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June 6, 1996

Oversight on Oversight

Dear Neighbors:

Don those party hats. The second Electronic Backfence Party takes place Monday, June 10, at Pizzeria Uno in Cleveland Park. Free at 7:30 p.m. Over 50 folks are expected to attend. *********************************

Those it's fashionable to criticize the Washington Post's coverage of local politics, from both an east-side and west-side perspective, I've been impressed by the resources and accomplishment of the Metro staff's investigations of a broken government. Stacked up bodies in the morgue made the talk shows, but over the past few years, the Post has been reporting stories on abused prisoners, abused homeless persons, abused children, abused students, abused mental patients, and abused public housing residents. One could well conclude that the city's primary function-other than lining the pockets of friends-is abusing its citizens.

Having spent a career in federal government oversight, I'm still perplexed why the city council doesn't haul up these administrators and ream them out before the 16 people who watch channel 13. Why does the Control Board have to build a rap sheet on Vernon Hawkins and publicly humiliate him? Why can't Linda Cropp, who chairs the human services committee? Most of us favor self government. Why don't our elected officials exercise it?

I posed the question to Kathy Patterson, the Ward 3 councilmember, who wrote the following reply. I asked Kathy to explain this because I know she's as peeved about this issue as well. Also, she's the only member of the council who doesn't chair a committee. Thus, she's the only one without authority to perform oversight.

I agree with all of Kathy's points, but would add one more. The absence of an opposition party allows councilmembers to abdicate their responsibilities. Whether you agree with the Republicans or not, we would know far less about Whitewater if we were a one-party government. I don't expect a resurgence of the Republican Party in the District, but the formation of an opposition caucus within the Democratic Party-with all the elements of party discipline-would go along way toward restoring self-government. *********************************

My internet provider is breaking out their new Washington Web page and is looking for feedback. Check it out at and tell them what you think. And for comparison purposes, check out the "alpha" site at Contact Michael Mann with your comments. or 301-652-4468.


Jeffrey Itell


City Council Oversight

I am responding to Jeff's question about why the Washington Post, and not the D.C. Council, seems to take the lead in uncovering malfeasance within the D.C. government. I would agree with the general assumption -- but am compelled to cite a couple of recent examples where a hard-working, reform-minded D.C. councilmember uncovered problems and got them resolved--or at least on the way to being resolved: the leaf tickets and the property tax assessments in Massachusetts Heights and Forest Hills. Calls to my office and conversations with constituents gave me the data to challenge the Department of Finance and Revenue and be in touch with the chief financial officer such that all the assessments handled by one particular assessor are now under review.

As a rule, D.C. councilmembers do not seem to see their role as including oversight. Last year the Council held oversight hearings -- as distinguished from budget hearings where agency budgets were reviewed -- on just 12 of the government's 80 agencies. Councilmembers and particularly committee chairs see their role as advocates for, rather than critics of, the agencies under their purview. I think the job should encompass both. Now, though, the perceived power in the Council (and I say perceived because I do not believe this has to be the case -- it's one of those emperor's clothes things) relates to one's committee. If I begin to criticize the agencies within my jurisdiction, and one result is that the agencies have less funding, my domain will shrink -- other councilmembers might not need anything from my agencies. I don't think most councilmembers think that through in that manner, but it's tradition to try to broaden one's domain, not weaken it.

Oversight is a mindset, and the only way I know to change that mindset is to reward reform and punish business-as-usual. One example of oversight that didn't go as far as it should have: Last June Councilmembers Brazil (Government Operations) and Linda Cropp (Human Services) held contentious hearings on DHS contracting. This was in the context of a legislative request for the Council to approve paying $48 million -- if memory serves -- to community organizations for services provided without valid contracts. It was absolutely necessary for the Council to approve this legislation -- otherwise, providers like Whitman-Walker were threatened with serious harm due to lack of city payments. At the legislative session where the one-time-only legislation was approved, I offered an amendment to make clear that from that moment forward any D.C. employee responsible for services being rendered without a contract would be removed for cause and/or required to pay the city back for the cost of the service. My colleagues thought that was too harsh; I think only Harold Brazil voted with me. (I'll file a correction if anyone else did.) So here is an example of oversight, a problem being acknowledged and responded to, but without the teeth in the law that might have precluded further problems.

Part of why councilmembers do not view oversight as a key part of their job rests with the fact that no one holds individual councilmembers accountable for their actions. The Post's editorial page, in particular, rails against the Council repeatedly, but does so with a broad brush that fails to distinguish among councilmembers. Specific criticism of egregious action or inaction, as well as praise at that rare moment when something good is attempted, would strengthen what tentative oversight does exist. This week we approved a noise bill that won't be enforceable and may be vetoed and/or challenged in court. It was made unenforceable by an amendment pushed by labor. Do any of you know how councilmembers voted on that key amendment? You certainly weren't told by any of the local media. You may know that it was John Ray's bill, and Bill Lightfoot's amendment. But who voted with labor and who voted against?

In the Council's budget debate this week I moved an amendment to require the school system to RIF another 100 central office administrators to free up $4.4 million to reinstate 245 of the 300 educational aides to be RIFed before the fall. (Another line item already in the budget will restore 300 kindergarten aides if the Financial Authority goes along.) I reported that the central administration now numbers 1,138 FTEs and the system is cutting only 193 of those positions at the same time they RIF 446 teachers. The amendment to increase the cut to 293 FTEs lost. Anyone know which lone Councilmember joined me in voting for this reallocation of school resources to the classroom, to benefit children? (Answer: Chairman Clarke).

As long as no one pays any attention to votes like that, they are "free votes" in that we can do as we please without any consequences. There should be consequences. Representatives of the Post, including Donald Graham, have indicated that a regular section in the paper devoted to reporting votes is a good idea. Hasn't happened yet though. And that's just one very simple piece of it. Even the newspaper articles that focus on an agency's latest fiasco rarely have the paragraph that begins, "And Councilmember Jones, chair of the Council's Committee on Whatever, said in response to a question about what he had done over the last umpteen years to rectify the problem....."

Why don't Councilmembers, in general, uncover wrongdoing? Because nobody makes them! Why should they? What will they gain? What do they stand to lose when they don't? How can we make this a critical part of the job description -- and without commitment to oversight nobody gets elected to the job? Without strong commitment to oversight, nobody keeps the job? Your thoughts?


District Government

Editor Itell and the contributors in the "Feeling Your Pain" edition have admirably noted the absurdities of what remains of the Barry administration. But a few questions need answers:

1. Now that Vernon Hawkins has been ousted from the top of the Department of Human Services, will the replacement be any better, or just another example of the bureaucrats who reason that you can't spend enough on recreation while the buses cease to run and the trash goes uncollected?

2. Have the DC prosecutors been asked to consider whether the mayoral description of the control board as Nazis should be considered a hate crime?

3. Has anyone figured out where the mayor's media damage control fund is coming from? Every time the TV news reports a major crisis from lack of funding at places like the city animal shelter, city morgue, etc., his honor miraculously appears with the funds needed to keep it going, with an impromptu visit to the site, followed by a press conference. But no one seems to ask why, if the mayor had the funds sitting around all the time, the place was allowed to go to pieces.

Finally, DC residents take note: the big time pundits are starting to notice things like the decomposing corpses in the morgue, listed as a "Hall of Shame" item on CNN's "Capital Gang Sunday." Also note Jim Glassman's column in the Post on alternatives to waiting for Barry to get tired of being mayor while the control board meddles. I'm still pulling for retrocession, but that's for another day.

Tom Matthes


City Manager

Slight correction. When Walter Washington was the appointed Mayor, Tom Fletcher was Deputy Mayor, and was an excellent city manager. He served from 67 to 69. After Nixon's election, the White House put in Graham Watt to replace Fletcher. He served until 72 or so when he went to run the Revenue Sharing program. Then city council chair spent a lot of his time trying to get Mr. Watt to understand that DC was a city and not simply a resume stop. Tom Fletcher became city manager of San Jose. He stayed there until shortly before he died a few years ago. I knew Tom well. He not only was a model administrator -- clean desktop, new how to pull policy issues out of technical jargon, etc. He also was an urban advocate, civil libertarian, and firm friend of DC.

I'm not too big on city managers. I believe the biggest city with a city manager form of government is Cincinnati. It's mostly for mid sized cities. While the District's problems involve governmental structure, our basic mayor council form is not the problem. What we need are elected officials who prize excellence both for themselves and from the bureaucracy, and are smart enough to know it when they see it.

If any structure needs changing in the city its the way in which the city divides its budget up. For example, in the schools 80% of the budge for elementary and secondary education including all teacher salaries, all administrators, and all downtown staff, plus all their purchases, contracts and utilities are in one highly fungible pot. Not only can't you find out what the budget for any given elementary school is you can't find out how much is spent on all the elementary schools either. Changing this kind of nonsense is where the city and the control board need to start.

Carl Bergman



DQ lovers: I'm going to make you all jealous and anxious to leave D.C. There's a BRAND NEW Dairy Queen going up on Viers Mill Road about a block north of Twinbrook/Rollins Road. Roughly a half mile or so from Twinbrook Metro Station on the Red Line if you've just gotta have it. I'll let you know when it opens.

Adrianne Flynn



We were having a discussion last night in the neighborhood as to where to go family swimming this summer. Some had already joined Beuvoir, others said that they had joined the Bethesda Pool off River Road despite the fact that it was a bit further away. The Cleveland Park Club some said was too small, the Shoreham too expensive, the Sheraton had no shallow end for kids. (No one mentioned Woodrow Wilson HS even for winter swimming even though it is only a few blocks away. One did not even know that there was a pool there even though he had lived in the neighborhood for five years.) Any recommendations for the summer that I can pass on? Also, what the story is on Woodrow Wilson? Does it get much use?

Steve Goldstein


In Search of

Looking for Hess toy trucks in original cartons for trade or sale. If you know of any, please contact me.

Fritz Kramer


Saturday, June 8th 7:30 PM there's going to be a poetry reading by Henry Taylor, with R.N.Smith's paintings there, as well. Ann Wood Wallace (a fabulous artist--I would buy her work in a minute if I wasn't(weren't?) stone cold...)and her husband Harry Wallace, a real interesting guy--works for Arthur Andersen--but spends his time writing, and thinking about creativity--how to increase it--get it primed--bought a building at 1508 U Street, NW. They are exploring process, rather than product, and they do not want to become gallery mavens, even a little. So. They have poetry readings, exhibitions, and rent out a bookshop space downstairs to Richard Peabody for -Atticus Books(was an article about them in May in the Post. The thing is, their draw for readings is UNBELIEVABLE. A slow night there are 30 people--alas, in that world, 30 is a lot. But often they have crowds standing at the door, out the door, and down the block. Check it out.

Andrea Sexton


Poetry readings

You're invited to the MHQ/Sidney Kramer Books free Military History Lecture Series ------------------------------------

Saturday, June 15 2 p.m. Colonel Harry Summers, Stanley Karnow and John Prados VIETNAM IN THE MODERN CONSCIOUSNESS


Saturday, June 29 2 p.m. James McPherson, Gary Gallagher and Noah Andre Trudeau THE CIVIL WAR: TV OR NOT TV?


Saturday, July 13 2 p.m. Rob Cowley, Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen WORLD WAR II: END-OF-WAR ISSUES


Andrea Sexton


June 22, 1996 1-5 p.m. Cardozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association presents: U Street Historic House & Building Tour.

This month the historic homes and businesses associated with the U Street Corridor will be featured in a tour organized by the Cardozo Shaw Neighborhood Association (CSNA). The Historic Preservation and Promotion Committee has set the theme of this year's tour as "Works in Progress," as many of the homes and businesses are undergoing renovations or have been recently adapted for new uses. Many homes and commercial structures, significant for their social, cultural, or architectural association with African American history will be featured on the tour. These include the Lincoln Theater (1921-23), the Whitelaw Hotel, Anthony Bowen YMCA, National Minority AIDS Council and 5 residences. The tour cost is $10 per ticket, or $12 on the day of the event with tickets available for purchase at 1800 Vermont Ave., at 11th Street, NW, or at the Lincoln Theater, 1215 U Street. A limited number of tickets will be sold! Advance sale tickets can be purchased at Polly's Cafe (1342 U Street), Utopia (1418 U Street) or by mail (CSNA House Tour, P.O. Box 73784, Washington, DC 20009-4438). For more information, or to volunteer your time, contact Paul K. Williams at 202-462-6251.

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