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This past week, Mayor Viczorek and Mayor Pro Tem Muller agreed with Councilman Tomlinson’s Orwellian assault on free speech and open government and adopted a proposal to disband the current Financial Review Committee (FRC), firing all members before their terms expired. The FRC, the City’s fiscal “watchdog” has officially been defanged.

Earlier in the meeting, the Council majority voted against Council members Lewis and Wyatt who had agreed with the FRC’s unanimous proposal that the over $1 million annual City Attorney contract go out to competitive bidding for the first time in 16 years. This is unacceptable.

In the past year, the FRC has thrown a spotlight on critical matters like annual spending exceeding revenue almost every year in the last decade, waste in the city’s vehicle policy, failure to recoup costs of services to developers through user fees (not increased in 20 years), and excessive legal costs. In some cases, the Council majority clearly was not happy with FRC’s findings. That is not a bad thing: the FRC has been able to act effectively precisely because it was an effective watchdog independent of the Council majority.

Councilman Tomlinson decried this oversight role as a “politicization” of the review process, forgetting that every action in the public sphere is essentially political, especially if you don’t like it. It’s actually Tomlinson’s proposal that has now effectively “politicized” the Committee.

No doubt, upset with FRC’s effort to rein in legal spending, Council voted on Feb. 20 to disband the current commission. Instead of each Council member nominating an FRC member giving each Council representative a voice on the FRC, the Council will now appoint each new member by Council majority, effectively disenfranchising the Council minority.

Mr. Tomlinson makes the Orwellian claim that letting the majority appoint the Committee would ensure it is truly independent. It seems to me that what was really irking him was precisely the fact that the Committee has demonstrated its independence of the Council. Sadly, this Committee has now been converted from an independent watchdog into a poodle of the majority.

The election of two new Council members last year on a bi-partisan reform platform shows that residents want accountability, and above all, transparency. As The Washington Post proclaims, “Democracy dies in darkness.” This neutering of an important fiscal watchdog must be remembered when the Council majority faces reelection in November.

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