District Gripes & Other Thoughts

Just last week, we went to the Kalorama Citizens Association meeting and heard guest speaker Mayor Vincent Gray talk about the District’s budget deficits, saying that this was a time that required sacrifices on the part of everybody.

That apparently included himself, as he pointed out that he too was taking furloughs ordered for city employees.

That message of sacrifice and austerity didn’t seem to resonate everywhere. Certainly not with City Council Chairman Kwame Brown, who found himself embroiled in another spendthrift controversy. As reported, Brown purchased a fully-loaded Lincoln Navigator SUV for his traveling vehicle, at the cost of monthly payments of around $1,900, which the city must pay.

Chairman Brown must know how this sort of stuff resonates, and claiming that he actually didn’t know how much the payments were sounds lame for a council chairman who is heavily involved in decisions on the District budget. The last thing Brown needs is a revival of grumblings about perceived or real financial extravagance, especially in times like these, and especially given that he’s already had a controversy over huge credit card debts during the campaign.

If Brown hadn’t gotten the memo about fiscal sacrifice, Mayor Gray apparently didn’t read the details either. Word has it that he has hired several top staff members at salaries considerably higher than those paid during the Fenty administration, including his new chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall, who’s getting $200,000 a year, above the salary cap for that position.

Gray may have viable reasons for the pay raises—getting the best people for critical jobs as he’s said—but for the Mayor to ask everyone to make sacrifices and then hire staff at a premium is not good imagery. But we’re also curious how the salary figures were arrived at in the negotiations for hiring, and what the conversations were like. People working at the highest level of government, be it city, state or federal often describe themselves as servants of the people. Maybe somebody should have first asked the people or their representatives on the council if they wanted to pay that much for these particular servants, or for that matter, for Chairman Brown’s “fully loaded” vehicle.

Outside of our own concerns, the world is in turmoil. The earth is shaking in New Zealand, and the streets and cities in North Africa and the Middle East are full of demonstrators, violent responses, gunfire and blood from as the revolutions, which toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt and have spread to Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco and Libya.

There were lots of demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin, where the conservative governor Scott Walker was standing fast in his effort to eliminate collective bargaining by the state’s public workers. The governor, who insists he’s not a union buster but a deficit cutter, has made the collective bargaining issue part of legislation to combat Wisconsin’s huge budget deficit, legislation that’s sure to pass if it gets to a vote in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Thousands of workers, union members and protesters have gathered in Madison to protest the legislation, equaling in size many of the demonstrations in Middle Eastern cities. To Democrats, many union leaders, and public workers like policemen, firefighters, and teachers, this smacks like an effort to crush public worker unions, key supporters and fundraisers for the Dems.

It sure doesn’t sound like budget-cutting. Governor Walker said this would cut the deficit, although it was not provided how that might happen, or the figures to go with it. Walker doesn’t look like he’s going to budge. The few Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature are AWOL.

Revolution, it seems, is in the air. In Wisconsin, it looks like there are competing revolutions. The GOP seems to want to party like its 06…1906, when labor unions were all but non-existent as effective bulwarks for workers.

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Sat, 22 Nov 2014 23:37:36 -0500

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