Council Chairman Phil Mendelson
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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LL bets Mayor Muriel Bowser might be rethinking her administration’s decision to cancel the weekly conference calls with the D.C. Council right about now.

About a week after Herronor’s abrupt about face, Chairman Phil Mendelson announced today that he’s going to start hauling agency officials in for weekly, 90-minute hearings to answer questions and provide testimony about the government’s COVID-19 response. The conference calls where top health and emergency management officials answered councilmembers’ questions were often shorter than 90 minutes.

In an email to City Administrator Kevin Donahue, Mendelson writes that he would have preferred the weekly calls continue.

“The Executive’s unilateral decision to cancel these weekly conference calls has been met with universal reprobation from councilmembers,” the chairman writes. “I would have worked with you to improve their efficiency, but was not given that chance.  The conference calls, even with their sharp moments, were valuable to facilitate collaboration between the branches of government, and also to aid both councilmembers in their work and agencies to improve their responsiveness to citizens.  They were, as well, a useful opportunity to inform the public.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

Mendelson notes that the Council has repeatedly obliged Bowser’s requests to extend the public health emergency. The least she could do is give them answers about how it’s going, he writes.

“If the weekly calls are to be discontinued, then the weekly hearings will be the next best replacement,” Mendelson writes. The Council recently extended the public health emergency to May 20.

Bowser’s administration told the Council the mayor would replace the canceled calls with a monthly mayor/Council breakfast meetings. Several councilmembers pointed out that those meetings, which were held sporadically before the pandemic, were not an adequate replacement for the weekly calls. Lawmakers often used the time to elevate their constituents’ questions and concerns.

At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson recited a listed of her unanswered questions to LL last week after she learned of the canceled conference calls. She still hasn’t received a response, but says she is told they’re coming later today.

LL’s efforts to reach DC Health, the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, and Donahue’s office were not immediately successful. He will update this post if the agencies respond.

Mendelson’s first hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday, April 21, at 1:30 p.m. The public can watch and submit written comments but won’t be allowed to testify.