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I spent Christmas day visiting an elderly, disabled gentleman in Shaw as part of the DC Jewish Community Center's Christmas Day Volunteer Program. I been involved with the programs since its inception but have not led a team of volunteers in the field for several years.
Our homebound recipient of services from Emmaus Services for the Aging had a colorful history: raised on a farm in South Carolina, enlistment in the army in World War II at the age of 14, combat in Okinawa, reenlistment and combat in Korea, where he was severely burned, and various other assignments, including a stint in Thule, Greenland, which led to a lengthy discussion of Eskimo culture. We also talked a lot about grits, gravy, biscuits, and ham hocks. We also learned about his friend a 27-year-old woman drummed out of the Army on theft and drug charges. Her funeral was last weekend. She was murdered on the street.
OK, Jeff, what's the point? This is not a holier-than-thou "you-should-volunteer-more" pronouncement. People do what they can. Rather, I am taking a more Confucian approach to my diatribe. Respect your elders. Hear them out. At day's end, I heard story after story of folks enjoying the company of the seniors on their list. Some made plans to visit regularly.
I often wrote profiles on senior citizens when I published the Northwest Side Story. With the slightest prodding, you can hear great stories about the New Deal, World War II, Truman, and Ike. Besides, now with Seinfeld going into retirement, you can spend Thursday evening hearing about something instead of watching a show about nothing.
In this issue, prodigious oversight versus Council Can's, Can'ts & Should's, Ed Barron gets into the trenches, and Stephanie Faul checks her fillings for radio waves.
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My hackles rise when a member of our government gets into self-congratulations. Kathy Patterson says the council is doing 'prodigious oversight'. Let us be real about this. If the city council had been doing ANY real oversight (read finding incompetence and fraud and eliminating it) then our present situation surely would not be this bad. I certainly doubt that this city council has the wherewithal in terms of commitment, funding, and labor to do 'prodigious oversight'. I can accept that maybe they are starting to look over some arenas but once you start exaggerating in one regard, you cannot stop.
Council Can's, Can'ts & Should's
KpattDC3@aol.comLen Sullivan makes a good point about what a legislative body can and cannot do in responding to my posting about Council oversight on procurement (we can't fix problems, he said, but can highlight and ordain their fixing). I'd like to take that a bit further, though and illustrate what kind of "fixing" we can and should do we don't execute policy but we can limit, expand, and shape it. Case in point:
Using budget authority, we can stop ineffective operations. We did that last spring in zeroing out local funding for job training. Local funds budgeted for training and placement in the previous two years produced nothing. Ending that funding permitted the Council to reallocate Dept. of Employment Service funds elsewhere - for school nurses for instance. And what about effective job training certainly something the District needs. In zapping the local funds, we emphasized the need for D.C. to do a far better job spending the federal Job Training Partnership Act funds. GovOps committee hearings last spring got the Dept. of Labor's attention, they reviewed DOES's efforts, found them sorely lacking, and mandated a "corrective action plan" that's now supposedly in place. At the same time, also as a result of our hearings, in September the new procurement officer ordered improvements in JTPA contracts for the next go-round (program year 1998).
The Council's oversight on job training/placement continues, focusing on on- the-job training contracts. In the last three months, specific contracts we questioned have been rewritten, putting more emphasis on permanent placements; the rewrites haven't been signed yet; there's another oversight hearing on January 14. In the course of this oversight, the acting director of DOES resigned. Can a legislative body make job training and placement work effectively? We're going to see. I can't say today that District residents are being/will be trained and placed in permanent jobs because of the Council's work, but I certainly hope to be able to make that claim in the future. I cite this to demonstrate what a legislature CAN do. And just imagine the impact if every one of the Council's 11 committees used its budget and oversight authority in a similar, aggressive fashion.
The Northwest Current has a story about interference on police radios in some sections of Ward 3, to the point where the radios are useless. The police administration, of course, denies there's a problem. However, as one who lives within sight of several transmission towers, I find the story perfectly plausible. My telephones get interference, and answering machines that uses tape wouldn't work at all (I had to get a digital model). Even weirder, the remote control for my car door locks doesn't work when I'm parked in front of the house. Does anyone else have these problems?
In the Trenches
The appointment of General Becton to lead the charge in solving the huge problems in the D.C. educational and school systems came with the blaring of some bugles. Sounds more like a kazoo today. The General has all the earmarks of a WW I horse soldier who immediately hit the trenches to wait for something to happen. A reactive leader we don't need. Compare Becton to a real pro-active General from the Desert Storm days, Norman Schwarzkopf. Now here's a General that steps back from the forward edge of the battle area, sizes up the problems, develops a viable plan, mobilizes a well equipped and trained support force and attacks, headlong, the problems. The next time we look for a General to lead us into battle let's pick one who knows a Humvee from a horse.
Meanwhile, there will likely be a weeping, a wailing and a gnashing of teeth about the appointment of a City Manager (despite what they are calling the new appointee of the Control Board) by the Barry crowd and the City Council. I feel bad for the City Council because they gave up a golden opportunity when the Control Board was formed. If the City Council members, at that time, had united and offered their services as an arm of the Control Board, they would likely be running much of the city's agencies. Instead, they opted to be twelve individuals going in fourteen different directions (how many are running for mayor next year?). The City Council is now almost as powerless as the mayor is. It could have been a great deal different if the Council had acted as a team.
Increased Police Presence
Yesterday evening I was on the business end of the "increased police presence" that Steph "Traffic enforcement *is* law enforcement" Faul and others have been talking about. I rolled through a stop sign in Ward 2 at about 5 mph (westbound on R St NW, at 21st, hoping to make the light at Florida) and was instantaneously nabbed by a polite and businesslike MPD officer, who had apparently been sitting on 21st in a darkened cruiser waiting for a poor slob like me to commit an infraction that must happen 100 times a day at this very spot.
I wish I didn't have to pay the $50 ticket, and I wish I didn't have to deal with the nominal insurance cost increase next year. But I can't say I'm angry at the MPD. This is what our sales taxes, and your income taxes (I don't live in DC at present), pay them to do; and things like nabbing stop sign-runners, and stopping to talk to loud drunks, and patrolling parking lots -- and even ticketing motorists parked over 2 hours at headless meters -- are the first line of defense against a broken-down city.
In the 4 years I've been here, this is my third moving violation (MPD got me in the speedtrap on westbound Military Road near Georgia Avenue, and Arlington PD for going 37 in a 25, on 16th St N behind Arlington Hospital. Do you have any idea how slow 25 is on open straightaway? The Arlington cop said "We're aggressively enforcing here because of residents' complaints"; I grumbled, but the law (after all) is the law, even for me. I'm a responsible driver, and each experience made me a little more attentive for the future. And that's the point: incrementally, all those individual citizen decisions to behave better add up, and quality of life comes up, bit by bit. Enforcement works.
Potholes and "Outsiders"
Of course, Anne Drissel is right. Washington DC is, indeed, the nation's capital. It does, indeed, belong to all Americans.
But I part company with her over her corollary to these facts. It is not the responsibility only of the residents of this city 'to protect, improve and celebrate [it]': rather it is for the entire nation to take responsibility for its capital. And that means sharing fairly not only in the benefits the city brings, but also in carrying a fair share of the costs shouldered by the city because of its unique position as the home of Federal and international facilities (which, by Federal mandate, pay no taxes to the city) and as the hub of a burgeoning metropolis.
In the misguided rush to 'home rule' in 1973, the District accepted an unworkable structure which left it administratively isolated from the surrounding metro area -- at that time a fraction of its present size -- and took unto itself responsibilities and costs which typically belong to the State, County or greater metropolitan area. A small start has now been made in correcting the financial consequences of this mis-step, but not before the impossible structure, compounded by an inept and dishonest home government which has robbed those who most enthusiastically supported it, reduced our nation's capital to the pot-holed laughing stock that it currently is.
The solution is in the hands of us all. Residents and non-residents together must work to integrate DC into the wider metropolitan or State structure, be prepared to share the cost of repairing the human and structural damage wrought in the last two decades, and in that process find a way of restoring to residents a workable city government and a full and equal voice in their own affairs.
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If you are interested in seeing the new movie AMISTAD, there is a group going from Cleveland Park Congregational Church to view it and discuss afterwards. This movie has great historical significance to the Congregational Church. Contact Rev. Ken Fuller at KeDaFuller@AOL.com or telephone: 362-3398 for the time and date we plan to.
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