Stay up to date on D.C. with our free newsletters
At-Large Councilmember David Catania looked as if he’d come up with an innovative public policy last week. At a Sept. 20 press conference, the first-term councilmember proposed privatizing treatment for the substance abusers in the city. The proposal came with Catania’s de rigueur proclamation of outrage: “The callous and indifferent treatment of our citizens is unacceptable and inhuman. We must reform the system immediately,” he said, referring to the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (APRA), an appendage of the D.C. Department of Health.
That’s what Mayor Anthony A. Williams said back in March, only he used the sort of Bureauspeak that would never grace a Catania press release: “A review of the Department indicates that APRA is not getting services to all those in need and the Department is not maximizing available revenues,” reads Williams’ March 15 budget proposal, which advocated contracting out services currently performed by APRA. “Only 10 percent of the District’s estimated 65,000 substance abusers receive any kind of treatment.”
Catania this past summer went to great lengths to reach the same conclusion. In a sting operation that the councilmember later broadcast from every soapbox in town, two Catania staffers went to APRA disguised as addicts in search of treatment. The shocking findings? One was told to return a week later, and the other was told that no beds were available. (Note to APRA staffers: Move all faux-grubby applicants wearing “Elect David Catania” T-shirts to the front of the line.)
Catania’s redundant investigations of the D.C. bureaucracy notwithstanding, he and Williams appear to share the same assessment of the city’s drug treatment programs—dim—and a similar notion of how to solve the problem—take functions from APRA and put them in the hands of private contractors. Despite their common ground, however, the new mayor and the at-large councilmember are sniping like opposing sides in the Cali-Medellin drug wars.
The story starts with Catania’s penchant for histrionics. The councilmember used a Sept. 17 hearing of Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson’s Government Operations Committee to grill Interim City Administrator Norman Dong on the administration’s plans to reform drug treatment. Patterson had called the meeting to discuss procurement matters, but Catania showed little remorse about veering off message, asking Dong to specify how many drug treatment slots go unfilled. Dong replied, “I don’t know how that’s relevant.”
Catania: “Mr. Dong, I can assure you that there’s relevance to it.” Dong retreated to a familiar mayoral refrain, noting that newly installed Health Department Director Ivan Walks would evaluate the problems and propose solutions. Never one to tolerate pat bureaucratic answers, Catania shot back, “Do your plans involve getting rid of [APRA administrator] Dierdra Roach?”
There he goes again. In May, Catania fired off a few rounds against the mayor by joining council cohorts Sandy Allen and Kevin Chavous in asking for the scalp of District Medicaid chief Paul Offner, who was under fire for championing Williams’ plan to cut local hospital subsidies. At a rally held at D.C. General Hospital, the three councilmembers competed with one another to phrase the most slanderous evaluations of Offner’s performance. After the skewering, Offner’s place in the Williams administration was never more secure.
Likewise, Catania’s Sept. 17 outburst may have just guaranteed Roach a permanent spot atop APRA’s letterhead. After months of bitter jawboning, the administration would sooner install archrival Patterson as its spokesperson than allow Catania to dictate its personnel decisions.
The funny thing, though, is that dictating personnel decisions is exactly what Catania says the administration asked him to do. “It was [mayoral Legal Counsel] Max Brown’s idea for me to ask for Roach’s resignation,” says Catania. Catania says he consulted with Brown long before the Sept. 17 hearing, and at the earlier meeting, Brown made his unusual suggestion.
Brown labels Catania’s contention “ridiculous” and says it “doesn’t even merit a response.”
The exchange caps eight months of angst and resentment between the council and the mayor’s office over who’s calling the shots in D.C. government. The hard feelings infiltrated the ordinarily dull written exchanges between the two bodies, as the mayor clarified just who had first proposed reforming APRA: “I appreciate the fact that you and other members of the Council now recognize, as I did when I submitted my Fiscal Year 2000 budget…the shortcomings in the District’s delivery of critical health care services,” read a Sept. 20 letter to Catania from the mayor, who expressed his dismay that he hadn’t been consulted on the legislation earlier. “I remain committed to providing alternative methods of service delivery, so long as our employees are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Thus, I am pleased that the Council is now committed to this approach as well.”
No such conversion has taken place, insists Catania. Williams, says the councilmember, proposed an unimaginative scheme under which APRA would contract out treatment services to private vendors and then force patients into designated programs; his own bill, by contrast, would allow substance abusers, in consultation with counselors, to choose from a roster of private programs. “What the mayor was suggesting was more of the same,” says Catania. “It was business as usual: outsourcing with no performance standards.”
Perhaps Williams and Catania can at least agree on a plan to outsource—with rigorous performance standards—the job of managing council-mayor relations. Traumatized by a spring of mayoral disses, the council in recent weeks has responded by surprising mayoral aides with action on school uniforms, managed competition, and drug treatment.
The complaints from the 11th floor of One Judiciary Square about the council’s nascent Lone Ranger-ism don’t sit long in Catania’s in-box: “Am I led to believe that every time a councilmember introduces something, we’re supposed to do a ‘Mother, may I?’ to the mayor’s office?”
AT HER BEST
Cora Masters Lady MacBarry had nice words for everyone at last Thursday’s council hearing about her passion, the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center—the $5 million project that MacBarry and her Recreation Wish List Committee want to build with public funds. The former first lady checked her irascible demeanor at One Judiciary Square’s metal detectors, smiled through probing questions from snot-nosed reporters, and even acknowledged lifelong enemies. “I mean, she was even nice to me,” says Sandra Seegars, a Ward 8 resident who’s spent much of the past five years tweaking MacBarry, her husband, and their buddies.
Added Ward 7’s Chavous, who along with Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis had called the hearing, “I’ve never seen her so humble.”
MacBarry’s stage talent will likely pay dividends in the form of an eventual council vote to OK a request from Mayor Williams to fund the center with $3.7 million in capital funds from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). That outlay would come on top of a
$1 million DHCD commitment from 1998, which, in turn, came on top of a $150,000 pledge from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
The District apparently would have to fall into receivership before the Barry clan would be denied public funds for its pet projects.
Of course, back when MacBarry was soliciting her initial commitment from DHCD, she claimed she was merely seeking to prime her fundraising pump. “She said, ‘If you give us the million, we can raise the rest,’” recalls a former Barry administration official.
She didn’t. Despite pulling in First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for a Sept. 1998 fundraiser at the tennis center site, MacBarry has nothing more to show for her activism than $605,000 in cheesy “in-kind” contributions from contractors, PR types, and Web site designers. For non-Barry nonprofits, DHCD disburses $1 for every $2 in cold cash raised for any given project. By that standard, the tennis center would qualify for maybe $10,000 in public funds.
In an exemplary display of oversight, Chavous and Jarvis all but browbeat DHCD Director Othello Mahone into admitting that the $3.7 million set aside for tennis would rob other worthy projects in depressed areas of the city. “If these funds are available now for the tennis center,” volleyed Jarvis, who punished Mahone with her nearly 20 years’ experience in economic development, “then they should be available for the original projects for which they were intended….You’re making me have an even harder time with this.”
Jarvis’ objections may sway only a minority of councilmembers. “I’m going to rely on [Ward 8 Councilmember] Sandy [Allen], because it will be in her ward,” said Chavous this week. LL’s canvassing suggests that Chavous isn’t the only one who plans to follow Allen.
That’s a sketchy instinct. After all, Allen in last week’s hearing admitted that she didn’t know the difference between a DHCD grant and capital funds, the most basic component of the city’s annual budget. Private citizens may not know the ins and outs of the budget, but if you represent the city’s most depressed areas, you should know that capital funds finance government buildings and infrastructure, and DHCD grants assist neighborhoods with economic development. After Mahone explained the distinction, Allen asked, “So, is it the difference between public and private funds?”
Now you know what kind of thinking is steering the council’s tennis decision.
* D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is having trouble hiding her affinity for the Metropolitan Baptist Church in its battle to continue using the Garrison Elementary School field as a Sunday parking lot. First, the superintendent unflinchingly renewed the 136-year-old church’s $5,000 yearly lease, which has turned the field into something only a cactus would call a playground; then she tried to partition the field to accommodate Metropolitan in the face of neighborhood protest; and then her deputy, Elois Brooks, spoke of the “moral character” that the church imparts to Garrison students in exchange for ripping up the field.
Until this week, Ackerman reported resisted a settlement that would permanently clear Metropolitan from the field by January.
The most insidious nod to Metropolitan came in a survey that Ackerman last week distributed to all Garrison parents. Instead of simply restoring the field, Ackerman proffered four options for the space, two of which would no doubt appeal to Metropolitan parishioners: a basketball court and “board games on black top.” “They’re trying to justify paving it over,” says Glenn Melcher, the 15-year Shaw resident who led protests against Metropolitan’s use of the field. “They already have a blacktop surface.”
Devonya Smith, a spokesperson for Ackerman, did not return a call on the survey.
* Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system that causes episodes of muscle weakness and spasms. According to Marge Francese, Ambrose’s chief of staff, the councilmember is taking medication for the condition and will discharge her official duties “the same as before.” In recent weeks, Ambrose has circulated among the council offices with the aid of a cane because her affliction has caused weakness in her legs. Nonetheless, she held a hearing this week on appointments to the D.C. Department of Insurance and Security Regulation and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. “She’s doing fine,” says Francese. “She’s taking it well.”
* No, that’s not a conservative icon chairing the hearings of the city’s powerful Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. It’s Roderic Woodson, an attorney in the D.C. law firm of Holland & Knight and an expert in administrative law. After Woodson’s appointment to the board this summer, Williams administration staffers fielded angry calls from lefty ideologues mistakenly outraged that Robert Woodson, a former scholar at the Ronald
Reagan-loving American Enterprise Institute, was deciding whether this or that bar gets to sell booze. “I’ve had that confusion for years, because we’re in the same town and have the same initials,” says Roderic Woodson, who swears he’s impartial on liquor licenses for such GOP-style red-meateries as Blackie’s House of Beef. “I even get his calls once in a while.” CP
Got a tip for Loose Lips? Call (202) 332-2100, Ext. 302, 24 hours a day. And visit Loose Lips on the Web at www.washingtoncitypaper.com.