In a highly unusual mid-term shakeup, the D.C. Council voted at the behest of Chairman Kwame R. Brown to switch oversight assignments among members.
The shuffle was prompted by the decision by Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) to step down from his chairmanship of the Economic Development Committee. But Brown’s recasting of panel assignments is much broader, splitting Thomas’ previous assignments into a new small business panel, and he did not stop there.
Most controversially, the Public Works and Transportation Committee has been shifted from Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) to Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). Most of Cheh’s government operations portfolio will now rest with Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), whose parks and recreation panel Wells will now head.
The shuffle is a major blow to Wells, who has long campaigned on a “livable and walkable” vision for the city and had lobbied Brown heavily for the transportation panel last year. But Wells and Brown had clashed on occasion, including Wells’decision to investigate Brown’s use of two city-leased SUVs.
Brown, who earlier denied any political retribution against Wells, said on the council dais that the new committee structure would “effectively consolidate areas of similar interest” by consolidating city agencies dealing with small business, employment and the environment.
Only Wells opposed Brown, calling the mid-term shuffle a “highly unusual action” that creates a “highly unusual precedent for the council.” He lamented that members and staff that had spent months familiarizing themselves with city agencies will now have to start from scratch.
Wells particularly objected to Brown’s decision to replace him as the Council’s representative to the Metro governing board, saying that it would add uncertainly to the body at a sensitive time. A series of reports, most recently from the Government Accountability Office, have called for improvements in the transit agency’s governance.
”I believe it’s reckless,” Wells told his colleagues, adding that it could “undermine the seriousness of our partnership” with neighboring jurisdictions.
He also personally criticized Brown for keeping powerful agencies under his own purview, including the D.C. Public Schools, the deputy mayor of planning and economic development and the city’s real estate and construction services agency.
The measure passed 12-1.