Mayor Adrian Fenty and his mayoral rival D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray would keep the Summer Youth Employment Program simple: The city's teens should get paid for showing up to work.

Both candidates were questioned on the program's substance during a forum Thursday morning hosted by the Dupont Merchants Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce at the Washington Hilton.

The question was raised by D.C. business consultant Jay Vilar, who also volunteers to speak to youth employee program participants about what it takes to start and operate a business.

"What I picked up from both of them is that the program is pretty much a way to pay kids off," Vilar told The Washington Examiner after the forum.

He said full-time teachers keep the youth employees in line by threatening to cut hours from their time sheets.

Vilar prefaced his question to Fenty and Gray saying that kids in his classes were of the mind that "time equals money. For business owners, profits are based on performance and result. ... What do you plan on doing to incorporate performance and results, and not just time and money?"

Gray answered first, saying the kids in the program had to learn three things: Come to work, come on time and get along.

The chairman said he'd include a life skills program. He noted, "but by the time kids get out to the Summer Youth Employment Program, it's too late." He said training needs start as early as pre-school.

Gray included proposed changes to the program in his jobs and economic development plan released last week. As mayor, he would require youth to apply for jobs — they wouldn't automatically get a job.

Fenty, who hasn't released a plan, seems more satisfied with the status quo. "Government will never solve all our problems," Fenty said. "For these youth, there's no alternative. At best they'd watch TV all day. ... The program is intended to give them something to do."