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November 14, 1996

Snitch Set Me Up?

Dear Neighbors:

Yesterday, Roweshea Burruss, Marian Barry associate and sandwich maker, copped a guilty plea, promising to "cooperate completely, candidly and providing all information in his possession relating directly or indirectly to all criminal activity...of which he has knowledge." The lawyers have worked out an agreement that could reduce Burruss’s jail time if he cooperates.

One of Burruss’s cohorts is a District cop, so the investigation could lead inside the department. Another alternative is whether Burruss has anything to say about the mayor’s activities. Could this be a variation on a theme, "The Snitch Set Me Up?" Stay tuned, soap opera fans. We still don’t know what caused Barry to beat the retreat while he was changing clothes at Chez Burruss.


The Fax are in from Delegate Norton on school board reform. Talmudist scholars are parsing the text. We should know its meaning by next Tu B’Shvat.

But let me provide you some clues. Norton essentially supports the control board’s actions. She would like to make the transfer of power lawsuit proof by effecting the change through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Board of Education and the new superintendent, in which the board would cede its remaining authority to General Becton. An MOU would "give at least some deference to the normal democratic processes." But why would the Board of Education sign this MOU ceding its power if members are prepared to sue to retain the same powers? I can only assume that this face saving agreement has already been brokered.

In another point right out of Joseph Heller’s bible of the bureaucracy, "Good as Gold," Norton suggests that General Becton use the school board and the Jeffords Commission—an D.C. school advisory commission legislated by Congress last year—for advice, rather than the advisory committee envisioned in the control board’s well-leaked but still unrevealed plan—unless the control board and General Becton don’t want to. And of course they won’t want to—because they want to work with their own people. Got that?

Now that home rule is saved, let’s get on with the show.


John J. Fialka, staff reporter of The Wall Street Journal, praises the work of Housing Commish David Gilmore in a story dated November 13, 1996. ‘"In this politics-obsessed city, talk of reform is usually the main event. But David Gilmore is different. He’s actually reforming something in a city that has defied reform — the District of Columbia’s long-neglected Housing Authority."

I thought Fialka’s evidence of Gilmore’s success was a scanty, but it’s an interesting read for District mavens. You can find the Journal at []. You must be subscriber but a two-week introductory trial is free. And why am I flacking the Journal? I have no idea.


"Former Alabama governor George C. Wallace, shot and paralyzed by Arthur H. Bremer at a presidential campaign appearance in Maryland in 1972, wrote a short but warm letter to Bremer last year in the hope that they could get to know each other better."

[Call me crazy, but plugging someone with bullets is a hell of a way to get to know someone better. I’m hoping this sin/redemption/forgiveness thing is just a passing FAZE and the millennium brings back the old stalwarts—honor and shame. jeff]


Also free! Short movie reviews and movie discussion. Send an email message to to subscribe.

Jeffrey Itell


Control Board and School Board
Carl Bergman

I have not a qualm about dumping Franklin Smith, and adding the entire school bureaucracy to the jetsam doesn’t make me flinch. It wasn’t Smith’s ‘innovations’ I disliked. He didn’t stick to his knitting. Dozens of basic systems need total overhaul, and he showed no interest in building a decent administrative structure.

While the control board is at it, it should undo Smith’s last demotions. He moved several acknowledged losers out of downtown and punished them by making them principals!

The school system needs drastic action, yet, I draw the line at the board’s powers. My reason has little to do with the board itself. Indeed, if the Control Board were to create a ‘State Board’ over the local board, I would not object.

I don’t want to abandon a local public mechanism for an unknown, undemocratic one. Its a terrible precedent. As to the current board, it’s like the old saying, it may be a crooked game, but it’s our game. We know who is responsible, even if they haven’t acted responsibly.

Prior to home rule, we never knew where responsibility vested. Every damn member of Congress would and often could decide to start or stop something, fund or unfund it as the mood struck them. If you tried to challenge their motive or methods, you got short shrift. Congress responds to the folks at home, and that’s not us. As often as not, friend or foe to the city would waltz off the scene as casually as they came, leaving DC citizens with the mess.

To a great extent home rule ended these arbitrary, sporadic, self-serving and hostile Congressional actions. In no small degree, they are coming back. This is due, in most part, to the city government’s own disasters, led by a mayor from the lemming school of management

Between the board, the Republicans on the hill, and the administration we are in jeopardy of returning to our pre home rule bind — always on the receiving end, but never knowing where the next blow will come from.

If the board succeeds in taking apart the school board’s powers, and we are left without any local political control in education, we will revert to an even more rococo form of rule — than now. One where no one knows who speaks for the people — and it’s everyone for themselves.


Ralph Blessing

Having lived for about five years in a couple Latin American countries run by dictators, I can understand how many people are willing to forego democratic processes if it means that the trains will run on time. (Not that such was attained in the countries where I lived!) I, too, yearn for tangible results in the DC school system, especially since my two children attend DC elementary schools and will, for financial reasons, stay in the system thru high school. At the same time, though, I am extremely troubled by the total disregard for the will of DC residents, as expressed on election day. While it is accurate to state, as guru Jeffrey did, that there has been no outpouring of opposition to the Control Board’s decisions, it’s nonetheless interesting to note that the voters, when given the opportunity to get rid of a few school board incumbents, returned most to power. If people are truly fed up with the school system, what explains such outcomes? Voter apathy? A poorly informed electorate? The power of incumbency? All of the above? None of the above? I’m angry that my democratic rights are being robbed, but I’m also bewildered by the response of DC residents when given the opportunity to effect change.


Dianne Rhodes

We’ve got almost 900 folks on this list and nobody’s raised a peep about the issue. The fact is that most Districtizens support the control board’s actions regarding the least for now. DC School Board

Not a peep? There’s an excellent write up in Courtland Milloy’s column today (11/13) on the subject of the DC Public Schools. This is a slightly different twist, and one that I have wondered about myself, which is the military "encroaching on civilian territory." He quotes at length from Sam Smith, who was a member of this list. So why haven’t _we_ heard from Sam?

As an alumna of Janney, Deal, and Wilson I am of the "whatever it takes" school of fixing up DC services. I went to Wilson when Vince Reed was brought in as principal to shake things up. I guess he was the last of a generation of home grown movers and shakers. Wilson went to the dogs after he left.


The District’s Economy
Bruce Abramson

I’d like to add my two cents about the "Why jobs go to Northern Virginia rather than the district" discussion. (Please note that this is the inflation-adjusted penny for my thoughts).

Companies have many reasons for choosing a locale. Services like schools and public works, and municipal tax policies are undoubtedly among them, and these are areas in which the District needs to do some work to compete with Virginia (and Maryland). There are other factors, however—some of which even implicate the Federal government in helping to drive high-tech business to Virginia. One decision that comes immediately to mind was the move of the (Defense) Advanced Research Projects Administration (ARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to Ballston. An entire high-tech enclave designed to work with these organizations has sprung up in the few blocks around their new offices. There is no reason that these agencies and the companies that serve them could not be in the district.

In all fairness, of course, these offices represent only a small portion of the high-tech jobs in Northern Virginia, and they would not all have decided to locate in the district if ARPA and the NSF were here. Nevertheless, a strong science presence in the district would have insured that the emerging high-tech corridor ran from the District to Dulles rather than from Rosslyn to Dulles.


The Ghost in the Machine
Charlie "Everyone needs a middle name in quotes" Wellander

The dagger-like "Thank you!" after the "PLEASE allow the doors to close" on Metro cars turns out to be just one of the less dangerous benisons in the undesirable legacy of erstwhile Deputy General Manager Fady P. Bassily. In the November 12 Washington Post, Sandy "The Voice of Metro" Duncan says "Mr .Bassily specifically wanted that last message to be a little bit scolding." About 40% of the cars now have a recently recorded and somewhat less obnoxious announcement, and Metro plans to have all cars changed by the end of November.


Justice Ginsburg’s Purse
Paul G. Bailey

Regarding Paul Williams note about Justice Ginsburg’s purse and police response: The Post story indicates the US Secret Service Uniformed Division has recovered the purse, so I assume they are the agency pursuing forensics investigation. This comes as no surprise to me since the UDSS is consistently the most professional police agency I encounter in my Adams Morgan neighborhood.

My anecdotal experience has been that when these guys come upon a crime, they pursue both the criminal and the collection of evidence relentlessly. I’ve seen them investigate a case very similar to Justice Ginsburg’s, but with a less notable victim, in an identical manner.

Would that the peace officers of the MPD were as diligent and conscientious as these guys. Like the Public Schools mess, the current state of the MPD leaves me ambivalent about home rule. I don’t care about self government if the those elected can’t manage a bureaucracy that delivers basic services with courtesy and professionalism.


Special Treatment?
Dianne Rhodes

I don’t think so. I have had my wallet stolen, and have several friends who have been mugged. The police recovered the stolen items, sans anything of value, in all cases. In my case, my wallet turned up on someone’s lawn. Frequently they are found in the trash. Certainly if the police have something they think they can make a case for, they will dust for prints.


The Kafka Report
Carl Bergman

Ed talked about his difficulty getting a report from the DC police. The paper copy is somewhere between Ward 3 and Indianna Ave. This is a perfect example of the failure of the District to do even a flyby of modern technology.

Most corporations of any size got rid of system like this in the last several years. They work on the idea that you send the data — not paper — to the people who need it. Web systems, work flow systems or just old client/server database systems can lick this.

Perpetuating such archaic ways is a terrible waste of resources, and yet another example of how much needs to be done inside the city govt.

I remember during hiz honor’s race with Carol Schwartz when the subject of automation came up, he said, "what difference does it make if it takes a clerk three minutes or thirty seconds to find a file?" His point was he wanted to spend money on direct services. Yeah. It went unnoticed, but it brought home to me his complete lack of understanding of management modern or otherwise.


Carl Dahlke

In regards to Ed Barron’s problem with getting a police report to file an insurance claim - no you don’t have to wait 3 months, 6 months is more likely - that’s how long it took us to get a report after we were burglarized.


Georgetown Halloween

Last issue one of our regular patrons was complaining about the high security detail for georgetown on halloween. No doubt it’s expensive, i figure at $600/night/officer x 175, it’s about $80,000, but about 30 of them would be in georgetown anyways on routine patrol and another 50 would be in georgetown scamming on teenie-boppers, so I figure the real cost as being a lot less and mitigated by the beer and food consumption that night.

If DC would re-institute the mass georgetown festival, and bill the bar owners for this, the city could make money, of course that depends upon controlling violence.

new orleans does a good job with bourbon street, no doubt georgetown could be the same 1 day a year.


Parking Meters
Ed T. Barron

Where have all the meters gone? Have I missed something? Was there a really big Halloween prank? All the meters that were along both sides of Mass. Ave. NW of the circle are now gone. They were heavily used meters and were providing, very likely, a decent amount of revenue to the city each year (Not counting the $50 fine for expired meters). Does the city not need this revenue anymore? ‘Tis a puzzlement.


Supermarket Ads in Newspapers
E. James Lieberman, M.D.

I sent a letter to Giant expressing regrets that newspaper advertising is repetitive and excessive. Giant’s Consumer Affairs Office reply talked about the competitive market, the need for advertising, and that some of the ads are paid for by manufacturers who want their products promoted. "And finally, we do have an advertising budget which is considered to be part of our overall cost. If we were to eliminate that budget and spread it out among the products we sell in our stores, you would not notice a significant decline in prices." I had suggested that the savings could be applied to a few staple items, not spread out… The profit margin, they go on, is only 1-2%, so they need volume sales. "It’s very complex and each store has to do what they feel works best for them." No doubt. But newsprint costs are up, and I just want to know if they have ever tried to evaluate the impact of newspaper advertising, and whether you need multiple full page ads to accomplish the objective. As a conservationist and the one who bundles the papers for recycling, I want to know if these ads are really accomplishing anything. Or is there an unholy alliance between Giant (and Hecht, and a few other gargantuan newsprint hogs) and the Washington Post?


Home PC Computer Assistance and Small Business Applications
Jeffrey Itell

I’ll help you choose and buy the best model for the lowest price, get your computer up and running, teach you the ins and outs of Windows 95 and applications, show you how to maintain your system, build special applications for you, and get you up and running on the internet. $60/hour. 202.244.4163.

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