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January 14, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

Here's a issue that has received far too little attention: Control Chair Brimmer's proposal to spend $185 million on management reforms suggested by his consultants. Where's the commentary? Where's the outrage about Brimmer passing out dollars like a drunken sailor. (Where's my invitation to the party?) Isn't there a little bit of irony in our blue-chip Federal Reserve banker spending a big chunk of the booty the District gained due to the Congressional assumption of responsibility for our pension, court, and correctional systems? Not to mention that we have a $500 million accumulated deficit that we need to pay off. (We'll build a convention center to get that monkey off our back.)

This is also a violation of our "consensus" budget agreement that devoted $200 million to debt repayment in FY 98, but neither Marion Barry nor Linda (Little Miss No-Peep) has uttered a disparaging word. So the skies remain cloudy all day.

Is it such a crime for the Control Board to spend money to improve our collective dire lot. Well, Congress (sans Jeffords) says we have beaucoup bucks -- more $ in taxes or spending per capita than just about anywhere -- and that we should be able to upgrade the quality of services within existing spending levels, by reallocating $ and cutting rampant waste and fraud. Brimmer has also made the same claim numerous times and was never interested in raising spending levels one dime until power switched from the Mayor to him.

Why is Brimmer then suddenly willing to dole out goodies now that he has more power and is on the verge of ending his term? After all, this was behavior attributed to our political class -- undisciplined spending -- but our tough-nosed former Federal Reserve banker was called in to put an end to this. If you think that giving $185 million to the likes of Cell Bernardino, David Watts, and Jearline Williams is going to produce "reform," I've got a convention center to sell you. Perhaps he's thinking of his legacy, believes in miracles, and realizes that he may not be asked back for the second term he wants.

Remember, city officials, including Brimmer, went to Wall Street investment firms in early fall pledging that the District would reduce its debt by $200 million this year due to the Congressional windfall. Brimmer has now violated that pledge and is throwing the city's ability to borrow into doubt. CFO Tony Williams is criticizing Brimmer's plan and showing that it will leave the District mired in debt, and Brimmer is trying to freeze Williams out of budgetary decisions. I'm told he has ordered Williams on many occasions to increase funding levels for favored agencies, which is blatantly illegal. It violates not only the independence of the CFO position but also ignores the law requiring Council approval of reprogrammings (remember the recent decision in Shook vs. Financial Authority). heck, it probably violates Congress's prohibitions against reprogrammings (though talk about a murky issue).

Forget Tyson versus Hollyfield. Next up: Brimmer versus Williams.

Jeffrey Itell


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Dear Camille:
Carl Bergman

Ms. Barnett, I hope you'll forgive an unsolicited note from a DC resident, but considering you picked us more than we were allowed to pick you, I thought it might be ok to list a few concerns. It’s not that anything I have to say is new, but around here we seldom get a chance to talk to someone who may actually be able to do something about it. I don't expect miracles, but it would be nice if you picked just one of these and ran with it. Here are a few things you might do.

Bus Routes. We have too many with too few buses going in the wrong ways. Libraries and Recreation. Build more east of the Anacostia, and spruce up the others. This won’t stop middle class flight, cut down on crime or improve education the way good schools could, but they run a great second. Budget. Present a readable, comprehensive view of city programs, and watch the stunned faces. Small Business. Set up a city procurement journal on the Web so they (and the rest of us) could know what the city’s buying and selling. Archeology. For homework, read the City Auditor’s last several reports. Ask what’s been done. Public Works, etc. Each city agency plans its own projects. Agencies should do, a planning office should plan what they do. Law. Read the District Charter. Not that it’s a great read, but you’ll be one of the few in DC government who ever has. District Building. Reclaim this or Boss Shepherd's statute. Take two steps forward for history. Geometry. Be the first to explain to sidewalk maintenance that intersections usually have four corners, and that each gets its very own curb cut. Yours in good management.


Is This What They Meant By "Local Color"?
Barbara Somson

What a lively last issue of dc.story. So much to respond to: pornography, Gen. Williams, taxing issues. With respect to the first, I find it interesting that our local video store has a room for "adult" selections. The actual videos are in black, numbered boxes behind the checkout counter. The other day I noted the numbers start at 100 and go past 1400. Seems like a pretty substantial selection in what is otherwise a *normal* video store which you -- and your kids -- can visit daily and remain oblivious to the alternative offerings. I've never heard anyone complain about this pornography, right here on Connecticut Avenue -- perhaps Ward 3 folks like their porno offered up with discretion.

As to taxes, it is funny, but the latest analyses show that the well-heeled are moving into the District at a brisk rate, despite the income tax structure. I don't think you can make the same observation about businesses. And as to Gen. Williams, his bonus should be a one-way ticket back to northern Virginia.


Disasters Here and There
Virginia Haufler

Two figures stood out in the news last night (Monday): first, that an audit of the DC schools' spending on roof repair wasted over $7million; second, that the ice storm in Maine, which brought down power lines across the state and will leave some people without electricity for literally weeks, had caused a little over $6.2million in damages in Maine. Now, think of it: a natural disaster cost less to the entire state of Maine (admittedly, not a highly populated state) than the "pocket change" wasted in repairing school roofs in DC! This brought home to me the scale of wasted taxpayer money here in the District. And this is on top of reports of large bonuses paid to the mis-managers who direct the schools today. The current people are just as bad as the ones the Control Board kicked out, only they are better paid. It is just outrageous.


Race, Race, Race. Enough Already!
Ronald G. Eberhardt

I know this is a stupid and irrelevant question, however, after reading all of the absurd and race based negative comments regarding the appointment of Camille C. Barnett as the city’s new chief management officer, is anyone interested in what kind of job Ms. Barnett will do for Washington?

I have lived in this crumbling and dysfunctional city for over 18 years. Race has been and continues ever more so to be the dominant consideration of everything. Anyone ever consider that maybe, just maybe that is the problem? Welcome, Ms. Barnett, to hell.


If You Had a Magic Wand
Marcos Wilson

You know the game: You played it before, I am sure: drinking wine and shooting the breeze with friends about the social ills that afflict the world - suddenly someone asks: if you had a magic wand and three wishes, how would you change things for the better?. There you sat, chardonnay in one hand, magic wand in another. What did you do? Where did you start?. Well, I would bet one thing: that not one of those wishes sounded anything like: "first I would seek public input...or I would keep people informed and included in an open way...". You were probably too busy excited about the prospects of all that power. This would not make you a bad person, but you surely would be wrong and your actions doomed to failure. To use a business metaphor, imagine not including customer input in your plans to improve services or products. It would be crazy. You would fail.

In their excitement over using the power and magic given to them by the Control Board wizards, Becton, Mclaury and the faithful Trustess clearly forgot about their customers, the DC residents. The new year and the recent court decision provide an opportunity for Becton and the Board to find new and HONEST (read open) ways to include the public in their activities. It can only enhance their power and chances for success.


Taxes and Death (of Cities)
John Whiteside

Regarding Larry Seftor's comments on DC's income tax and urban flight: Amen. DC's income tax is the chief reason that I'm moving to Arlington next month. I really would like to stay in the District. I've lived in DC since moving to the area a year and a half ago, and lived in an inner-city Boston neighborhood for years before that. The city is where I like to be. But when I compared cost of living in Arlington and DC, I discovered that between taxes and car insurance the hit is several hundred out of pocket every month. (And that's after the dreaded VA car tax.)

As much as I like DC, with thriving urban neighborhoods nearby in Arlington and Alexandria it's a tough sell to stay -- especially for someone who works in Virginia, as I do. I'm really sorry to be leaving but I just can't see paying so much for so little, when I can live ten minutes from downtown in a place with reasonable taxes and effective local government.


Eydie Whittington and the Post
Alex Johnson

Andrew Aurbach writes, somewhat snidely, that "Edie Wittington ... is one of the ABC Board members, so ... she has been collecting a healthy paycheck from the D.C. government since she left office (didn't see that in the Post, did you?)." That's only because you haven't been looking. While the Post has published no story specifically about Eydie Whittington's ABC board membership (it's hardly earthshattering news, after all), her appointment has been noted in recent stories, most recently last Thursday (Jan. 8; the URL is

As I've said before when people have taken false and unwarranted shots at (disclosure alert) my employer: The Post is a very big paper. Just because you personally didn't read it, Andrew, doesn't mean we didn't write it. The Post gets more than enough justified blame. Adding unjustified blame is gratuitous and unworthy of this forum.


Safeway and Long & Foster
Damian Buckley

Top marks should go to the individual in Long & Foster who suggested the idea of placing the customer grocery separators at the checkout line in all the local Safeway stores. Also kudos to the person that got them in there. I am not in favor of advertising everywhere but that is one area that people from all walks of life see. Well Done!


Lighten up!
John Capozzi

"Expansion is a red herring"? "Trade shows peaked in the 1980s"? I feel obliged to address both of these statements made by Leslie Miles in last week's DC Stories; but first of all I just want to tell everyone how great it was to see Leslie with her daughter at the reception hosted by the WCCA. The Convention Center group has really been all-inclusive in rounding up a lot of talent to represent this boondoggle of a project. Tony Robinson (formerly of Kevin Chavous's office) and Willie Flowers of the DC Young Democrats are just two of the enormously talented individuals who have joined the team. What a shame! We need them to plot out a new direction for DC -- not repeat the same old mistakes. The most glaring mistake with the current center is the lack of expansion capability. Clearly this is happening again. Ms. Miles argues that trade shows are not getting larger. In my industry - computer technology - the shows are combining to create even larger ones, plus the industry is growing exponentially. Very few of the computer show are now held here. The population of our country is increasing, so not only will the number of dentists increase so will the size of dental trade shows. This trend is bound to continue, Ms. Miles - neither you nor I can stop it.

Finally, I must express my outrage at Ms. Miles' personal attacks on Beth Solomon, Eric Gravely, and Leroy Thorpe. There are only 500,000 of us left in the District. There is absolutely nothing for any of us to gain through personal attacks, if we disagree on issues. On Capitol Hill, we fought a similar knock-down fight on the Barney Circle freeway(now canceled) and those opposed to its construction underwent a similar character attack by Public Works officials. The issue is now over, but those of us in the community remain and must live with the consequences of a divide-and-conquer, win-at-all-costs philosophy. I hope that doesn't happen in Shaw.


Convention Center Eternal...
Leslie Miles

I am forced again to ask, who are the LOCAL people in Shaw opposed to the new Convention Center? I keep hearing that there are "many" but they are always unnamed. The Greater Shaw Consensus Group contains all the local organizations and is in strong support (and is working on finalizing language on the issues of the trade school, which is not up in the air but part of the NCPC Memorandum of Agreement, local hiring, and other employment issues). The only ANCs to vote against it are not in the area, and the Green Party, etc are citywide with no real local presence.

It is certainly true that the format of the reception WCCA put on last week was not conducive to getting the point across. I agree that it was badly done, and note that WCCA's communication with the community is very weak . These failures help to explain the continued misinformation and false impressions about the Center. I was a host of this event and still did not get all of my own questions answered. But that is not a good reason to oppose the building or the site. Can't we get past this diversionary argument about the site at Union Station, which the city does not own, is not on a Metro route, and has a big historic building in the middle of it? While we are all discussing whether we should tear down the Woodies warehouse the Center will be opening in Fairfax.

If some people believe that this project should not be built and that all of DC's resources should go to help the poor and those who are in need of services, that is a legitimate opinion. I don't share it, however, as I believe the city needs people of all incomes to stay alive. And, hear my plea, my neighbors-- can't one of the hundreds of you who are for this please drop dc story a line so it doesn't appear that I am on a one-woman crusade? Thanks, guys.


Convention Center
Robert Meisnere

I think there is one point Thomas Smith is misinformed about regarding the convention center. DC does NEED and WANT a convention center. I just find it ridiculous that DC would even think of building a center that a) won't be big enough to compete with other major cities that don't have as much to offer, and b) can't be expanded. I really wish someone can explain the thinking behind this. As we all know, this is exactly what happen last time. I understand the Shaw neighborhood would love some development but is this really the best thing for a residential neighborhood? I can't imagine that it is.


[I don't think we need one and I certainly don't want one for a single, simple reason -- convention centers are economic drags on local economies. They produce less commerce per square foot than virtually any other economic activity. That's why they should be built where land is cheap (like in West Virginia). I don't plan to carp on this issue beyond this edition because building downtown monuments inevitably turn on emotional issues. In many cases, this is the way it should be. ("To hell with the economists!") But I think the convention center opponents carry the weight of this argument. As for the fate of Shaw? In all fairness, the decision about building a Convention Center should not be made on whether it will be a neighborhood stimulus -- that is, unless the residents of Shaw want to foot the bill, which I welcome them to do. Unfortunately, in this (un)fair city of ours, I understand why some Shaw residents view the Convention Center as their only hope for economic recovery.

So here's my serendipitous suggestion. Don't build a convention center. Build a Monolith (like the one in 2001: A Space Oddessy) for one of the many approaching Millenniums . Not only do we avoid throwing money down a rat hole (though rats should earn a living too), but we create a more economical, economic stimulus. This is a city -- Let's think vertically instead of horizontally. Jeff]


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.



Can anyone tell me what happened to the Dupont Circle block of Connecticut Ave which used to contain Burrito Brothers, Beadazzled, etc.? Back in DC after finishing my MPH, I was wandering around getting reacquainted with my old hood and noticed that everything on that block has found new homes and it's completely empty. What plans does some developer have in store? Kirsten Sherk


Sassafras Tea
John Heaton

[Though we haven't learned anything about where John Heaton can buy a reasonable facsimile of real sassafras tea, he did provide me some background on the Sassafras Issue. Jeff]

In 1976, the FDA banned the sale of the roots, leaves, and oil of the sassafras tree after finding that safrole, which is found naturally in sassafras, caused liver cancer in rats when administered in large (5,000 parts per million) doses. Lower levels were found to cause liver damage, but not cancer, in rats and dogs. To date, the FDA has not established a safe level for the ingestion of safrole, probably because no one much cares whether they can get real sassafras anymore.


MLK Day Eighth Anniversary of the Barney Circle Neighborhood Watch Association on Monday, January 19 @ 7:00pm.
John Capozzi

All are Welcome!! Bring a friend! Many District officials will be in attendance, Orange Hat groups and of course the neighbors from Barney Circle. Representatives of the D.C. Police, FBI, and ATF will also be in attendance. Learn how to fight crime and drugs in your own neighborhood! The event will start at 7:00pm, and include brief remarks from guests, a short march/patrol, and fellowship + refreshments. Come to the Providence Baptist Church at 15th and Potomac Ave. SE, or call John Capozzi 581-8595 for more information, directions or our press release.


Join the D.C. Affairs Section of the D.C. Bar in welcoming Judge John Ferren to his new position as D.C. Corporation Counsel. Hear his comments on his first few months in the position and his views on the important issues facing the Office. Monday, January 26, 1998, 5:30 p.m. at 1250 H Street, NW (Metro Center). Call (202) 626-3463 for additional information. Lawyers and non-lawyers are welcome!

S.L Mayhew


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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 (c) 1997. All rights reserved.

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