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February 21, 1997

Vehicle Registration

Dear Neighbors:

Head straight for you wallets and check the expiration date on you motor vehicle registration. (If you don’t have a car, buy one and reread this paragraph.) Your car’s time may be up and the District won’t and can’t tell you. The reason? The computer system that handles renewals is coughing up its last kilobytes—and there is no backup. The District has virtually ceased sending renewal reminders. Does that mean you’re liable for a ticket if your registration is expired? You betcha! Will it stick? Go spend a day in court and find out. Is this the ultimate hassle for city residents? No. Far from it. There’s worse Kafka moments to come, I’m afraid. While you’re poking around your wallet, you might want to check when your driver’s licence expires. The city won’t remind you of that either, although I’m told many other jurisdictions don’t extend this courtesy either.


There were two significant events this week in city government. First was the tow truck driver protest. I don’t know these folks—and I could be reading this story all wrong—but I’m so proud of these folks for forcing the mayor to open to contract up for real bidding. Those who plead that the city’s main problem is revenue rarely mention the various ways the city flushes money down gilded toilets. Sole source contracting is one way. Another is contracting for services without a contract—that is, giving city money away under the friends and family program. No one has a handle on this massive problem yet, but it’s at the core of the city’s ills.

Second, significant steps have been taken to strip the Mayor of his power over the police. The Control Board’s commissioned study showed that Barry has more political power than other mayors. Under threat of severer punishment, he’s agreed to relinquish some of those powers. That means the police chief gets to appoint his cronies—not the mayor’s—to the top spots. More recommendations are on the way. But this game if far from over. Police Chief Larry Soulsby, I hear, has been working the congressional aisles for more independence—to save his job. Some congressional Republicans are inclined to federalize the force. The White House says its not. I think the best bet is that a mini-local control board will be set up to oversee the police. Whom will they be accountable to? The same as all authority in this city—Diffusion! Let anarchy reign.


It’s a joy and rare pleasure when a new business opens in the District. Black Entertainment Television, Inc., and Microsoft Corp. are teaming up to form MSBET, LLC., based in the District. The company will produce and distribute programming aimed at the African-American community. And I thought Robert Johnson, BET’s President, was going to pump all his money into Prince George’s County after being shut out of the downtown arena.


Also free! Free movie passes, short movie reviews, and movie discussion. Send an email message to to subscribe.

Jeffrey Itell


A Monopoly Ultimately Means Less For Us All
Larry Seftor

Lets review the result of Cineplex Odeon’s near monopoly of the D.C. movie theater market. We have ever fewer screens, we have increasing prices, and we have less variety, as foreign films are dropped from the mix. In the latest move, Odeon points to 8 years of loses as the reason to close the MacArthur theater. What they don’t discuss is their film booking policy that discouraged attendance at the MacArthur in favor of Odeon’s favorite son, the Wisconsin Avenue Cinema.

This was a conscious corporate decision to push theater goers to Wisconsin Avenue to mitigate Odeon’s heavy investment at the location. Recent attendance patterns do not truly reflect the interest of the community — I can easily remember the long lines waiting for a feature attraction at the MacArthur.

The larger issue is why Odeon was allowed to buy the Circle chain. Healthy competition (which would lead to better service to customers) is supposed to provided by the law. I’m just naive enough to expect that someone would enforce those laws in a case such as this.


Two News Tips
Nick Keenan

A neighbor works for a non-profit organization that contracts with the city for social work. They have been trying to get a certificate of occupancy for a group house for a couple of months now, but their paperwork keeps getting held up by the responsible (and I use that word lightly) city agency (I believe it’s Regulatory Affairs). My friend tells me the normal procedure to get the CofO is to "take everyone out to lunch and slip a few bills under the table." Most of the contractors providing social services for the city are for-profit and have no problem with this arrangement; however, my friend’s group is out of luck; as a non-profit they have neither the inclination nor the resources to engage in that sort of behavior, so they wait and do the regulatory tango.

I was shocked and dismayed by the senseless murder of a police officer last week. I noticed that both the Post and the Times used exactly the same phrase to describe the off-duty officer who first confronted the alleged gunman: "In uniform, as regulations require." Of course, neither paper went on to explain exactly which regulations were being adhered to. This incident is a perfect opportunity to end the shameful practice of DC police officers being allowed to rent the authority of their uniforms (and at times their cars) for personal financial gain. I have no problem with cops moonlighting if they need the cash; however, if you wear the uniform and badge, carry the gun, and drive the car, your allegiance should be to the city, its laws, and its citizens, period.


DC’s Dirty Secret
Sam Smith Free DC News Service

A comparison of federal and local tax statistics reveals that tens of thousands of city residents may be avoiding paying any DC income tax at all. In 1991 (the last year for which comparable figures are available)a quarter of those earning more than $15,000 who filed federal returns from the city did not file local returns. The difference: 51,000 more federal returns.

Some of this discrepancy can be explained by people moving to the city in the last half of the year and thus not being liable for local tax. In a few cases, the taxpayer may not live in the city but use their Washington accountant’s address on the tax form. But the difference is so large as to suggest that some of the greatest corruption in the city is not in the Barry administration at all — but among respectable burghers of Ward 3 and 4. Might it not even include some of those who are whining about the state of the city? In fact, among those earning $50,000 and over, there were almost twice as many (22,000) federal returns filed. This is a group that earns about half of the city’s taxable income.

Exactly how many in the upper brackets cheat on local taxes is hard to determine. For example, DC tax law allows a couple to file separately on the same form. Thus a husband and wife listed by the feds as earning $120,000 could be two people earning $80,000 and $40,000 as far as DC is concerned. But while this would change the bracket these taxpayers fall into, it would not change the total number of returns that should have been filed.


Medical Savings Accounts
Jean Lawrence

If you are interested in setting up a medical savings account, a couple of things to think about. The idea behind these is that you buy a high deductible "catastrophic" health insurance policy that, say, picks up everything over $2500 and then put $2500 a year (or more) into a tax-free account. It’s not tax-deferred like an IRA, it’s tax free so long as it’s used for certain proscribed expenses. The rub comes in with the cost. The deductible policy will not be $2500 less a year than your old policy. Secondly, your insurance company will decide what expenses paid in cash actually contribute to the deductible. You have to be very smart about these. Insurance companies being the trustworthy, reliable nice guys they are, I am sure you would never have a bad illness and discover you are still out of pocket most of your deductible because expenses you thought were allowed were, in fact, not allowed.

As for getting an MSA, I’d contact Golden Rule. They are still the company offering the most high deductible policies. Under the pilot program, though, only 750,000 MSAs can be set up. Demand is much higher than that, I understand — altho the IRS recently issued its administrative rulings on this and — oh, yes — has devised some forms.


Gordon Glaza

Regarding MSAs and why they don’t seem to be available in DC. Have you tried calling some of the banks? According to the legislation, banks are one of the eligible custodians for MSAs during the four-year pilot. On March 6, the American Bankers Association is hosting an audio seminar (something like a giant conference call) on marketing and compliance issues related to offering MSAs. We are trying to keep our member banks informed so they will offer MSAs alongside other products: IRAs, 401(k)s, etc.


Community Involvement
Beth-Ann F. Gentile

I’ve been interested in the recent criticism of dc.story subscribers. How could there be anything wrong with identifying District issues and expounding on them? dc.story provides a very convenient forum. For those who complain that speaking out is not enough, I suggest a simple first step: VOTE. Voting percentages in D. C. elections indicate that there is a lot more talking than voting.


Eliz. Layton

In a city with a power vacuum, you might want to cast your eyes at WIN —The Washington Interfaith Network, currently composed of reps from ca 50 varied congregations across the city (including Anacostia) worked quietly for several years in thousands of grass roots interviews and conversations to determine DC residents’ priorities and to define doable projects. Last summer, WIN ‘came out’ at the big Metropolitan AME Church downtown at a rally of over 2 thousand. Since then,it’s begun implementing its projects, focusing in 5 areas: youth/recreation; housing; jobs; crime/safety; education. WIN meets my criterion for grass roots action, because it comes with no predefined program, but grows, with careful groundwork, out of the needs and strengths and passions of the community. It makes no bones about accruing and using power to address institutional causes of poverty and racial division. Tangible results so far (that I know of) are construction of homes (negotiating site) and after school programs (the first at J.O.Wilson Elementary; a second under consideration; 10 planned by 2000ad. These folk are talented and they’re cultivating the leadership that’s ‘out there; they’re careful: they won’t go anywhere they don’t have a following; they’re serious about starting small to build on success. So...stay tuned. Or call 202-518-0815 for more info.


Jim Kingdon

Hmm, given the comment in the other issue about putting computers in the schools being some kind of band-aid, I’m not sure I should admit to it, but in response to the question about volunteering I’ve volunteered some for Tech Corp-DC (you may know the name NetDay better; they organize it here), While sometimes disorganized (for better or worse), on the whole it seems to me the organization has gotten a lot done and has been shockingly successful at not letting bureaucratic barriers get in the way of getting the job done (and in the context of the DC public schools, there are potentially _many_ such barriers).


Gun Control
Kent Jeffreys

DC has very strict gun laws but almost no power to restrict the flow of guns into the city. Has DC ever sued (or otherwise challenged) the federal government for dereliction of its duty to regulate such interstate commerce? The only rational response to this duty would be to provide additional federal monies to DC for its police force. That’s because the extra burden imposed on DC and its citizens by the presence of guns is the direct result of guns moving in interstate commerce (and after the initial legal sale, several illegal transactions or outright theft of the gun. These are reasonably foreseeable consequences of the initial sale.). If the federal government refuses to do a better job of regulating gun sales and ownership then a case might be made that it must reimburse DC for the additional costs of policing those neighborhoods that are being made unlivable by guns. This might not go anywhere legally, but politically it would fit in with the current debate over reforming the federal relationship with DC.


Car Theft
Randy Lilleston

Regarding the hypothesis is that thieves are obtaining keys while cars are repaired...As a former police reporter, I can tell you the cops are uninterested because it’s an unlikely scenario. It’s much more likely that the lock was "popped" through use of a so-called "slim jim" — a thin piece of metal that slides between the side window and the window channel, latches onto the lock mechanism, and unlocks the door when it’s pulled upon. Locksmiths and police officers commonly use this tool to open locked cars, and it’s easy to make one yourself from a piece of sheet metal.

If you have experience in using one, you can pop a door in a few seconds. >From there, you’ve got a variety of ways to hot-wire the car (the most common: using a dent puller tool [available from most auto supply houses] to yank the ignition switch from the column, and then simply touching the ignition wires together). Newer cars are harder to slim-Jim and virtually impossible to hot-wire in many cases, but any car over a few years old is easy to steal.

Finally, auto shop employees make poor theft suspects for a simple reason: They’re often very well-paid, indeed.


Ralph Blessing

A rousing Amen! to Debbie Weinsheimer’s response to the helicopter NIMBYists. This past weekend our mini van was stolen from in front of our house. Upon reporting it to the 4th district police (we live on THAT side of the park), we were treated to prompt and courteous attention by an Officer Allen. The very next morning, before I even could pour my first cup of coffee, an Officer Poole was at our front door to report the recovery of the car. He took me back and forth to where it had been abandoned, and then waited at the site until a AAA tow truck arrived to take if for repair. What could have been a totally depressing, disillusioning weekend was brightened remarkably by the courteous, professional treatment of two D.C. police officers. The occasional sound of helicopters cruising the area—much more often, I might add, than occurs in Ward 3—is a small price to pay for the police being there when you need them.


What legal options does a citizen have?
Larry Seftor

We are in pretty bad shape when Catherine Rudder has to ask: "Does anyone have suggestions on how to pursue the thieves in absence of police help?" But I guess we all knew that.

My question is for the attorneys on this list. What can a citizen do to compel a public servant (sic) to do his or her job? What can a citizen do to compel members of our Government to follow the law?

For example: 1) a member of the police force fails to ticket a driver who runs a red light; 2) the police (as reported on this list) refuse to write a report on a theft or investigate a stolen car; 3) D.C. managers overrun their budgets in violation of the anti-deficiency law; 4) the city ceases legally required recycling; and so on. I suppose that in each case one can make the argument that there are more important priorities. But I thought the point of canonizing behavior as law was to remove discretion. After all, if following the law is discretionary, then I’ve been a fool for too long. In particular, I’ve been paying much too much D.C. income tax.

This is a serious question. If members of our D.C. Government (excluding the courts) have the right of discretion in following the law, why do I not also have similar rights?



Literary Agent Wanted
Bill Adler Adler & Robin Books, Inc.

Top literary agency is seeking a commissioned agent to represent computer and nonfiction books. Adler & Robin Books, Inc. is the second largest agency in the United States for computer books, and, together with its affiliate agency, has represented hundreds of books, many of which have been New York Times bestsellers. As an agent, you would be responsible for acquiring and managing clients, mostly in the computer book field. Commissions can range from between $30k, to $100k and above. Requirements include being a self-starter, having a knowledge of publishing and computers, attention to detail, and the ability to manage several projects at once. For more information and a list of our clients, visit our web site at Please direct your letter and resume to Bill Adler, Jr., Literary Agent Position, Adler & Robin Books, Inc., Suite 317, 3000 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, Fax: 202-986-9485.

***** ]

Wndows 95
Howard Sharlach

Just got a new computer and would like to take some training locally on how to use Windows95. Anyone have any suggestions?

Also, perhaps it is premature spring fever but I have been thinking about fixing my broken wooden fence gate and getting someone to do some painting inside and out. Would welcome recommendations for a person talented in these areas.


Headhunter Hunting
Sheila McCormick

I am a seasoned publishing and communications professional who is searching for a new and challenging position. I would like to work with a headhunter or executive search firm in the DC area which specializes in the publishing profession. Recommendations for such people or firms would be welcome.


"Absolute Power" Benefit Screening and Book Signing

Tuesday, February 25th. Meet the DC lawyer-author, David Baldacci, whose book was made into the Clint Eastwood film "Absolute Power", and attend a benefit screening of the film. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Friends of Kennedy Playground, a non-profit community-based group working to renovate the playground located in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Reception and Book Signing: 5 PM to 7 PM. Grand Foyer of Fannie Mae, 3900 Wisconsin Avenue signed copies of the book, "Total Control", are $20 each. Movie begins at 7 PM. Cineplex Odeon Theater, 4000 Wisconsin Avenue—tickets are $15 each. Please RSVP to me.

Randy Wells, Secretary of Friends of Kennedy Playground


Zoo Lecture

Also, don’t forget "Natural History Illustration: Observing the Fine Details" on 6 March. Elaine Hodges will talk about one of the vital, behind-the-scenes jobs at museums and zoos. Now you’ll find out what’s going on in all those hidden nooks and crannies that are blocked off with "Staff Only" signs! Please RSVP.

Margie Gibson NZPEM053@SIVM.SI.EDU Office of Public Affairs, National Zoo (202) 673-4866


John Eaton Auction

The John Eaton Home and School Association is planning its 4th Annual Auction to benefit the John Eaton elementary school. It will be held on March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kennedy-Warren Ballroom. It will have both live and silent auctions. Come bid on gift certificates for books, skin and hair care, restaurants, Orioles box seats, and much, much more. There will be free parking and shuttle bus service from the National Zoo. Hors D’oeuvre and cocktails will be served.





Buying one shouldn’t be so scary. Setting one up shouldn’t be so scary. Getting on the Internet shouldn’t be so scary.

Jeffrey Itell (He’s not so scary either.) 202.244.4163

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