IN AN ARTFUL OPINION that succeeded in settling a most sensitive court case, D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Harold H. Greene has ruled that City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker did violate city restrictions on outside employment by teaching at Howard University. Yet in so finding, the judge refused to remove Mr. Tucker from office because of the violation, as Corporation Counsel John R. Risher had asked. Given the circumstances - including the timing and manner of Mr. Risher's request - the case called for just such a sensible resolution to lay the matter to rest.
After all, Mr. Tucker had never made any secret of working at Howard and, in fact, had regularly reported his employment there and the income from it to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Moreover, Mr. Risher didn't see fit to ask for Mr. Tucker's removal until June - more than two years after Mr. Tucker first began teaching at Howard and after the council chairman already had decided to relinquish his teaching responsibilities. Thus while Mr. Risher may have established his legal point on the basis of the city charter's language, the way has been cleared for Mr. Tucker to announce to do once this matter ended.
Mr. Risher, to his credit, has said he will not appeal the case, a move that would have had even more political undertones than his original complaint - and which would have been a shabby way to harass Mr. Tucker. But there does remain a question about the value of the charter restrictions on outside activities by a council chairman. In remarks printed For the Record on his page today, John W. Hechinger, who served under different rules as a chairman of the old appointed city council, urges removal of the current restrictions. We agree that the language needs changing, but we have some reservations about a total removal of restrictions on a chairman's activities - even though, as Mr. Hechinger notes, financial reporting requirements would point up possible conflicts of interest.
As for activities that might be allowed, Judge Greene notes in his opinion that "assuming that the law could somehow be deemed to include an exception for teaching, writing or lecturing, the only construction would be to apply it to occasional exercises of these pursuits and for relatively nominal compensation." That seems reasonable to us. But the question remains whether the position of city council chairman should be considered as a part-time job, one that can mix well with other money-making ventures. Indeed, that was why Congress approved a higher salary for the chairman - the No. 2 position at city hall - while allowing the rest of the council members to do other work.
For that matter, we recall that this provision was an outgrowth of conversations Mr. Tucker had with congressional members and staff people when the charter legislation was being drafted. If it now develops that this extra compensation isn't considered sufficient to attract the talented people to whom Mr. Hechinger refers, perhaps the salary should be made even more attractive, for this job, with its extensive state-and-municipal legislative responsibilities, is not one that is tied to a part-time legislative session, as are legislators in Maryland and Virginia (where the workload seems to getting less part-time every year).
Whatever changes in the charter are decided upon, we think they should originate not with Del. Walter E. Fauntroy or others in Congress, as Mr. Hechinger urges, but in the city council - as authorized in the charter itself. The charter further states that any changesin compensation for council members could apply only to the terms of members beginning after the changes are enacted. With that in mind, the council should take a hard look at this question now - before next November's elections.