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Last month, when Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. finally lured Michael Rogers to serve as the city’s administrator, Hizzoner was noticeably relieved. And it was not just because the city’s new manager is a relative of Elijah “Baby” Rogers, who performed admirably as Barry’s first city administrator.
Barry was relieved because it has not been easy to convince experienced people to work for a city that’s broke and may not be able to meet its payroll much longer. By landing Michael Rogers, Barry appeared to overcome that hurdle.
But the undisclosed employment agreement between Rogers and the mayor reveals just how difficult it was to find a city administrator. It also threatens to create another problem for Barry at a time when he’s asking other city employees to take pay cuts and furloughs.
According to a Jan. 31 letter from Barry to Rogers, the mayor had to promise his new administrator a salary of $115,700 annually, which made Rogers the highest-salaried city official the minute he started his job Feb. 21. The letter also reveals that Barry is paying Rogers a $10,000 housing allowance, spread out in equal payments over the next four months, so that Rogers can leave Silver Spring, to which he moved from New York only last summer, and relocate inside the District. (City law requires department heads to live within the D.C. borders.)
“You also will be eligible to receive a monetary bonus at the end of the current fiscal year, if you meet certain objectives,” Barry wrote to Rogers. Just what those objectives are, and how much of a bonus Rogers might expect, are decisions that Rogers says have not yet been made. “What we talked about—the budget issues, the departmental operating issues—we still have to refine those,” the city administrator said this week. “The city has standard bonus practices when there’s money to do it, but it’s not guaranteed. In fact, I’m not even worried about it right now.”
Rogers, who said he took a salary cut to leave the federal government for the D.C. job, has bigger issues on his plate—such as making the city work again.
City law decrees that no District employee should earn more than the mayor’s $90,705 annual salary. Barry will have to ask the council to waive that law for Rogers, which some councilmembers say they will be reluctant to do. Last week, Barry also asked the council to let him pay more than the law allows for his new public-works director Larry King.
Bonuses are not uncommon in D.C. government. Although School Superintendent Franklin Smith garners a yearly salary of $90,700, his total compensation package has been estimated by the council’s education committee as approximately $140,000. And the president of the University of the District of Columbia also gets $90,700, plus a free residence and other perks.
Barry’s agreement with Rogers demonstrates that the city lacks a set pay scale for its officials, just as it lacks real job descriptions for many of its employees. That absence of a pay scale allows Barry to set salaries for his top positions on a case-by-case basis.
The city’s inability to keep track of its employees and what they actually do has earned Washington the distinction of possessing the worst-run city government in the country, according to Financial World magazine’s examination of 30 big-city governments.
No surprise there.
WARD 1 LAND GIVEAWAY
Ward 1 Coun cilmember Frank Smith says he is willing to give a developer a multimillion-dollar plot of land in the U Street corridor for the possible sale price of $1. Smith’s explanation: “I’m tired of watching the grass grow” on the vacant, city-owned plot.
His critics—and there are many in Ward 1, which spans the central part of the city north of downtown—accuse him of rushing the land deal through without a public hearing to benefit a campaign supporter, develop er Delores Johnson. Smith leased space on U Street from Johnson last year for his campaign office. So did former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, who OK’d the controversial sale during the final days of her administration.
Johnson, one of the largest landowners in the area, claims she will pay $650,000 for the block of land between 11th and 12th and U and V Streets NW—a bargain, considering that the city assesses the plot at $6.6 million. And to make the deal even sweeter, provisions in her agreement with the city allow her to get out of all but $1 of that amount if the tract requires significant environmental cleanup. And that could happen, since the land, the former site of Thompson’s Dairy, contains five underground storage tanks. If the tanks contained hazardous materials, the surrounding soil may be polluted. A spokesman for Johnson estimates that cleanup costs could range anywhere from less than $50,000 to $1 million, depending on what contaminants are found.
A rival bidder, Peoples Investment Corp. (PIC), contends that it submitted the first proposal to develop the block back in March 1994, and it offered $600,000 “unconditionally” for the land. But, PIC officials contend, consideration of that proposal by the Kelly administration screeched to a halt at the end of last April, about the same time the mayor’s campaign rented office space from Johnson.
Johnson proposes to build a 10-story, 350-unit apartment building on the site, with commercial space on the first floor. PIC proposes a project on a different scale, 52 single-family homes one block from Metro and the refurbished Lincoln Theater; PIC says it hopes to lure D.C. employees back into the city. PIC has financial backing for its project from the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust; Johnson has not yet obtained financing.
Johnson’s firm, AMB Enterprises, submitted its proposal early last November, shortly before the company was incorporated in the District. Kelly sent the proposal to the D.C. Council in early December with her stamp of approval, and Smith attempted to win quick acceptance of the project on an emergency basis at the council’s Dec. 6 meeting. That plan, however, was derailed by At-Large Councilmember John Ray, who asked what the emergency was.
Now, Johnson’s proposal will become final unless the council votes to reject it by the deadline sometime next month. That is the curious way the city does business.
Last week, more than 125 Ward 1 residents crowded into the Reeves Municipal Center conference room for the first public airing of this controversial project. After hearing the developers’ presentations, some attendees voiced complaints that Johnson’s proposed building would be too tall for the neighborhood; others said both proposals did not provide enough commercial space to support the “New U” corridor. Smith said during the meeting that PIC’s proposal was too small, and didn’t make good use of the available space.
But nearly everyone questioned a deal that could sell a large commercial site for so little money. “As crucial as our financial situation is, it would be almost a joke to sit and watch such a valuable piece of land go for a dollar,” said Mary Treadwell, the second wife of Marion Barry, while presiding over last week’s community meeting.
But few expect this deal to close before Congress ends such giveaways.“Don’t worry,” Ward 1 resident Teresa Brown told last week’s meeting. “It’s not going to continue because Congress is going to be around looking in every peephole, nook, and cranny. Deal day is over.”
The control board, or federal receiver, is being hailed as the new messiah to save the city from its government.
The biggest mystery around town right now: Why is the mayor defying Congress’ orders to cut D.C.’s payroll? With home rule at stake, many D.C. residents are perplexed by Barry’s refusal to do more than whittle away at the bloated bureaucracy. Likewise, he defies common sense by sticking to budget proposals that rely on more financial help from Congress, even after congressional committees told him two weeks ago to forget about that possibility. If Barry has a plan, few can discern it.
One explanation may be that Barry is trying to encourage the creation of a financial control board to manage the city. He may also be trying to ensure that he is not given any real power on that congressionally created board, even if he is given a seat on it. That way, he can escape blame for the layoffs and spending cuts that eventually must be made, and can instead blame the board. After all, these cuts in the D.C. budget, coming on top of the federal cuts in social spending, will inflict severe pain on parts of the city….
Speaking of avoidance, some of the city’s recovering drug and alcohol abusers have been calling to complain that Barry is not remaining true to the 12-step recovery program. They are upset that Barry seems to have added a 13th step—blame everything on former Mayor Kelly. In a recent pep talk to city workers, he sought confirmation from his audience that he was blameless. “You all believe Mayor Kelly overspent the budget, right?” Barry inquired, working hard to draw out the desired response.
“If Barry were really in the good recovery phases, he’d be saying, “I made this mess and it’s appropriate that I’m here,’ ” a recovering addict pointed out last week. “He’s not saying that at all, and now it looks as though he withheld information. None of it sounds good for his own recovery. I can assure you there are many of us in the program who are distressed by this man”….
This next item falls in the category of why D.C. residents hate their government.
Dupont Circle inhabitants are still smarting over the tickets they received early on Saturday morning, Feb. 4, for parking on a snow emergency route. Jackie Lieberman, who lives near 19th and S Street NW, was particularly incensed because she said that when she came home well after midnight, there was no snow on the ground. And she felt fortunate to have secured a parking space near her home, in a neighborhood where parking on a Friday night is like trying to find someone in the D.C. government who will listen to your complaint about lack of services.
During the night, the snow came, but not nearly as much as had been predicted, and not enough to halt traffic. But before Lieberman could wake up enough to move her car six hours later, it had already been slapped with a $100 ticket. Lieberman said the time stamped on her ticket was 6:24 a.m., and on a Saturday, no less. She said she saw “15 to 20” pink parking tickets stuck under snow-covered windshields of cars in the 1900 block of S Street NW.
“I was outraged!” Lieberman says, still angry weeks later. “I think it’s disgusting. It’s the typical way this city chooses to raise money. Every weekend I have to deal with trying to find a parking space, and I’m mad about that in the first place. I have to pay all this stuff every year [for a car], and I can’t find a parking space in my own neighborhood.”
She is appealing her ticket.
In last week’s column, when LL listed the big names for Marion Barry’s old council seat in Ward 8, we overlooked contender Lafayette Barnes, current president of Concerned Black Men.
Barnes’ presence among the 22 possible contenders adds yet another Shakespearean subplot to the May 2 special election. He is the son-in-law of former Ward 8 Councilmember Wilhelmina Rolark, whom Barry ousted in 1992 after his release from prison. Rolark and her late husband, Calvin Rolark, had been Hizzoner’s most loyal allies during his turbulent first 12 years in the mayor’s office; but their past devotiondid not deter Barry, who in 1992 carried that lean and hungry look. Now Barnes would like nothing better than to avenge the Rolark family name by defeating Eydie Whittington, Cora Masters Lady MacBarry‘s handpicked successor to her husband.
LL relishes the impending political battle in Barry’s adopted home ward.
While we’re on this subject, Joyce Scott, a founder of the Committee for a Progressive Ward 8, wishes to dissociate herself from comments made by Robert Yeldell in this column last month. Yeldell, a co-founder of the new political organization, said its purpose was to “counteract Barry trying to ramrod this Eydie Whittington down our throats” (“Loose Lips,” 2/10). But Scott said the group is not “anti-Barry,” and could end up endorsing Whittington if she is found to be the best candidate.