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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation’s capital
by the editor of The Common Denominator

THE MAYOR WORKS FOR WHOM? One of the quiet changes in the District's home rule charter that slipped by while the federally appointed financial control board was in charge of the city government altered the way in which the mayor and the D.C. City Council chairman receive pay raises.

Unlike most locally elected officials, who have a statutorily fixed salary during their term of office, Mayor Anthony Williams and council Chairman Linda Cropp have been receiving annual pay raises that are tied to the annual raises awarded to members of the federal government's Senior Executive Service – the corps of civil service employees just below top presidential appointees.

Cropp has benefited by virtue of the home rule charter setting the council chairman's salary at $10,000 lower than the mayor's – which means that every time the mayor gets a raise, the council chairman does as well.

The charter change set the mayor's compensation "at a rate equal to the maximum rate, as may be established from time to time, for level III of the Executive Schedule in Section 5314 of Title 5 of the United States Code." In other words, the District's mayor is being paid as though he were a career civil servant in the federal government, rather than the elected leader of more than 500,000 citizens.

It also means that Mayor Williams is making $152,000 this year, an amount confirmed by the D.C. Office of Personnel. That's a far cry -- and much greater than simple cost-of-living increases -- from nine years ago when then-mayor Marion Barry was paid $87,984 a year. This year, Cropp is being paid $142,000 for performing her council duties.

For the record, Cropp's council colleagues are each being paid $92,520 per year for a position that allows them to earn outside income. The council chairman and the mayor are barred from holding other employment while serving their terms of office.

Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to pay hard-working members of the D.C. Board of Education just $15,000 per year – a salary that also was established by the control board when it slashed school board members' previous $30,000-a-year salaries in half. Is it any wonder that few citizens can afford to seek time-demanding, elected positions on the school board?

ARE THEY HATCHED? Elected advisory neighborhood commissioners continue to receive no pay for the service they perform for their neighbors. Yet absurd questions are now being raised about whether it is a federal Hatch Act violation for these unpaid, locally elected officials – or school board members, who are not specifically exempted from the Hatch Act along with other elected officials – to campaign for higher office. The federal Office of Special Counsel, which prosecutes Hatch Act violations, has not responded to The Common Denominator's inquiry about these allegations, which could affect several current ANC commissioners' campaigns. However, we note that several members of the D.C. City Council have used an ANC or school board position as a springboard to get elected to the council. Is the special counsel's office now claiming that they, too, violated the law?

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator