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D.C. Gets New Management Chief

Dr. Camille Cates Barnett
D.C.'s chief management officer, Camille C. Barnett.
(By Lucian Perkins/TWP)
By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 23, 1997; Page A01

The D.C. financial control board appointed Camille C. Barnett to a five-year term as the chief management officer for the District yesterday, a move that will place the former city manager from Texas on the front line of the reform effort in the nation's capital.

Barnett, 48, who jokingly calls herself "the Dragon Lady," has a reputation as a demanding administrator who does not shy from the bureaucratic battlefield.

The District's New Chief Management Officer

Camille C. Barnett

Education: Undergraduate degree from Lawrence University, Appleton, Wis.; master's degree in city management and doctorate in public administration from the University of Southern California.

Work history: Senior international municipal specialist at the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina; 1989-1994, city manager, Austin; 1987-1988, finance director, Houston; 1977-1987, assistant to the city manager, assistant city manager and deputy city manager, Dallas; 1973-1977, administrative assistant, Sunnyvale, Calif.

Responsibilities as chief management officer: Day-to-day supervision of nine key D.C. departments -- Administrative Services; Consumer and Regulatory Affairs; Corrections; Employment Services; Fire and Emergency Medical Services; Housing and Community Development; Human Services; Public Works; and Public Health. Empowered to fire department heads. Takes orders from the D.C. financial control board but not the mayor or the D.C. Council.

She becomes, in essence, the city manager for the District, with near complete day-to-day control of the nine largest city departments, including Public Works, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Corrections, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and Human Services. She will report directly to the board -- not to the mayor or the D.C. Council -- and she has the power to fire agency heads.

"My goal is to make Washington, D.C., the model for the very best cities in the nation," Barnett said at a news conference in the control board's offices at One Thomas Circle NW. "I'm here to fix things, I'm here to make things work, I'm here to do whatever it takes. I'm here to fix things and turn them back over to the elected representatives."

Barnett will make $155,000 a year, or $65,000 more than Mayor Marion Barry. She also could get performance bonuses, the terms of which are still being negotiated. She will start work Jan. 15.

The control board informed Barry (D) and council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) that Barnett had been hired just hours before the news conference.

Board Chairman Andrew F. Brimmer suggested that he would talk with Barry about enhancing Barnett's powers beyond the supervision of the nine agencies. He said he would prefer to see control over other city agencies, and perhaps over labor policy, reside with Barnett rather than with Barry.

"I've had some conversation with the mayor about bringing other agencies into a common orbit," Brimmer said. "We recognize the fragmentation is a problem."

Barry still has authority over labor negotiations, the parks and libraries, the Office on Aging and numerous boards and commissions. He did not respond to several requests for comment yesterday.

Barnett's appointment comes at a tenuous time for the control board. Congress pushed aside the mayor six months ago and gave most of his substantive powers to the control board, amid hopes that sweeping change was in the offing.

But control board members have seemed ill at ease with their newfound managerial powers. They have quarreled openly in recent months over matters of strategy and style, and a growing number of D.C. Council members and residents have expressed fear that the board has stumbled badly. Several board members alluded to those tensions yesterday and to the need for quick action.

"From this point forward, you will see significant changes in city agencies," said board member Edward A. Singletary. "And that will allow us to step back again."

Board member Constance B. Newman was more blunt: "What's important for Washington, D.C., right now is putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again."

Barnett served 10 years in Dallas as deputy city manager and six years as city manager of Austin until she left that position under fire in 1994. She has since worked with the Research Triangle Institute, a worldwide management consulting group based near Raleigh, N.C.

Barnett was one of three finalists last spring for the job of Fairfax county executive, a position that ultimately was filled by Robert J. O'Neill Jr., the city manager of Hampton, Va.

"She has a reputation as one of the best city managers in the country," said David Osborne, a consultant and one of the founders of the "reinvention movement" that aims to streamline government and place most emphasis on the customer -- the resident -- who needs government services. "She's very smart, and she's not afraid to speak the truth to anyone."

That willingness to bruise feelings and make an enemy or two, if necessary, has represented strength and weakness for Barnett. Her fans hail her as an innovator, a test pilot of a city manager who welcomes risk and is not afraid to delegate authority.

Her detractors sometimes look at the same qualities and draw less charitable conclusions. She was forced out in Austin, in part, because of a budget controversy and because the City Council and the mayor said that she had ignored them. Dallas council members, too, clashed with her, and some described her as strong-willed and imperious.

"The terror that comes out of her office is incredible," a City Council member in Dallas told the local newspaper in 1987. "It's the limousine liberals that say, `Oh, pick Camille' . . . but they haven't been under her thumb."

Barnett's fans point to her track record of balanced budgets and innovation. She also appointed Austin's first female police chief and was credited with hiring many Latinos and blacks.

"Some of the old guard didn't cotton to that too well," said David McNeily, an editor at the Austin American Statesman. "She wasn't afraid to ruffle them."

Barnett pledged to work closely with the D.C. Council and Congress. In response to a question from a reporter, she said would speak candidly about agency policy matters with the council. The control board previously had directed agency heads not to express opinions on policy when talking to council members.

"Neither Brimmer nor the control board has given me a gag rule," she said. "I don't think [the government structure] is ideal, but I think it's workable."

Barnett, who has an acerbic sense of humor, said she and her husband will live in the city and will look for a "funky" neighborhood where they can walk to get a cup of coffee. And she spoke of her reputation as a hard-driving manager as perhaps a necessary byproduct of blasting at bureaucratic bedrock.

"I don't think you can function in a politically charged environment without being strong," she said. "I try to be sensitive, but I also want to be sure that I perform and that government performs. I know what my job is, and I'm going to do it.

"That's the only way that citizens get the services they deserve."

Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Co.

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