Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another need for a plan: proposal for "full-time" DC Councilmembers and a big salary increase

There isn't a lot of new scholarship about various issues relating to the form of local government, especially in terms of the legislative branch. Some questions include:

• should councilmembers be full or part time;
• how much should they be paid;
• should representation be at large or by ward or a combination;
• how many elected representatives should a community have and what criteria should be used to determine the number;
• how should the campaign part of elections be funded;
• when should elections be held, in association with Presidential elections or not--the idea is that when local elections aren't held during Presidential elections, local issues aren't lost in the miasma of the other elections, on the other hand way fewer people vote in local elections otherwise;
• how should elections be held, by mail like in Oregon, or with a more limited number of polling stations, open longer?:
• what about ranked choice and other forms of balloting;
• what about forms of sub-government (Community Boards, Business Improvement Districts, Neighborhood Planning Units, Neighborhood Councils, DC's version--Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, etc.) and how should they be set up;
• what kinds of support infrastructure should be provided to support civic engagement and civil society; etc.

In the 2009 cycle of proposed amendments to the DC Comprehensive Plan, I suggested that a new element, on Civic Engagement, be developed. Now a Comprehensive "Land Use" Plan isn't necessarily the best place for such an element, but since the city doesn't have a Master Plan for the Government generally, the Comp. Plan is the closest thing we have to a "DC government policy and business plan," which we ought to have.

I am not an expert on DC's Home Rule Charter, but there is no question that the various ethical and other problems in DC Government raise the issue that a more comprehensive and careful examination of the issue is required, one that goes beyond the provisions suggested by Councilmember Vincent Orange, in "Term limits, council salary increases among proposed D.C. ethics reforms" from the Washington Times.

From the article:

Among his key initiatives, Mr. Orange touted a term-limits bill that would restrict council members from serving more than two consecutive, four-year terms as mayor, council member, council chairman, attorney general or as a member of the Board of Education. The term limits would not be retroactive, so sitting council members would be entitled to two additional full terms if the measure passed.

Another bill would turn council members into full-time employees to prevent conflicts of interest caused by outside employment. Mr. Orange’s proposal would set the salary for each council member to within $20,000 of the chairman’s, a pay raise from about $125,000 to $170,000.

The District’s “part-time” members are already the second-highest paid city council in the nation, earning more than New York City’s legislators and trailing only those in Los Angeles, who earn an average $178,879 annually, according to a February report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. ...

Vincent B. Orange proposed his “new deal for the District of Columbia” a day before the council’s first legislative session since the summer recess. Mr. Orange, at-large Democrat, said his efforts will “start the conversation” on bold reforms, even if some of his ideas prove to be unpopular among his colleagues.

The proposals are part of a hodgepodge of legislation that highlight individual council members as champions of reform after a steady drip of apparent ethical lapses in city hall this year.

I wish that Council and DC Government generally would be more measured than is illustrated by the "hodgepodge" approach to governance.

Sure you can criticize government for taking too long, but DC Government's biggest problem seems to be acting without much forethought generally. This is a problem in the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch.

It's hardly a good track record for justifying independent "statehood."

I think a review of the Home Rule Charter is in order.

Also see these past blog entries:

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