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Fenty Witnesses No-Show for Crime Bill Hearing

An aide from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration who was scheduled to testify on behalf of the administration's crime bill was a no-show at a D.C. Council committee hearing this morning, drawing the ire of Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large).

About 45 minutes into the hearing by the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, chairman Mendelson, called for Dave Rosenthal, a senior assistant attorney general in the Public Safety Division of the Office of the Attorney General, to step to the witness table.

Mendelson, who chaired a lengthy hearing on the bill in March, decided to change the format a bit. Instead of having the government witnesses go first, they would be the last panel to testify, and the witnesses would be grouped by issue. Rosenthal was slated to appear today on a panel on civil judges issuing injunctions against alleged gang members.

Fenty held a news conference last week touting the importance of the "gangs and guns" aspects of his proposed legislation. His bill calls for increased penalties for gang members and crimes committed with guns. (Mendelson has also proposed a crime bill.) The mayor urged the council to move quickly on the legislation and pass it on emergency. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles told D.C. Wire last week, in response to a question about which provisions of the bill Fenty wanted to move on emergency: "You'll see in our presentation on Monday."

This would seem to indicate a robust showing by executive witnesses. But when Mendelson called Rosenthal's name to be part of the panel, along with the ACLU and other nonprofits, Rosenthal wasn't there. Mendelson decided to recess the hearing shortly after 11:15 a.m.and pledged to start making phone calls and talking to the attorney general's office to find out what was going on.

"They appear to have boycotted the chamber entirely," Mendelson said.

Mendelson came back into the chamber shortly after noon. He said he called the mayor, twice, and was told he was in a meeting. He said he called Nickles and went to see him in his office. Mendelson said Nickles told him he disagreed with the format of the hearing and only wanted government witnesses to appear once, at the end of the day. Nickles, Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Jeffrey Taylor, U.S. attorney for the District, are slated to be the last witness panel of the day.

A frustrated Mendelson said he felt that the administration was dictating how the council should run its hearing. "If the bill is so important, then the witnesses should be there. If the executive is interested in cooperation, then the witnesses should be here. We're being told by the executive branch how we can structure out hearings," Mendelson said. "We can all get to a better bill by working together, instead of this way."

Nickles told D.C.Wire that the government witnesses were not being withheld. He said that the executive witnesses wanted to appear first. Nickles said that Mendelson knew that Lanier could not appear if the government panel was last, but that Mendelson kept that format anyway. "I said to [him] I would appear anytime on behalf of the Executive. He refused." Nickles said.

Councilmembers have been peeved in the past by Fenty witnesses not attending hearings. In early April Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) held a hearing on the Office of the Chief Technology Officer after employees were arrested for allegedly running a bribery scam and no government witnesses showed up. At the time, Nickles said that the witnesses could not appear because of a pending FBI investigation. But that wasn't good enough for Cheh, who then invoked subpoena power, saying at the time the council needed to know what happened "and what actions {we] must take to prevent it to happen in the future."

Mendelson, who never spoke to the mayor, followed up with him by letter, which he copied to the rest of the Council.

"I trust that you understand that Council process cannot be dictated by the Executive. This unwillingness to cooperate is an affront -- to the Council as well as to the importance of this legislation."

Mendelson's hearing has resumed, without Rosenthal in the witness chair. We'll see as the hearing continues whether other government witnesses show up to testify.

-- Theola Labbé-DeBose

By Vanessa Williams  |  May 18, 2009; 1:33 PM ET
Categories:  City Hall Aides , Crime and Public Safety , D.C. Council , Mayor Fenty , Theola Labbé-DeBose  
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As I said, Peter Nickles is running this city. The Mayor is a proxy. I am tired of this "female dog-like" behavior of the Mayor. He is so weak.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | May 18, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

council needs to start zeroing out the salaries of any city employee who fails to show up to testify, subpoenaed or not. that's the way parliament got the king's attention...

Posted by: natty-bumppo | May 18, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

That silly and unprofessional behavior simply proves that this administration must go. Since they failed to show, then it can't be that pressing. Mendelson should now follow the legislative process for the crime bill as scheduled and later for the mayor, nickles and the suck up council members who support this effort. Just continue to do your job. The public is behind you.

Posted by: candycane1 | May 18, 2009 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Reprehensible on all parties. I cannot wait to move to MD.

Posted by: mendelsonmustgo | May 19, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

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