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D.C. council chairman Mendelson undoing Kwame Brown's $20k remodel

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Photo - D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

Nearly two years after then-D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown knocked down a wall in the fifth floor of city hall to create a super-office, the current chairman is paying to put the wall back up.

The move, which will come out of the council's budget and cost about $20,000, aims to undo an inequality that was created by the first remodel: the "hallway office" for the newest council member.

Denise Tolliver, chief of staff for Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, told The Washington Examiner that the chairman's office, which currently spans the entire length of the John A. Wilson Building's 14th Street Northwest side, will be divided in the middle by a wall. The southern half of the chairman's office will be converted back to a regular council office, as it was in 2010 before Brown took over.

The chairman's Committee of the Whole offices will be moved back down to the fourth floor, where Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie's office is now, said Tolliver. She added the $20,000 cost was similar to the cost to tear down the walls two years ago.

Brown's remodel connected the chairman with his committee. But it also had the side effect of making the 13th council member's office about half the size of everyone else's.

"In every main office, we have room to meet with people, we have this constant stream of people, it's what we do," said Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, whose office is adjacent to McDuffie's. "You can't do that in that office -- really, the layout doesn't work well."

Political consultant Chuck Thies equated the office to a kind of rookie hazing.

"They assign suites based on seniority, but it doesn't mean the 13th council member should have to conduct their business in a hallway," he said.

Tolliver said Mendelson was making the switch because he preferred that the offices be more similar in size.

When Brown, who resigned in June before pleading guilty to felony bank fraud, initially tore down the wall to connect his committee office to the chairman's office, no one on the council objected.

"There's a history of the council not challenging the chair," Wells said, adding that he thought Mendelson was more inclined to rule by consensus.

Mendelson is also fully vacating the office on the fourth floor that he held as an at-large councilman. His staff, which had previously been split between the two floors, moved into the chairman's office Friday.

Council members get right of first refusal of the soon-to-be-available offices based on seniority. McDuffie, the newest councilman, will move out of his small office and into one of whichever offices are available after his colleagues have their pick.

Mendelson's at-large seat will be declared vacated by the DC Board of Elections after Tuesday's election. At that point, a temporary council member, selected by the D.C. Democratic State Committee, will take up the remaining office until a special election can be held.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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