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.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Strengthening DC's political systems and structures: The Inspector General and DC Auditor positions should be abolished and replaced by an elected Public Advocate

Yesterday, the Post editorialized about the need for improvements in the DC government office that handles the city's election processes, the Board of Elections and Ethics, because of continual problems in managing elections, reporting results, etc.

And the City Paper has a piece on the soon to be expired term of the city's Inspector General and the process for replacement.  See "Council Blocks Plan to Change How Inspector Generals Get Picked."

The process is more flawed than merely how the IG is chosen.

I write a lot about the broad issue of the city's political and governance structures and the need for significant changes, to improve accountability and to build civil society and governance capacity in the city--after all, if the city is truly serious about achieving statehood stakeholders ought to acknowledge and accept that to build the case, the city needs to function a lot better governmentally (it doesn't help that two former Councilmembers are in or about to be in jail, one resigned his office in the face of an indictment, and Mayor Gray continues to be under a cloud because of various improprieties associated with the 2010 election).

The "best" solution with regard to the Inspector General position (and the DC Auditor--that office reports to the City Council and the IG to the Mayor) is to abolish both positions in their current incarnations and merge them into an elected Public Advocate position and office, with independent oversight and investigative power.

Continuing the same setup doesn't provide the city with very good accountability mechanisms.

With regard to the text below, reprinted from a 2013 post, note that in the last couple weeks, the Toronto Ombudsperson released a scathing report about mismanagement in the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and this led to the resignation of the director and other officials whose mismanagement had been encouraged by the Mayor.  See "TCHC vice president out after  ombudsman's report" from the Toronto Star. Interestingly in DC Government, while misfeasance isn't often sanctioned, opposition to mayoral policies is (e.g., "DC Government at-will employees need protections to tell the truth")

From "Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly)":

I haven't thought this through enough, but the way that things "work" in DC is piss-poor.  Also see "The system of corruption: when you don't understand "systems", of corruption or anything else, you don't understand outcomes" and "DC ethics legislation misses the point: focus on what produces corruption as a regular outcome, not monitoring."

Toronto has both an Ombudsperson and an Integrity Commissioner.  In New York City, there is the Office of Public Advocate which functions similarly to an  Ombudsperson, which is a position that is supposed to provide citizens with a vehicle to investigate alleged violations of rights or malfeasance in government.  These offices are set up to be independent of the Executive and Legislative Branches, giving citizens an alternative when other venues aren't responsive, and allowing findings to come out without being "edited" before release by agencies or elected officials.

California jurisdictions also have what is called a Civil Grand Jury, which is made up of citizens, but rather than focus on criminal or civil matters that normally are heard by juries, they address the operation of government agencies.

DC does have an Auditor who reports to City Council, in a similar way to how the Government Accountability Office is one of the agencies, like the Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress that provides support to the US Congress.

Similarly, the  nspector General is a unit of the DC Executive Branch.  Neither the Auditor nor the Inspector General are able to freely operate independent of their respective branches of government.

Electing a public advocate/ombudsperson

DC doesn't have a Public Advocate/Ombudsperson position.  We need one and the person should be elected, with a three term limit.  In a kind of way, like how in Michigan public colleges and universities function as a fourth branch of government, a public advocate should function similarly.

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