Colleagues often treat Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson as the E.F. Hutton of the D.C. Council. “When she weighs in, I listen very closely,” remarked At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania during Tuesday’s debate over Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey’s pay raise. “I know she knows what she’s talking about. I know she’s been committed to this subject from the beginning.”
Patterson’s power of persuasion was evident Tuesday, when six members of the council voted against giving the police chief a pay hike. That wasn’t enough for Ramsey foes to claim victory. Conventional wisdom in the run-up to the vote, however, had predicted a comfortable margin of victory for the chief’s raise, not a 7-to-6 nail-biter. Patterson had clearly influenced the outcome: Ever since Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced in early May a new five-year contract for Ramsey that included a $25,000 raise and increased benefits, the Ward 3 councilmember has made known her opposition to the package.
“In a pay-for-performance government, you have performancethen you pay.” That rhetorical construct has turned into a Patterson mantra, repeated by the councilmember to the Washington Post, WAMU-FM, LL, and every other media outlet in this city.
The District has been paying Ramsey since he came from Chicago in 1998, hired by the D.C. financial control board for $150,000 a year. His contract lasted five years. When Patterson looks at those five years, she sees broken promises. Ramsey promised to deploy 3,800 officers; he never got close. Ramsey promised to staff the 911 call center with top-flight civilian employees; he didn’t. Ramsey promised to improve the homicide-closure rate; OK, he made some progress, but the rate is still too low.
Patterson outlined these issues in a 25-page committee report on the Metropolitan Police Department produced for this year’s budget deliberations.
Patterson is the Alice Rivlin of the D.C. Council. She loves big, boring studies on government functions, complete with charts and line graphs to illustrate her findings. A relentless policy nut, Patterson, since her election to the council in 1994, has tackled oversight of even the most tedious subject matters. For instance, she championed the Omnibus Personnel Reform Act of 1998, which created a specific class of senior managers in D.C. government to be paid competitive salaries based on performance.
In keeping with her wonky bent, Patterson has repeatedly chanted about building a professional workforce with clear lines of authority. So in the Ramsey debate, she has refrained from using the f-word: Fire. Despite her obvious displeasure with his performance and what she considers his lackluster response to council concerns, Patterson has not called for Ramsey to be fired or even for him to resign.
The mayor is the one who hires and fires agency heads.
Instead, in her public pronouncements on the Ramsey pay package, Patterson has carefully shifted the focus to the mayor and his alleged nonchalance regarding public safety. And Patterson’s colleagues followed her cue on Tuesday. “I blame the mayor for not making [Ramsey] do his job! If the mayor was to return from out of town, perhaps he would know we need more police on the street!” shouted Catania at one point. “I want to send a message to the mayor: Do your job!”
Williams has stood by his police chief’s performance. Weeks ago, the mayor declared to LL and the scant others who attended his Crime Summit II that he’s “going to be out there drumming up support for the chief.” In a luncheon chat Monday, Williams told Washington Post editors and reporters that he planned to take the chief’s contract to the streets.
The last time Williams took it to the streets, he shot one for eight in a hoops game on Capitol Hill.
He may reprise that performance in the Ramsey compensation fight. The mayor has hardly been a persuasive lobbyist in the Wilson Building. True, Williams did manage to pry the chief’s $25,000 raise from the grip of a divided council on Tuesday. Yet Patterson insists she’ll sit on Ramsey’s upgraded retirement and severance-pay provisions for up to a year. Because the benefits package requires a change in D.C. law, the Committee on the Judiciary chair holds sway over that component of the chief’s contract.
And within her fiefdom, the Ward 3 councilmember is wielding her gavel like a local Jesse Helms. “As judiciary chair, I have a small amount of power for a short amount of time,” Patterson told her colleagues on Tuesday. “If I don’t leverage that power as best I can in an effort to get better police protection for the residents of the District, I’m not doing my job.”
So what’s Patterson trying to say? For every additional $1,000 in the chief’s pension, the homicide closure rate must improve by 2 percentage points?
If Patterson allowed the benefits package to come to a vote in her committee, it would likely pass: On Tuesday, Ward 6’s Sharon Ambrose, At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, and Ward 2’s Jack Evansall Judiciary Committee membersvoted to give Ramsey the pay raise. Those three would constitute a majority vote on the five-member committee.
Patterson glosses over the majority sentiment on her committee. Instead, she emphasizes the prerogative of the chairin other words, the power to keep her colleagues silent. That’s not one of her celebrated good-government principles.
Patterson acknowledged as much in Tuesday’s debate. “One person shouldn’t be able to thwart the will of the majority. I actually agree on this point,” said Patterson. She says that she has agreed to move the retirement package out of committee next yearafter she’s had a year to assess the chief’s performance. Then she’ll “be trusting to the good judgment of my colleagues whether there’s been improved performance by the police department.”
Patterson also addressed the other issue looming over the discussion: that Ramsey might bolt if not given the complete contract.
The Judiciary Committee chair said she would feel confident in her actions if Ramsey walked away. On Wednesday, Ramsey told reporters that he intends to stay put.
Whatever the outcome, public spats over retirement benefits don’t constitute the professional management environment that Patterson has worked so hard to create in D.C. government.
An unlikely councilmember made that point to Patterson: Brazil, hardly known for making good management his top priority. “I think what we’re saying to Chief Ramsey and some other ones is this is what we do to managers here in Washington: We embarrass them, we threaten their job security,” said Brazil.
“You should either support himor get rid of him,” Brazil lectured his colleagues, including Patterson, who was seated next to him. “These puncture wounds that we’re inflicting to allow him to bleed to death is unconscionable and certainly not good public policy.”
•Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous wasn’t too pleased with President George W. Bush’s appearance at KIPP DC: KEY Academy last week. Chavous, in fact, was so incensed that he sent off an angry letter to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Was it because the leader of the free world called him “Kevin Chavez?”
A line-by-line analysis of the letter says no. Chavous thanked the president for his interest in D.C. schoolchildren, but said he didn’t appreciate the way they were positioned as extras that morning to push Bush’s support for school vouchers. “…I am dismayed by an important omission in your remarks. Your comments did not intimate that the Parental Choice and Incentive Act of 2003 is one strand of a comprehensive three sector local strategy to expand school choice options in the District,” Chavous wrote.
In the months leading up to Bush’s appearance, Chavousalong with Mayor Williams and D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritzhad explained that his support for vouchers would come only in exchange for federal money for public and charter schools. The feds would contribute to state-level costs, such as special ed.
“I wasn’t going to come unless they said that in the speech,” says Chavous. “They said that would be in his remarks.”
LL doubts that White House speechwriters are taking it personally. If they live in Ward 7, maybe they won’t vote for “Chavez.”
Meanwhile, Chavous argues, the White House needs him, and he threatens to withdraw his support for vouchers. “Candidly, I will not, and cannot in good conscience support a scholarship program, unless there is a commitment to [District of Columbia Public Schools],” Chavous wrote, using the White House’s euphemism for vouchers. “Furthermore, should DCPS be excluded from this comprehensive school choice strategy, I will encourage my colleagues at the Council to adopt a resolution in opposition to this scholarship plan.”
* LL has renamed Channel 13 JGNN. Every time LL flips on the tube, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham is grilling someone about the city’s property-management mess.
Graham often reminds his constituents he’s a full-time councilmember. And he reminded his colleagues of that, too, when he floated the idea of continuing his investigative hearings through the council’s summer recess.
Hmmm: Sitting on the dais listening to Graham lecture developer Douglas Jemal vs. sitting on the beach with some light reading. Boy, that’s a tough call.
Councilmembers don’t give up their summer recess, period.
So Graham has scaled back his proposal: On Tuesday, the council approved a resolution that allows the legislative body’s general counsel to go to court to enforce the council’s subpoena and compel Jemal to testify before the body.
Jemal so far has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In the unlikely event that the court sends the developer to the Wilson Building in the dog days of summer, Graham will be making some calls to the Eastern Shore.CP
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