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June 9, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

Darn. Tomorrow's weather forecast calls for rain, drizzle, and generally yucky conditions. Not ideal conditions for a Garden Party at Firehook Bakery.

I've rescheduled the party for Tuesday, June 16. Don't send an R.S.V.P. if you already sent one to me. I'm using that list to send updated information. However, please send me an R.S.V.P. if you plan to attend next Tuesday and haven't sent me one already. This way I can contact you in case an Arctic Blast or volcanic ash forces us to postpone again.

Jeffrey Itell June 9, 1998


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My Book
Jonetta Rose Barras,

I just read Cheryl Fox's comment about my book. It is difficult for me to focus people on the fact that before they render opinion, it makes great sense to check out the facts. The book I have written contains all of four pages (out of 300 plus) that relates to what she calls salacious. However, the meat of the book chronicles Barry rise and fall, and rise and fall. It is also offers one of the few contextual political and cultural analysis of not only Marion Barry but the people who continued to elect him, including those who punched their card for him in 1994. Let me assure Cheryl, I am not a graduate of the Matt Drudge school of journalism; in fact I don't even read the guy. I have never clicked on to his site, wouldn't really know him if I bumped into him. Every fact in the book was carefully checked and sourced, including the charge of bisexuality and the aborted drug buy. What's more in each case, the was more than one source confirming the facts. But what Cheryl should do is buy the book. See for herself and then give me a call. I'd be glad to talk. The book can be purchased at Vertigo on Connecticut, Politics and Prose, Sister Space and Books, and Reprint Books.


Dr. Barnett
Greg Hall,

If Dr. Barnett is the same one that used to run Austin Texas, you people have not bettered yourself. Don't listen to the sound bites, follow the money, where it goes, is the amount being spent equal to what others have spent for the same service, are there touchy feely goody two shoes explanations and seminars trotted out when something doesn't go as planned. The lady in Austin was slick, had all the clich_s down and was run out of town. Is she a paper tiger? hope I'm wrong


Anthony Williams' Dereliction of Duty on Convention Center
Steve Donkin,

What do all the excitement over Tony Williams running for mayor and the proposed convention center boondoggle at Mt. Vernon Square have in common? Well, for a friend of mine and myself, they both converged at a chance encounter with Mr. Williams at Unifest last weekend. When we casually asked him about his thoughts on the center's financing plan that he signed off on, he said, "You know, I spent three years on the Convention Center Authority and I really wasn't paying attention." Mr. Williams went on to express his regrets not only at his lack of attention, but also at the way the whole process played out, and the fact that it's too far along now to do anything about it.

I would urge both Williams fans, as well as councilmembers who relied on his "expert" assessment of the convention center financing plan to justify their vote of approval last week, to take note of this extraordinary admission. Simply put, Council is giving a green light to the city's most expensive construction project ever, based on the recommendation of a CFO who "wasn't paying attention"!


Not Even Anthony Williams is Perfect
Nick Keenan,

In the last issue, Jeff wrote, "Taxation, revenue collection, property assessments, et al, are city services." He hit the nail right on the head, and like Jeff I'm leaning toward Williams for mayor. But in that same vein, I have a major beef with Williams. In the early 1990's the DC Council passed Act 47-813, which created a new tax class for vacant properties, Class 5, with a tax rate of 5.0%. This was a positive step, as vacant properties impose a burden on their neighbors, and are a major problem in large areas of the city.

Over the past few months my neighbors and I have begun investigating whether vacant properties in our area are being taxed properly. The information is hard to come by (another story), but our initial conclusion was that none of them were. After pursuing the issue for a while, I got a candid city official to admit that NO PROPERTIES, CITYWIDE are taxed as Class 5. He said that the Department of Finance and Revenue has refused to implement the classification, as it opposed the legislation and is trying to get it reversed. I'm sure Williams had good intentions and in his future job he may be able to set policy, but wasn't his old job to follow the laws of the District of Columbia, as written?


DC Tax & Revenue Makes 4000 Boo-Boos
Bill Leonard,

On June 4, I received an ominous envelope from the DC Department of Tax & Revenue. Inside, a form FT-295. It calculated my 1996 income tax: "Tax Assessment," "Penalty for Late Payment," "Interest" and told me that I owed my payment, plus penalty and interest on my 1996 tax, due on 4/15. The amount of tax assessed was the exact amount on my 1996 tax form. The penalty and interest payments requests were major.

I checked my bank statement. DC Tax & Revenue had cashed my check on 4/14. So, why am I being assessed for a late payment with penalty & interest? Did they put the money somewhere else? On 6/5, I called 202/727-6104 and waded through a menu and then waited. When answered, in less than 5 minutes, I began my tale of woe. The cheerful voice on the other end said, "We're sorry. It was a mistake and you don't owe anything."

She informed me that the mailing was due to "a computer glitch" and that letters of apology would be going out soon. I asked how many of us had been hit with the letters and she said, "About 4000." At 32 cents a letter, that is $1280 postage for mailing the forms and $1280 for mailing the forthcoming apologies: at least $2560 of our taxpayer dollars for a "computer glitch." At least, they caught the error and that is an improvement from the Barry days.


Convention Center Yet Again
Leslie Miles,

I was interested to learn that architect Ted Mariani "put a choke hold" on a demonstrator who disrupted City Council proceedings, according to Beth Solomon. Since Mr. Mariani cannot even walk without the use of a cane, I found that interesting. By the way, if the only reason the protesters were removed is the content of their message, would Beth appreciate it if I were to come in to the Chamber and start to scream while her witnesses testified? I think not. Reasonable debate requires that each side sit down and shut up while the other has the floor, especially in such ordered settings as a Council hearing. Which brings me to Steph Faul's comment that she finds the arguments in favor of the Mt. Vernon Square site "so bogus, she can't believe sentient beings" believe them. So much for refraining from ad hominem attacks (my name does appear in her title line).


Convention Center Economic Impact
Joan L. Eisenstodt,

Jeffrey and others: The Convention Liaison Council has commissioned, through Deloitte Touche, a number of economic impact studies of meetings and their impact. At the web site for PCMA (Professional Convention Management Assn. - one can search in the Convene (magazine) library for information. The Intl. Assn. of Auditorium Managers and the Intl. Assn. of Convention & Visitors Bureaus may also have stats about the impact of convention centers on cities' economies.

For those of us in the hospitality industry, the comments about the Center and the location is fascinating. As a meeting planner and meeting participant [a term, Steph, we prefer to "attendee"!] it matters much to me where a center is and what it offers that others might not. I haven't seen the particulars about the new one for DC and if it will in fact be competitive technologically with others. What scares me is that it could, no matter where we put it (and I favor the Union Sta. n'hood) be out of date before it's built.


Convention Center Economic Analysis
Greg Melcher,

Jeffrey Itell: Cooper's and Lybrand performed a study "Analysis for the Proposed Washington Convention Center" dated December 30, 1997. It shows (specifically section 8.0 pages 72-87) that the proposed center will be of significant economic benefit to DC alone based on direct spending (the hotel, restaurant, & retail business you mention). That grows further when indirect and induced spending are added plus something they call non-quantifiable impacts, not to mention the synergy that will occur with the MCI arena and other related projects. Again that's DC alone. It is true that convention center's lose money when operational costs plus debt service are compared against the income for the facility rental but that is not true when direct benefits are included.

Ed T. Baron: The proposed convention center was competitively bid. There were three other bidders. Clarke/Smoot was the successful offerer, who then entered a detailed negotiation/value engineering phase leading to the $500M gross maximum price. They, as well as the other bidders, have all constructed most of the larger convention centers built in recent years and have come in at or below the negotiated gross maximum price (there are many incentives built into this contract to do so). Good recent examples are Chicago and Philadelphia both of which completed at less than the gross maximum price. That is the reason the authority, the project manager, the architects and the builder spent almost 5 months going through negotiations. Further, the Center's amenities were never on the table. Savings came from smarter ways to build the center, produced from this collaboration.


Can Anyone Answer My Question
Richard (Pays Enough for Big Macs Now) Rothblum,

Jeff, you asked why we should be building the convention center in the first place. That question bothers me a lot, but I feel like you do. Maybe I don't know enough to throw a wet blanket on the party. But there are certain principles that government should adhere to, and one of them is not to do things that people can just as easily do for themselves. If the convention center makes economic sense, let it be financed privately. We would soon find out whether reasonable people risking their OWN MONEY think that it's a winner or a loser. The government's role should be that of facilitator, not financial angel.

The center is far from a freebie for local residents. It will be financed by hotel and restaurant taxes. It is true that most of us don't stay in local hotels often, but we do eat more meals out than at home. Restaurant meals are a big part of my budget, and, if you believe surveys that are published from time-to-time in The Washington Post, for most poor people, too. Let's assume that the objective of the convention center is realized -- that more tourists eat in the restaurants and stay in the hotels, thus allowing the hoteliers and restaurateurs to recoup at least some of the money that the city (you and I) will lay out for the center. According to the law of supply and demand, hotel and restaurant prices will go up! How's that for "heads we lose, tails they win"?


Convention Center
Lee Perkins,

I'm no expert, but if developers smell money in a convention center, they finance and build it themselves. If it's iffy, they want the taxpayer to do it! The Worcester (MA) Centrum was built with private money and it's been a moneymaker ever since. The City of Worcester (pronounced Wustah -- there are no 'r's in New England <G>) facilitated this by condemning a huge chunk of downtown. However, downtown was dead long before they tore all those buildings down. The Centrum brought some life back to the area. It did not, repeat NOT, cure all of downtown's ills.


Workforce Investment Board
David S. Reed,

I would like to hear anyone's first-hand experiences with government-financed employment and training programs in D.C. The Mayor recently appointed me to the Workforce Investment Board, which oversees these programs. This is a minor volunteer position, so I can't promise to rectify any particular problem, but I would like to become informed so I can do a responsible job.


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.



Does anyone know of a similar community e-mail for other cities, most notably New York City? If so, please send information 'bout them along to me please. Aries Keck,


Seeking: French teacher for intensive lessons sometime during the fall to prepare my wife and me for a move to France. I'd prefer someone who follows the French in Action or similar method of teaching. Contact: Evan Roth,



Need People Who Know the Conference Industry Jeff Porten,

All of the dc.story talk about the Convention Center seems to have flushed out some people who have firsthand knowledge of the industry. That's good news. I run a company that puts conferences online for all the people who can't physically attend. I'd like to put together a group of experts who can advise me on the ins and outs of the industry from the inside. Payment will be made in stock in a currently-worthless but soon-to-be-worth billions Internet company, and I'll buy lunch. Interested? Please contact


ELI Seminar on Environmental Strategies in DC. When: Tuesday, June 23, 1998, 12 noon to 2 p.m. Where: ELI's 7th Floor Conference Room, 1616 P Street, NW, Washington, DC RSVP: (202) 939-3858

District environmentalists are facing battles on many fronts. To highlight a few: the recent effort by the Control Board to repeal the District's primary environmental protection law, the battle to build a new convention center in the Shaw district, and the ongoing question over the city's resumption of recycling.

Please join Ted Gordon (Deputy Director of Environmental Health Services for the DC Department of Health); Norris McDonald (President, African American Environmentalists Association); Neil Seldman (President, Institute for Local Self Reliance); and ELI Senior Attorney Suellen Keiner for a June 23 seminar exploring recent trends in the city's environmental agenda. Please bring a brown bag lunch. Speakers will begin promptly at 12:30 p.m.

Lisa Pelstring, Director, Public Outreach, Environmental Law Institute, (202) 939-3834,


Zoo Lecture: Tall Blondes: A Book About Giraffes
Margie Gibson,

Lynn Sherr, correspondent for the ABC news magazine, 20/20, and author of Tall Blondes: A Book About Giraffes, will sign copies of her book and present a slide-illustrated lecture. Sherr explores the extraordinary world of the giraffe, from its soulful eyes to its striking coloration. Her book includes a cultural history of the giraffe, beginning with its first appearance in Europe in 46 B.C., and traces the species' life in zoos. Sherr also tells a story of particular local interest about the National Zoo's acquisition of giraffes.

11 June. 7 p.m. Reception & Booksigning 8 p.m. Lecture. The Education Building at the National Zoo. Enter at Connecticut Ave. and Park in Lot A. Free, but please RSVP by calling (202) 673-4801 or sending e-mail to


Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, a nonprofit homeless organization needs a person for accounting, budgeting, contract management. Great opportunity to use your financial skills for the community. 29-25 hrs. per week. Salary $15/H.R. + depending on experience. Fax resume to Claudia Coonrod at 202-364-8767 or e mail to


For Sale: 3 Japanese Nishi dolls. Framed print: La Civette Parisienne by Delacroix. Framed print: Opus II by Boulanger. Call 202-337-4906; 202-328-1083. Edna Small,


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


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