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February 11, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

Tony Williams, the city's Chief Financial Officer, the Control Board Board, and even Congress, the District Council, and the Mayor's Office deserve credit for bringing in a balanced budget (with bonus money) and an unqualified audit. Don't break out the party hats yet, however. As Tony Williams acknodleged at his press conference, a lot of hard work still needs to be done to the salvage the District government. Read the Post story carefully and you will see William's points. (Yes, they are in the Post, even if you didn't read them.) Let me amplify on one point. Living within a budget is not that hard if you don't plan to do much living. Consider your family budget. Cut out the line items for automobile, entertainment, restaurants, clothing, home maintenance, and insurance and you could end up with a balanced budget. Not much of a life, but a balanced budget nonetheless. That's what life has been like the past couple of years for the District. As hard as it was to get to this point, improving service delivery is going to be many times harder and take much longer.


Speaking of Washington Post articles, a reader wanted me to remind you of the following (which I assume you can read on the web site.) Some of the links we provide to dc.story related articles may expire by the time you read them. The Post changes web addresses while an article lives for 14 days. Then it goes into the archives, where someday we will be able to conduct research for a fee. The Post's search engine is Note the spelling of dc.story (all lower case).


I attended a meeting last night of the D.C. Citizens Reform Coalition, a group formed by communty activist/rabble rouser Dorothy Brizil, to discuss the multitude of investigations into the Metropolitan Police Department. If not quite the Jerry Springer show (not a chair was thrown), the evening would have made good TV under the name, "Face the Cynics." Although DC's finest are now under investigation (or heightened investigation) by the new Inspector General, the new Attorny General, the DC Council Special Committee on Policie Misconduct and Personnel Management, the General Accounting Office, and, presumably, O.J. Simpson -- and that apparently every police officer will now be assigned a personal investigator -- this level of effort wasn't enough for this crowd. The reason: same old, same old. I think it's fair to say that residents have little confidence in the department. One brilliant money-saving suggestion was to collocate precinct houses with Seven-Eleven stores, since that's where many officers spend their time on duty.

The tone of the meeting was respectively hostile, perhaps unfairly so. None of the panelists have been on their jobs for more than a month. Yet, their responses tended toward the "within my mandate," work withing the system, and trust me because I have a stellar resume. In particular, folks in my cynics' corner wondered whether new Attorney General Wilma Lewis was just punching her ticket on the way up, as many perceived was the motivation of her predecessor, Eric Holder. In talks I held with her senior staff after the meeting, I have hopes that this is not the case. Nevertheless, whether the issue is perception or reality, two things must occur before citizens feel better about their police force (and public corruption in general). The Attorney General (with the IG) must earn back the trust of citizens by their actions -- that is, successful prosecution of the public corruption we experience daily. Secondly, somehow the fractured city leadership must come together and ensure that an effective chief of police succeeds. No more footsy with the likes of Soulsby.


See public fraud occuring in your neighborhood? The Inspector General hotline telephone number is 800-521-1639. I'm not sure why an 800 number is necessary -- who is going to call in DC fraud from Oregon? The IG mentioned a provision of District law that allowed the collection of treble damages for successful complaints of false claims against the city. So here's your opportunity to pick up some spare change. But just like those mailings you receive from Dick Clark and Ed McMahon, better read the fine print.


Carl Bergman tells me that Hiz Hon will bring the mayor mobile right here to his very neighborhood in a few days. "I've been trying to come up with a name for the thing without much luck. You know Redemption II. After all, now that that Wilson Building's practically boarded up, we can honestly say we've got the only city hall in the country of no fixed address, so I figure we ought to bestow a proper moniker on the mayoral Winebago, but nothing really clicks."

My first thought was of New York's wandering garbage barge -- the municipal entity with no place to call home. Then I thought about how appropriate it was that Barry could be spending his last days as Mayor wandering the city in an escape pod. He may need the wheels to hightail it out of town when the last 15 citizens wake from their slumber and learn how he has plundered the city for 20 plus years. Still, as Carl suggests, we need a snappy name. Your thoughts?

Jeffrey Itell February 11, 1998


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The Control Board 269
Carl Bergman

No, they aren’t imprisoned protestors, they’re the board’s management plans for the District, nearly $200 million worth. Thanks to the National Association to Restore Pride in America’s Capital’s Len Sullivan, (, I’ve got one of the rare copies. It’s a sobering document, one I hope to look at in depth on Len’s site. You’d think that a document that proposes a massive restructuring of the local government would rate a lot of public discussion, but it hasn’t. For starters, the board doesn’t mention it on its web site, much less summarize it. When it appeared last month, the local media covered it superficially, if at all. The Post’s one story lacked so much as a table listing the major changes. After that, nothing. No editorials, nothing. So, what’s in it? Here’s what I found in a quick read.

Information Management. "District systems are unable to handle Year 2000 data processing. While this is essentially the biggest risk facing the District, planning efforts are behind schedule and not funded." Fire and EMS. "... The services fall short in almost every are of responsibility, other than extinguishing fires. The fire death rate per capita in the District is 60 percent above the national average." The board’s proposal, clearly, isn’t just to fix the government, it’s to create what’s not there. All this is fine, but the board’s blown two issues. It hasn’t even made a token effort to involve the public in its process. Second, for all the board s reform talk, they haven’t said a word about reforming the city’s laughable budget process. Without a vital and effective method for setting and enforcing public priorities, the board’s management recommendations will never take root.


Racial Diversity & Rent Control
David F. Power

The Post stories on the Control Board's proposal to abolish rent control quoted many black residents as believing that elimination of rent control is just one more tool to take back DC for white residents. I'm a white resident, and I have lived in DC continuously since August 1980. I may not be a native, but I have been here long enough to care whether the city is flushed down the sewer. I have benefitted from rent control in several different locations and I will fight to keep it. Any DC Council Member who does not fight to keep rent control can kiss their part-time job goodbye.

Killing rent control would be the final straw. Renters living in DC rent-controlled apartments, all of us, black, white, Hispanic, Asian-American, male, female, young, old, gay, straight, professional, not-so-professional, workers, students, artists, lawyers, legislative staff, reporters, police, judges, council members, truck drivers, store clerks, and federal employees have together enjoyed a solid and diverse community. Back when we renters had voting rights and could elect local leaders who could affect local laws, rent control was a key victory.

The entire metropolitan area has benefitted directly from the stable and hard-working community of renters in DC rent-controlled apartments. Abolishing rent control will be the silver bullet guaranteed to kill the middle class and working class taxpayer population in DC. After all the taxpaying renters have moved out, Arthur Brimmer, Stephen Harlan, Joyce Ladner, Constance Berry Newman, Edward Singletary and their ultra-high-paid staff can go drown themselves in the ocean of red ink that will be their worthless legacy. The White House and DNC better wake up on this issue.


Is It True?
Lucy Mallan

Does anyone know if it is true that Ms Ackerman has decided to eliminate AP in DC schools, saying she doesn't have resources? I was told she said this in a public meeting...but would like to check it out. I would really be horrified if it were true...


Hands on DC
David Hunter

I am on the recruiting committee for Hands on DC and am looking for people to be either volunteers or team leaders for our Hands on DC event Sat. April 18. Hands on DC is an organization which spends one day a year fixing up DC's crumbling school buildings. It also raises money for a scholarship fund it operates. There are usually 2500 to 3000 people who participate. We need both volunteers as well as 300 team leaders. A team leader is in charge of 8-10 people working on a project in the school. A team leader is also expected to help get pledge for your efforts. Please let me know if you are interested in doing either or write for more information to me or John Mills at


A Core Value of American Society
Larry Seftor

Ms. Somson quotes Judge Kennedy as noting that the Control Board's position regarding the UDC union contract denies that Congress has "sensitivity to a core value of American society, the sanctity of contracts." While I certainly understand the need to honor contracts, I also believe that another "core value of American society" is the right of self determination, which Congress in the case of the Control Board has seen fit to abrogate. I really don't have any trouble with Judge Kennedy upholding a particular contract. I really have trouble with the way that Congress has raped the rights of D.C. residents, and no one seems willing to issue a peep.

Lawyers sometimes go beyond the letter of the laws (which are, in a sense, just contracts between the Government and the people) to look at the "legislative history." The point is that the underlying intent is important, even to lawyers. While "taxation without representation" may not be an explicit constitutional right, it is certainly represents the intent of the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. After all, look at the history behind this "legislation."


District Of Contempt
Ed T. Barron

"With banana-republic levels of infant mortality, a TB epidemic, foul drinking water, rotting police, fire, and ambulance departments, and a putrid morgue, Washington, D.C., insults its citizens from cradle to grave. The surreal corruption of Mayor Marion Barry and his cronies has turned the nation's capital into a cherry-blossom slum". That's the introduction to a four-page article in the March edition of Vanity Fair magazine. Lest you think this article, which presents the truth in its most unfavorable light, was written by someone outside the Beltway, you are wrong. It was written by a NW D.C. resident named Christopher Hitchens. The article, replete with slum photos, is compelling reading. Anyone thinking of moving into the District should avoid this article.


National Scandal?
Kirsten -- Still bitter about the Reagan years -- Sherk

Like many other area residents, I suspect, I've been following the re-naming of National with disbelief and outrage. But my overarching questions are: 1) Why is it that Congress has the right to do this to a facility run by the region? and 2) What can we as citizens do about it? As I see it, this is a democracy issue too. A few legislators have made a decision that seems anathema to the louder side of public opinion in the area. Legally speaking, can we set a referendum? Are we hampered by the fact that the local users are divided among three politically distinct districts? Can we just organize a campaign to un-do the damage?


Litter in Rock Creek? Don't try to pick it up!

Dana "Rock Creek Rebel" Kressierer Single Volunteers of DC

A group of about 25 people from Single Volunteers of DC ( and The Trash Force ( had an interesting encounter last Sunday when attempting to pick up trash in the Pierce Mill area of Rock Creek Park... While it seems that city residents & visitors may rollerblade, jog, walk and bike freely throughout the park, volunteers wishing to pick up litter must first get a PERMIT in order to do so! The Park Officer who informed us of this restriction did eventually let us get to the business of picking up trash - but only after delaying us for 10 minutes and stressing that our random act of cleanliness was against park policy... I wonder if the people who left all this trash to begin with were given such a hard time?


Some Traffic Facts
Michelle Treistman

According to the recent Traffic Safety Facts bulletin published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration...

In 1996, there were: 59,000 pedalcyclist injuries -- 761 fatalities, 1 in DC; 82,000 pedestrian injuries -- 5,412 fatalities, 21 in DC; 56,000 motocycle injuries -- 2,160 fatalities, 4 in DC; and 2,478,000 passenger car occupant injuries -- 22,416 total fatalities, 24 driver fatalities in DC.

No conclusions, just the numbers. 1997 data is not yet available. Information available at


Oh Hechinger and Home Depot
Jeff Lins

I have worked various positions for two mom-n-pop hardware stores, a Hechinger store, and a Home Depot store. For all of you who have complaints (and kudos) for the big chain warehouses, locate a small, local hardware store in your area (I know, they're a dying breed nowadays) and experience real customer service. The prices aren't that much different, and you'll be treated much better by the employees. In addition, with the merger of True Value and ServiStar hardware corporations, the local affiliates are doing much better; costs are down and product selection is better.


Subject: Time for Another Hechinger Story?
Ken Nellis

Time for another Hechinger story? I recently missed a Hechinger's charge card payment's due date by about a week. I realized this, too late, and fully expected a finance charge of a dollar or so on my next bill. When the bill came, the finance charge was there, but what was not expected was an additional $20 late fee. I couldn't believe that they would charge both a finance charge and a late fee! I called up customer service and the rep kindly offered to waive the fee. (I accepted.) After this got straightened out I cancelled my account. Why would anyone use a Hechinger charge card knowing that a late payment will cost them $20 more than if they had paid with Visa?


Grocery coupons
Steph "Lost the book, so all facts, figures, and sizes are approximate" Faul

The Safeway coupons are definitely a hassle -- but I've noticed that Giant often matches the Safeway coupon price on sale items. For example, the current Safeway book has a coupon for microwave popcorn (one of the four basic food groups, in this household at least), and the same brand is on sale for $1.24 (which I think is half-price) at Giant. Same thing with Arm & Hammer laundry detergent.


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.


Arts at Emanuel presents 1995 Pavarotti Competition Winner Fabiana Bravo Saturday, February 21 at 8:00 at Temple Emanuel, 10101 Connecticut Avenue, Kensington MD (1 mile outside Beltway). For tickets, call (301) 942-2000. Gershon Silins, Artistic Director


Zoo Event
Margie Gibson RSVP LINE (202) 673-4801

Dr. Sheila Conant, zoology professor at the University of Hawaii, will present Remote Oceania: The Biology, Archaeology, and History of Hawaii's Leeward Islands. In a slide-illustrated lecture, Dr. Conant will talk about the incredible variety of bird species that evolved on the islands. She will also consider effects that the arrival of humans had upon the avian population, and will draw upon archaeology and history to better understand the current threats to Hawaiian bird life.

5 March 1998. Lecture at 7:30 p.m. in the 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


Biz Networking
Don Taylor

I have published a guide to business networking on the net. Howsoever, listings within the borders of DC is thin. If you meet with a formal or informal group that holds regular events in DC for self-promotion in business or jobs I’d like to hear about it. Have a gander at <> Comment on publishing books vs. web site: You can finish a book. A website is never finished.


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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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