THE D.C. Council has given tentative approval to a plan to replace the dysfunctional homeless shelter at D.C. General Hospital. The plan’s author, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), says it is a better bet for the city than one advanced by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). Since there has been virtually no scrutiny of his plan — it was unveiled a day before it was rushed to a vote — it is unclear if he is right. What is clear is that there is little chance of closing D.C. General and giving those desperate families better lives as long as there is one-upmanship, rather than cooperation, between the council and executive.
The council voted Tuesday to overhaul the mayor’s plan to build small shelters throughout the city to house 270 families and allow the shutdown of D.C. General by 2018. Instead of relying on shelters to be built and leased from private landowners, the council opted for the use of city-owned sites and the purchase or taking of private land. Not only will this cut the costs, according to Mr. Mendelson, but it also will speed the process.
At this point, his assurances must be taken on faith. Unlike with the mayor’s plan, which underwent more than three months of withering analysis, there has been no real vetting of the plan or discussion of its trade-offs. There has been no community engagement. The District’s independent chief financial officer has yet to do a fiscal impact statement and, according to a spokesman, was unaware of the plan until it was introduced. So, too, was the Bowser administration, which says it was kept largely in the dark until Monday at 11:30 a.m. when officials were briefed on the details. Because it is going to be up to the executive branch to carry out the effort, involving it in the planning would seem wise, particularly because officials say there are problems with some of the new sites.
That there is animosity between Ms. Bowser and Mr. Mendelson became distressingly clear this week with the chairman publicly accusing the mayor of “obfuscation and misinformation” and the mayor venting her frustration in an expletive-filled one-on-one encounter with the chairman.
Those scenes made us nostalgic for the days of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), when the two branches of government actually tried to work together for the common good. Ms. Bowser and Mr. Mendelson both profess to want the same thing — closure of D.C. General by 2018 — so why don’t they start by putting their egos aside and talking to, rather than at, each other?
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