Commentary: Don't Hamper D.C.'s Soon-To-Be-Elected Attorney General | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : Community

Commentary: Don't Hamper D.C.'s Soon-To-Be-Elected Attorney General

Play associated audio
Walter Smith is the executive director of D.C. Appleseed.
Walter Smith is the executive director of D.C. Appleseed.

Next year, D.C. residents will elect their attorney general for the first time in the city's history. In advance of the election, the current attorney general, Irv Nathan, has proposed legislation that would transfer some of the attorney general's authority to the mayor. In a commentary published yesterday, Nathan argued the changes are necessary to prevent an elected attorney general from undermining the mayor's programs. But commentator Walter Smith, executive director of D.C. Appleseed, opposes the legislation, and says it runs counter to the wishes of the District's voters.

In 2010, D.C. voters passed a charter referendum making the city's attorney general elected rather than appointed by the mayor. Mr. Nathan is concerned that the elected attorney general will disagree with the elected mayor on various issues. He therefore proposes to take authority away from the attorney general and give it to the mayor. He proposes to do this in two key ways.

First, his plan would transfer oversight of all D.C. agency lawyers from the attorney general to the agency directors. Second, it would establish a mayor's Office of Legal Counsel to coordinate those agency lawyers. Since the mayor would then control both the agency directors and the agency lawyers, this would remove the attorney general from supervising the legal advice being given to each agency.

There are at least three problems with this proposal.

First, the whole purpose of having an elected attorney general was for the city's legal advice to be accountable to the public—rather than the mayor. Mr. Nathan's proposal effectively requires agency lawyers to serve the mayor's policy agenda.

Second, the plan would reverse 15 years of efforts to improve the city s legal services. Before 1998, agency directors controlled their own counsel, similar to what Mr. Nathan is now proposing. This system posed problems with the professionalism, coordination and unity of the District's legal operations. The D.C. Council fixed these problems by consolidating legal services under the attorney general. This consolidation is the most effective method of managing the District's legal services and represents the best practice from among the 43 states that elect their attorney general.The new proposal would be a step backwards from these best practices.

Finally, the plan is inconsistent with the people s choice in the 2010 referendum. The referendum was presented to voters as a way of making the attorney general and the city's legal services independent of other officials. Transferring authority from the attorney general to the mayor undermines this. And downsizing the office in this way will also discourage the best candidates from running for this very important position.

The council should let voters elect an attorney general with all the duties and responsibilities that currently exist. If the new attorney general acts in ways that are harmful to the public interest, there will be time to make adjustments later. But for now, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Smith is the executive director of D.C. Appleseed.

We want to hear how your background and expertise inform your view of the world. Please join our Public Insight Network and let us know what you think. You can also email us at insight@wamu.org.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

WAMU commentaries come from contributors not on the staff of WAMU 88.5. These articles are not intended to reflect the positions of WAMU 88.5. The commentary page is seen as a forum to air diverse and challenging viewpoints.

Please continue the conversation about this topic in the comment section below.

NPR

In An Earthquake, History Fuels One Writer's Anxiety

An earthquake in Napa Valley this week brought back old fears for author Gustavo Arellano. In his anxiety he's revisiting the book A Crack in the Edge of the World.
NPR

Real Vanilla Isn't Plain. It Depends On (Dare We Say It) Terroir

There's no such thing as plain vanilla — at least if you're talking about beans from the vanilla orchid. Whether it's from Tahiti or Madagascar, vanilla can be creamy, spicy or even floral.
NPR

Federal Judge Blocks Texas Restriction On Abortion Clinics

Requiring every center that performs abortions to meet all the standards of a surgical center is excessively restrictive, says the federal district court judge who blocked the state rule Friday.
NPR

Tech Week: Uber's Tricks, JPMorgan Hacked & A Desk Microwave

Also in this week's roundup, Amazon's $1 billion purchase surprises some tech watchers. But we're most excited about finding a way to avoid physical exertion at lunch.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.