ability [of Maddox] to perform his duties as inspector general."

That resolution was a response to a long list of actions that were, in the worst light, misleading and deceptive or, as Maddox argued, a result of his carelessness and ignorance of the law.

By Maddox's account, he:

* Didn't know the law required him to be a member of or eligible for the D.C. bar in order to serve as general counsel in the Office of the Inspector General, his first position in that office.

* Didn't pay attention to the resume inflation that led the council to confirm him.

* Didn't fully understand the D.C. residency requirement that applied upon his appointment as inspector general.

* Mistakenly paid taxes on pension income to Maryland instead of the District.

Maddox's apparent failure to investigate a tip regarding a questionable contract -- which could have led to exposure of the Washington Teachers' Union scandal two years ago -- provoked the council's recent passage of emergency legislation. Co-authored by all 13 council members, it requires the inspector general to be a D.C. licensed and accredited attorney or accountant with at least seven years of experience before appointment. Maddox doesn't qualify and must vacate the office June 1, when the law takes effect.

Maddox has alleged that council members are trying to squelch investigations of misconduct "within the council itself" and that the legislation conflicts with Congress's determination to establish the inspector general as an independent watchdog. Both arguments ring of desperation. If he has evidence of misconduct, let him lay it out.

Regarding the congressional role, a bit of history is in order. The Office of the Inspector General was created by a D.C. mayor's order in 1979 and formally established by legislation in 1985, during my tenure as a council member. Shortly thereafter, the council amended the law to require the inspector general to be "a lawyer admitted to practice in" the District and to require that he or she be appointed "solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial management analysis, public administration or investigations."

Congress didn't intervene until 1995, when it passed the law establishing the D.C. control board. The law included an amendment to ensure the inspector general's independence from the mayor. The congressional language restated verbatim the council's language requiring the appointment "on the basis of integrity." Perhaps inadvertently, Congress eliminated the D.C. bar requirement.

This debate shouldn't be about the person who holds this position now. It should be about the integrity of the office and the ability of the person who holds the office to police every governmental niche to ensure tax dollars are spent honestly and effectively. Lack of candor, carelessness with facts and inattention to detail should be disqualifiers.

That's why the council legislation is essential. The District needs an inspector general who has the experience to serve with excellence. That person also must be well respected and possess two other essential traits -- common sense and the ability and willingness to recognize and avoid ethical blunders.

-- John Ray

is a Washington lawyer and

a former member of the D.C. Council.