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Control board exits

(Published Oct. 8, 2001)


Staff Writer

D.C. democracy advocates, from left, Anise Jenkins, Bette Hoover, Mark Richards and Wayne Turner toast the congressionally imposed D.C. financial control boardís Sept. 30 demise in front of One Judiciary Square, where the boardís offices were located.

Democracy advocates poured champagne outside city offices and elected officials quietly cheered as the congressionally imposed D.C. financial control board ceased its authority at the end of September after a six-year presence.

"I feel like itís Independence Day here in the city," said Ward 6 Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose. "We have regained a small measure of our independence back."

The control board, whose official name was the D.C. Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority, was created in 1995 to find a solution to the Districtís growing debt problem. The control board has been praised and at times criticized for its efforts in maintaining the Districtís finances and management operations.

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who chairs the councilís Committee on Finance and Revenue, believes that that the control board was "resoundingly successful" in what it was set up to do. Even most critics acknowledge that the control board was able to fix the Districtís finances with a little help from Congress and a strong national economy, returning the city to the good graces of the financial markets.

Evans noted there were conflicts over how to gain revenue between the control board and the D.C. City Council. Evans said the control board helped the city get financial help from Congress during its time of financial crisis. Given that the District has survived its financial crisis and accumulated multimillion dollar surpluses during the past few years, Evans expressed an irony concerning congressional help for the District.

"I was told that once the District got on its feet, Congress would lend more help, but now because the District is doing better than ever, [they say] we donít need any help," Evans said.

Robert Watkins, a member of the five-member presidentially appointed control board, said he would like to see Congress contribute more to repairing the cityís crumbling infrastructure now that the control board is gone.

"The roads in the District are federal roads. They are everyoneís roads," Watkins said

He also expressed concern that Congress remains "worried that the [cityís] money is not being used for what it is supposed to be use for."

Even though the District is out of debt, the cityís finances are still fragile, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. Evans said fiscal 2002 may see a deficit, which would reactivate the control board. The legislation that created the control board provided for it to become "dormant" after the city met certain solvency requirements, but the board was not abolished.

The tourism industry is an important factor in the Districtís revenue. In an informal discussion given by members of the D.C. council and the control board on Sept 24, it was estimated that the District receives over 10 million tourists a year. Representatives of each group discussed that the District could lose $5 billion in revenue due to the temporary closure of Reagan National Airport.

Pauline Schneider, who as a partner with the law firm Hunton and Williams helps review the cityís finances on an audit review board, suggested that the Districtís financial future is up to the mayor and the city councilís willingness to cooperate with one another.

At its last public meeting, the control board unanimously approved four resolutions on the cityís health care safety net, the Metropolitan Police Department, disposition of school properties and the suspension of the control boardís operations.

Although members of the control board were solemn to see the end of their duties, there were others who were happy to see the end of the control boardís reign and literally held a toasting for the occasion. Stand Up for Democracy, an advocacy group based in the District whose slogan is "Free D.C.," had a "good riddance" champagne toasting rally in front of One Judiciary Square on Sept. 28.

Anise Jenkins, an organizer for the group, expressed strong feelings about the departure of the control board. "I feel it shouldnít have existed in the first place and I fear that it will come back in another form," she said.

Jenkinsí said she feels the city will have a bright future without the control board. "Since the attacks, democracy is on everyoneís list," she said.

At the last public meeting for the control board, control board Chairwoman Alice Rivlin joked that "this will not be the last time you hear from the control board." The boardís final report is expected to be completed before the end of October.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator