An article in Thursday's editions of The Post incorrectly stated that D.C. Council Chairman Arrington Dixon introduced an amendment to a cable televsion bill that deleted conflict-of-interest provisions exceeding current District law. The amendment, approved by the council, was offered by John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2).
The D.C. City Council gave preliminary approval early yesterday to a bill to bring cable television to the District, rejecting an aggressive minority hiring plan for building the system and effectively blocking Mayor Marion Barry from major involvement in the cable process.
After a debate of nearly four hours, ending at 2:12 a.m., the council by voice vote passed the bill, whose provisions give it control over a 28-member design commission, which will give the council guidance in selecting a cable company for the potentially lucrative franchise rights to build and operate the system.
The commission would have 90 days to decide on an acceptable design for the system, after which the council would accept bids from cable companies. While it is estimated that actual cable operation in Washington--one of the few remaining major cities without cable service--is still about three years away, yesterday's action was the first concrete step toward that end. The bill comes up for final approval in two weeks.
The council was working from a bill drafted by its consumer affairs committee, headed by Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8). However, on several key points--including minority hiring, the length of time the design commission will have to do its work and conflict-of-interest provisions that would have been imposed on council members--the council rejected provisions offered by Rolark.
Rolark's proposed affirmative-action provisions would have required the winning company to have a 70 percent minority work force, equal to the population ratio in the District, within two years.
It also would have required that bidders submit detailed plans for the hiring and training of minority workers and that 51 percent of the employes live in the District.
However, the council rejected those provisions in favor of an amendment offered by council Chairman Arrington Dixon conforming the bill's affirmative-action section to existing city laws. Those laws strongly encourage minority hiring programs, but do not set numerical quotas.
Under Dixon's amendment, the cable company would have to set aside 25 percent of its construction and operating contracts for minority contractors, the same as current city law for city agencies.
Council members arguing against Rolark's provisions said they believed they were so restrictive that major cable concerns would not be interested in bidding for the Washington franchise. John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) said he wondered "whether anybody in his right mind would bid" on the franchise under the terms Rolark had suggested.
"I believe we have done the minorities of this city a disservice," said Rolark, after her proposals had been defeated by voice vote. She and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) asked specifically that their opposition to the weakening of the proposed minority hiring quotas be recorded.
The bill also requires the eventual cable operator to provide at least six public access channels free of charge to noncommerical, nonprofit groups in the city. A Public Access Board, to be appointed in the same way the design commission is selected, would oversee the use of the channels.
The bill puts the council on a collision course with Barry, who has complained previously that the council members have shut him out of the cable selection process. However, he declined yesterday to comment specifically on the council's action.
Under the council's bill, Barry would appoint six members of the 28-member design commission. But the council would appoint all the other members, and Rolark would appoint the commission's chairman. The council easily defeated an amendment by Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) that would have given Barry the right to appoint the chairman.
Barbara C. Washington, head of intergovernmental relations for the mayor, said, "The basic issue here is separation of powers." She said under the city's charter Barry should appoint the commission and pick the cable company instead of the council. "They kept it all to themselves," Washington said.
The conflict-of-interest provisions in Rolark's original bill would have required council members, their staffs, cable companies and nearly everyone involved in the cable discussions to keep detailed records and report the substance of conversations and letters not made available in public forums.
"I'd be afraid to talk to my mother," said John L. Ray (D-At Large), speaking in support of of another amendment by Dixon limiting conflict-of-interest provisions to the city's existing law, which prohibits any official action that enriches public officials or their families.
Under existing law, council members and public officials also are prohibited from accepting gifts, money, loans or favors valued more than $50 from lobbyists who must register with the city.
Wilson noted the Rolark bill said "any interested person" in the cable franchise process "not only can't talk to me, but anybody on my staff." Ray said he also objected to a provison limiting conversations with anyone with a "potential" interest in cable business.
Dixon's conflict-of-interest amendment passed on a voice vote with Rolark objecting.
Rolark lost another major issue when she attempted to give the design commission much longer than the 90 days eventually agreed upon by the council to develop bidding rules for the cable companies.
Rolark, who initially wanted to give the commission two years to prepare for cable proposals, agreed before the meeting to reduce the time to one year. During the session, she proposed a six-month working period.
Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) said that if delegates to the current statehood constitutional covention are supposed to write a document "to guide the state for centuries" within 90 days, then he felt the cable commission could do its work in the same time period.
Rolark unsuccessfully argued that the design commission work was more technical and involved competing business interests involving millions of dollars, and could not be done in 90 days.