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December 21, 1997

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

As some of you know, I’m editing a new web site, called On-Stage, A Guide To The Performing Arts In Washington. (In real life he edits a web site. Only at night does he play Santa Claus with movie passes for I’m not sure when I crossed the rubric from government to entertainment — though I suspect the borders have converged.

Back On-Stage. I encourage (implore) you to look at the site and send me your comments ( We are offering all performing arts organizations — from the Kennedy Center to musicians who promote themselves a FREE place on the web — and a place in your heart. Please spread the word if you like what you see.

You can find the site at


A reminder reader. Please format your messages correctly. My goal is to cut and paste your prose with minimal hassle. Please put all required information in the body of the text. That includes the title (all initial capital letters please), your message (two paragraph limit, generally), and your signature (name on one line and email address on the next). Skip a space between the title and text and the text and signature. Need guidance? Look at the entries below. I know this is not much to ask from you, but following these rules makes it more likely that your message will be posted and that I will get to bed on time.

Classified ads no longer need a title line. We can save the space. I would suggest a good lead sentence if you want to move your merchandise. Little classifieds, by the way, are still free, as are event announcements.

Please follow these rules. I want to accommodate everyone and don’t want to be in a position of sending back mail for reformatting. If it’s between you or me spending the time, you know which way I’m going to go. :-)


In this issue, Kathy Patterson takes exceptions, readers wonder why AU can’t sell admission, potholed reasoning, and are schools our real potholes?

Jeffrey Itell


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Government Oversight
Kathy Patterson, DC Council Ward 3

Sorry I’ve been absent as a poster for so long. Let me assure you I’ve been lurking. I rise to take exception to Jeff’s suggestion about the Prez sending in two national commissions, one on cops and the other on procurement. With all due respect, the Council’s GovOps committee is doing prodigious oversight on procurement reform implementation (as contrasted with merely passing legislation) and will continue throughout 1998 and beyond. It’s one area where we have a strong executive branch person - Richard Fite, recruited by Michael Rogers after retiring from Ford Motor Co/Europe; a strong control board member, Connie Newman. Some resistance from some of the agency heads now reporting to the control board, but a work-in-progress nonetheless. There is even some federal assistance in some places - the Dept. of Labor came in after our JTPA oversight hearings in the spring and they’re continuing to help press for improvements in those contracts. So I don’t think, thank you very much, that the feds would add much in the way of value to procurement reform. (Just our luck, we’d get another retired general to come help us buy overpriced hammers and toilet seats anyway, like DC Schools have been buying Pentagon-priced roofs).

There’s an unfortunate complicity in too many places in the federal government insofar as the District government is concerned. Think of the federal counterparts as enablers - not being tough with oversight on federal funds, being too chummy with agency heads. Maybe most unfortunate of all - the fact that the US (that’s federal, after all) attorney has never brought an anti- deficiency act case; maybe a case or two a decade or two ago might’ve helped stop the slide into insolvency.

Think I have to go with my president on the District needing to demonstrate some responsibility ourselves. I begin to think we’re not going to be able to reform government except from within. The one District agency that saw real reform in recent memory was the Board of Elections and Ethics under Emmett Fremeaux’s leadership and that was a step by step, building block by building block effort. Why do I think it can’t be externally imposed? Maybe it can - but what I’ve seen thus far is spectacular failure at DC Public Schools; externally-imposed. (Watch this space - an audit of the summer roof work is due any minute.) Certainly no appreciable reform at the MPD under Booz- Allen/control board. (Recognizing crime statistics show improvement but I don’t think anyone feels safer).

Certainly dynamic leadership at the top (or the twin peaks - mayor’s office and control board chairman’s perch) would be a major boost to government reform. For the time being I will focus my energy on my committee’s job training investigation; procurement reform implementation; personnel reform legislation February-March; and the newly-minted and not-yet-in-place Council special investigation committee on the MPD. (What this is not: a multi-year, multi-million dollar commission investigation. What it is: Council oversight- plus. Taking allegations now on the public record on whistleblowers, a blown internal affairs investigation, people fired and rehired, bad guys (maybe) getting full pensions, other issues. That effort will get real (and to work) as soon as we hire (with existing Council funds) a special counsel. )

---- [I feel somewhat foolish because I witnessed much of the oversight during a two-month stint on Kathy’s staff this year. I guess the memory really does go after reaching 40. My observation was astounding. Everyday brought a new revelation about corruption, mismanagement, and theft. It was what we called in my GAO days a Target Rich Environment. I did not mean to imply, however, that the feds come in as the great enablers. I share Kathy’s concern about their ability to shoot straight. Most of my fury (in the moment) is directed at the U.S. Attorney’s Office that should have been bringing case after case after case. Having spent much of my professional life as a bureaucrat (and do not view the word pejoratively), I understand how much an office environment can affect the performance of those around them. Thou shalt not steal, but I reserve a small measure of sympathy for the water works employees about to be hammered because they have been working for years in a racketeer organization. They will probably receive worse than they deserve because city managers and prosecutors did not nip the problem in the bud.

This brings me back to the police investigation. I only speak as a citizen with virtually no inside knowledge. Except for Kathy, I can think of virtually no one who has standing to investigate the house that Barry and Soulsby built. Jack Evans is co-chairing the special committee, but Evans stood by his man until the last nanosecond. Hey, Soulsby is still on the payroll (last I read). Anyone can be disappointed by their choice, but the word about Soulsby’s reputation when HE WAS SELECTED as police chief was abysmal. That was rumor then. One would think Evans and Steve Harlan and Eric Holder would have backed away as the other shoe kept dropping. Now these folks (or successors) want to investigate what happened. That’s like letting the fox investigate what happened in the hen house. I have complete faith in Kathy to conduct this investigation. However, Evans’ participation is suspect. I would like to see outsiders turn the department over. If not the Feds, how about Dilbert’s Elbonians? Jeff]


Needed Commendation
Marie Drissel

The cop who resigned in disgust after the U.S. Attorney’s Office did nothing with the evidence concerning the public work’s employees "day- lighting" on taxpayers’ time should get an award. Let’s find his/her name and write at least a letter of appreciation. Whomever he or she is—that cop deserves a great deal of credit. He/She was fighting the whole system and every part of it sunk. Also, let’s not forget Captain Carboy—the officer who blew the whistle on the homicide division. During his testimony at 11:00 PM on his own time during Judiciary Committee hearings this fall, he stated that his wife is concerned about his life. It sounds like those who did nothing got overtime and those who worked got nothing but trouble.


American University for Indie Screenings
Beth-Ann F. Gentile

With regard to the appealing possiblity of using AU’s School of Communication facility for independent movie screenings, I don’t quite understand Dean Harnden’s concern about charging admission. Colleges and universities charge for all sorts of events: intercollegiate sports, theatrical productions,etc., without jeopardizing their nonprofit status. What exactly would prevent AU from charging enough to offset the cost of film rentals (perhaps in the form of a film club)?


Universities as Public Movie Venues
David Sobelsohn

Glenn Harnden, Associate Dean at American University, writes that AU has a problem showing films to the public: "as a non-profit institution, we cannot charge admission" for movie screenings, "so we have no easy way of paying for the film rentals." I am unfamiliar with tax law, but I do not understand tax law or any other law to prohibit non-profit institutions from charging admission to events the institution sponsors. Indeed, several college performing arts departments around town, in particular Georgetown & Catholic University, regularly have performances, open to the public, for which they charge admission. Moreover, at least until recently George Mason University had a film series, open to the public, consisting mostly of 3d-run art-house films (from the last 5 or 10 years) as well as older classics, & GMU did charge the public $5 for its screenings (GMU students got in free). I also thought the American Film Institute, which charges admission to its theater in the Kennedy Center, was a non-profit institution. Perhaps American University can learn something from these other institutions about how non-profit institution can enhance the cultural life of a community without going broke.


AU Admission for Movies
Art Spitzer

Are you sure that’s true? The DC JCC certainly charges admission at its film screenings. The ACLU (my employer) charges admission to our annual dinner. The AAA charges for maps. A non-profit can’t pay dividends to its members, but it can charge for services. Check with your lawyers.


The Movie Scene
Leslie Ruskin

Read Glen Harden’s post in the dc.story and thought that, rather than rely on donations and considering they can’t charge admission, perhaps they could be key in organizing a club w/ membership fees which would pay a rather large donation from the dues to cover costs? Just a suggestion...

Also in response to my query re: a new theater in Rosslyn I have been informed that the name of the theater is the Rosslyn Spectrum and it is a theater for live performances, vs. movies. Also, it is not in the USA Today building, but, rather, right next door, inside another large office building. The space is a conference center during the day and on Wed. - Sun. nights they have theater. Currently they are performing "In good company" and tickets are actually purchased thru Arlington County Cultural Affairs. Their phone number at the theater is 703-875-8901.


Films in NW D.C.
Ed T. Barron

Here’s a thought in response to Glen Harden’s (AU Dean) about showing films in the AU theater. Suppose a private group rented the AU theater for special film showings. That would cover AU’s expenses. Alternatively a small film buff group could be formed, charge annual or monthly dues, and from those dues, make a contribution at each of the film showings that would cover AU’s expenses.


Potholed Reasoning
David F. Power

Many posters this summer and fall reported astounding holes in streets. Perhaps this story from Friday’s Post is part of the reason:

>>>> Instead of digging a trench as required by city regulations, the workers took an illegal shortcut. They tunneled under the pavement and later backfilled with loose dirt. And they left a large, unfilled hole in her front yard. Weeks later, the street and sidewalk in front of Robinson’s house began to buckle and sag. A Post reporter found three other sites worked on by unauthorized city workers, and in each instance, the asphalt was severely eroded and the streets were beginning to buckle. <<<< >>>> Within six months of the first complaint, sources said the police, working with the authority and other agencies, had amassed evidence of corruption within the Water and Sewer Authority, which had been a division of the Department of Public Works before it became an autonomous authority in 1996. Potentially, more than half the workers within the meter and measurement division could be implicated in the investigation, according to five sources familiar with the investigation. Washington Post Page A1 12/19/97. <<<<


Potholes, Shmotholes
Ed T. Barron

The feds have $1.7B set aside for road repairs in the District. As I look out my window I see only Md. cars on Mass. Avenue. I would venture that more than 80% of the cars driving in the city each day are from outside the city. Lets find a much better way to spend that money on the real problems in the city - Public Education and Public Safety. We can live with potholes. We can’t live in a city that neglects the education of its youngsters or cannot get crime under control. People are not moving from the city because of potholes. In fact more people will take the Metro if we don’t fill the potholes. We don’t need to fix potholes with $1.7B. We need that money to fix the Public Education problem.


Holding Kids Back - Is It Long Overdue?
Harold Goldstein

Ed Barron thinks that the possible implementation of a hold back policy will cause chaos. Well, if implemented it would, of course, cause chaos. But this chaos is long overdue and absolutely necessary if the school system is to ever hope to become more than the total laughing stock it is. Graduates of the DCPS system are very unlikely to have the tools to go anywhere right now and they are the unwitting dupes of a "pass anyone" policy.

While I think that Ed is correct in hoping that some arrangements and thought is being given to the manner of implementation and a means of tutoring at risk kids, the potential chaos is not a reason to back up on this critical policy. It must be done. Only when it appears that it is a real policy will kids and their parents start taking it seriously. There is nothing to lose since those that are held back would be going nowhere even if they were not held back and maybe, just maybe, they’ll decide to begin to take life seriously.


Brian Nielsen

I couldn’t agree with Ed Barron more. It was mid-November before our daughter, a new 7th-grader at Deal, FINALLY had a math book to work with and study from. When "deficiency notices" (notices to parents of kids in danger of failing) were sent out in mid-October, we received a couple for some kid I have never known let alone raised. Repeated calls and notes to the school office have gone unanswered. We could go on, but most of us have our own pile of details!

There ARE a number of good things going on in our schools, but those may be isolated exceptions and it does appear the system is doing little to seriously help those who are in danger of being held back. But somehow I expect they will find a way around the problem? The ONE thing administrators throughout DC seem to be capable of is shoveling manure! P.S. — I believe it’s the third and EIGHTH grade students who will be held back?


Pension Correction
Carl Bergman

Police pensions don’t come out of the MPD budget. Pensions are part of the Police, Fire, Teachers, Judges pension system. It’s the great American unfunded pension liability that everyone gets upset about now and then. For all practical purposes, this is a windfall.


So you’re interested in that big advertising spot in the beginning of dc.story? Contact Jan Genzer — the dc.story marketing maven—at or call him at 202.364.0383.


Zoo Lecture: Explore coral reefs in the Red Sea, Florida Keys, Jamaica, Micronesia, and Sri Lanka with the premier of Coral Reefs: The Fragile Ring of Life. The program, co-sponsored along with the Smithsonian, Oceanwatch, and Earthwatch, recognizes the United Nation’s designation of 1998 as the International Year of the Ocean. Following the screening, a panel discussion features Ariel Cuschnir, an Israeli marine biologist; Cliff McCreedy, pres- ident of Oceanwatch; William Kiene, reef scientist at the National Museum of Natural History; and Susan Gartner, field representative for Earthwatch. The Smithsonian’s Dr. David Challinor, senior scientist emeritus will moderate the discussion.

22 January 1998, Refreshments at 7:00 PM. Film and panel at 7:45 PM. Education Building at the National Zoo. Enter at Connecticut Ave. Park in Lot A Free, but please RSVP by calling (202) 673-4801 or e-mailing to

Margie Gibson NZPEM053@SIVM.SI.EDU (202) 673-4801


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Jennifer Laszlo


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"Othello" Tickets Available
David Sobelsohn

You’ve seen him on small screen & large. Now see him on stage! Patrick Stewart, aka Captain Jean-Luc Picard & formerly of the Royal Shakespeare Company, appears as the title character in the DC Shakespeare Theatre’s acclaimed production of "Othello," along with an ensemble of African-American actors in what the director calls a "photo-negative" production. The run sold out before opening, but the African Coalition Theater Co. has a few tickets for the final matinee performance Sunday January 4th. Tickets are $125 and include a post-performance reception with the cast. Since this is a fundraiser for ACT-Co., part of your ticket price may be tax-deductible. For further information call ACT-Co. at (202) 529-5763.


Stumped for a gift?
Reena Kazmann

For sale: A wide assortment of pins by the Alliance for Homeless and Disabled Artists (dolphins, fish, lobsters, fleur-de-lis, cats, etc)—wood forms covered with recycled materials: fabric from old Mardi Gras Ball gowns and wire from old TV sets. Price range $17-$32. By appointment on Connecticut Avenue across from the zoo. 202-232-9032.


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


dc.story is a discussion group. The opinions stated are the sole responsibility of the authors. dc.story does not verify information provided by readers.

Kibitzing by Jeffrey Itell. Copyright © 1997 All rights reserved.

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