Paraphrasing in gay vernacular, D.C.’s scandal-tainted political leadership is a “hot nanny mess.”
One D.C. Council member and the Council chair have been forced to resign due to felony offenses and other ethics-related charges. One is in prison while the latter awaits sentencing following his political demise only last week. The mayor remains under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations and several associates also face continued scrutiny.
There is a strong and lingering stench emanating from the Wilson Building originating with prior and current investigations and ongoing public suspicions of a variety of sorts affecting nearly a majority of those remaining. Although difficult to keep the litany of confirmed and suspected wrongdoing organized in a mere mortal voter’s mind, we know your names.
Public reaction is less surprise but rather dismay that it has taken so long to get this far in addressing corruption and malfeasance among local elected officials. It’s not unlike being trapped in the late Imelda Marcos’ closet waiting for the next shoe to fall off a shelf.
It’s going to take some serious behavior changes to restore public trust. Here are six recommendations:
1. Stop pretending to be “shocked” at each revelation. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is the worst offender on this one. Unless you haven’t read a newspaper in the last year, we know you know at least as much as we do. Feigning surprise translates only as utterly ridiculous.
2. Don’t claim adequate city service delivery and a population boom as inoculations. While residents are relieved that recent city administrations have slowly improved local government functionality and basic service conveyance, don’t count on us being overly grateful. After all, we pay a decidedly hefty price with each paycheck for modest achievements we have every right to expect. As to the continuing dramatic influx of new residents and dynamic business and economic development, get over yourselves — it’s mostly happening in spite of you.
3. Get out of the way of community small business growth and private sector economic activity. Eliminating the myriad regulatory obstacles confronting local businesses for which D.C. is deservedly notorious would be smart. Reversing a legislative culture eager to prove that there is no burden too great and no interference too minor would transform the current circus atmosphere forcing entrepreneurs to constantly jump through carnival hoops of counterproductive overregulation. You might start with the funhouse sideshow to which the city’s primary hometown industry and revenue producer is subjected by reforming the hospitality house of horrors called alcohol licensing and end the clownish ability of small unrepresentative groups to delay and deny approvals through the protest process.
4. Quit spending so much more every year. In the words of D.C. Council member and Finance and Revenue Committee chair Jack Evans last week, “We are the only local government in the country to continue to pass the largest budget in our history every year despite the economic slowdown.” Despite disingenuous handwringing about spending cuts, the city budget has grown to $9.4 billion and counting. Yet inefficiencies and waste, theft and financial mismanagement continue as local trademarks. Toss out that “magic money wish list” of additional spending desires. Your job is to keep making and start sticking to hard choices on spending priorities and stop treating us like ATMs.
5. Cut us a break and lower taxes. A welcomed and fulfilled commitment by both the mayor and a Council majority to not raise taxes or fees for FY2013 wasn’t exactly an act of courage. The second highest business taxes and the fourth worst resident and consumer tax rates in the country didn’t really leave you with much choice. Although a rare consideration not given serious thought among you, any loose change left over from a revenue surplus should result in lowering the extraordinary local tax burdens.
6. Realize our patience is running out. Don’t mistake an even-tempered attitude toward entrenched sleaze and graft as either disinterest or resignation. If you don’t straighten up, there will come a day of reckoning in the voting booth. We can only take so much.
And thanks a lot, by the way, for diminishing the rationale for congressional bestowal of greater autonomy to the District.
You’ve earned it.
Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.