|arion Barry is once again executing a power play. He is robbing the
Council of one of its primary powers -- the power to review and confirm executive
appointments -- and the Council is letting him get away with it.
issue is fundamental to good government. "I don't understand why Councilmembers
aren't yelling and screaming," said citizen watchdog Dorothy Brizill in a recent Current.
Increasingly, Barry is appointing agency directors and board and
commission members on a temporary basis. "Acting" appointments are not submitted
to the Council.
The issue came to the fore recently when Woodley Park activists learned
that a Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) member who was against them on the Washington
Sheraton expansion issue would be around to vote against them again, because of a
last-minute "acting" appointment.
BZA member Angel Clarens is not alone. Numerous city agencies are
currently headed by acting directors. (The Mayor labels them "interim," but this
is a distinction without substance.) The departments of Administrative Services, Human
Services, Health, and Public Works are four examples. The Mayor's practice is defended by
Corporation Counsel, who also serves in an acting capacity.
This is not the way to run a government: to keep appointees hanging on a
temporary string. Acting personnel serve without the fullness of authority and certainty
that comes with permanency. An acting director is more easily replaced from above, finds
less acceptance from below, and may easily lose the desired permanent appointment at the
slightest misstep. A bureaucracy pieced together by temporary appointments is vulnerable
to systematic arbitrariness.
In such a tenuous environment, how assertive is Cel Bernardino likely to
be at the Department of Public Works on the thorny issue of recycling? How eagerly will
Wayne Casey tackle the entrenched bureaucracy at the Department of Human Services?
The Council limited acting-director appointments in 1989 by legislating
that "no District funds may be expended to compensate any person" serving in an
acting capacity for more than 180 days. Yet Bernardino has headed Public Works since
October 1996, Casey has headed Human Services since May 1996, and Dallas Evans has headed
Administrative Services since February 1996. They continue to draw paychecks without a
whimper from the Council.
In 1993 the Council passed another law to limit the Mayor's ability to
circumvent the appointment-confirmation process. It prohibits members of boards and
commissions from holding over more than six months after their terms expire.
This gets us back to BZA member Angel Clarens. Mr. Clarens' term expired
last September. He then held over because Mayor Barry failed to appoint a successor. Now
the Mayor seeks to hold him still, with a 90-day acting appointment and an opinion from
(acting) Corporation Counsel that successive acting appointments may follow indefinitely
until Mr. Clarens' permanent successor is named.
This is outrageous. The Mayor is evading the confirmation law. The point
of confirmation is to subject appointees to public oversight. Oversight weeds out
controversial and incompetent nominees. Oversight enables the Council to scrutinize and
affect practices within an agency, board, or commission. The Mayor is eluding oversight
and the Council is acquiescing.
Confirmation is an integral part of the checks and balances between the
branches of government. The Council, however, doesn't grasp the concept. Just this month
the Senate strong-armed President Clinton over federal contracting by withholding
confirmation of Alexis Herman as Labor secretary. Our City Council would never do
something like that. Indeed, Councilmember Patterson has told The Current that to
legally challenge the Mayor on this issue, or to politically pressure him such as by
withholding action on all appointments until he agrees to abide by the confirmation law
"would only compound the problem by leaving agencies without enough members to
It's not clear what the Council will do. Maybe they'll write another law
to state what the current law already states. Mayor Barry would love that.