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May 16, 1999

Reform in themail

Dear Reformers:

Two kinds of people call themselves government reformers. The first kind wants to eliminate governmental waste, fraud, corruption, mismanagement, and abuse. The second kind wants to replace the crowd that runs governmental waste, fraud, corruption, mismanagement, and abuse with its own crowd. To this second kind of reformer, reform has been completed, and criticism of government should end, once their crowd has been put in power.

Two news stories in the past week were bombshells. First, Yolanda Woodlee, in the Washington Post, revealed that Tony Williams was secretly paid $30,000 from Arthur Andersen, a government contractor that had numerous contracts with the CFO's office and the Control Board, and $10,000 from NationsBank, for work that he did during the same few months that he was campaigning sixteen hours a day to be elected mayor. If Marion Barry had accepted these payments, kept them secret, and then claimed that there was no conflict of interest, we would have been all over him. Second, Stephanie Mencimer, in the City Paper, did a wonderful expose of the Sports Commission that illustrates the kind of inside dealing and rampant conflicts of interest that are encouraged when the city spins off its important business into unaccountable, secretive, “semi-private” entities like the Sports Commission, the Public Benefits Corporation, and the upcoming National Capital Revitalization Corporation. Will these stories lead to any real reform, or will they be stones that cause no ripples when they are thrown into the pond? If
that is the result, we'll know what kind of reform we have.

Gary Imhoff


Taxed to Death
Jon Desenberg,

On one hand we have Congress telling us that Federal taxpayers chip in $2 billion a year to the DC Budget so we should just stay quiet on local issues and forget a commuter tax. On the other hand, we have people like the Mayor warning that we need high taxes to offset no State support. It's not like we want to live in Delaware or Florida (no tax states), just something close to what are neighbors are paying.


More Spending = Better Services? I Don't Think So
Jason Juffras,

The strident attacks on tax cut legislation that have appeared in themail are highly surprising, given that the District has very high tax rates and, according to surveys, mediocre services. The District's current 9.5 percent income tax rate, beginning at income of $20,000, is a severe hit on people trying to escape the ranks of the working poor, and it would be highly irresponsible of District policy makers not to consider tax reductions when large surpluses are rolling in for the third and fourth consecutive years. The tax parity legislation that reduces rates and starts the top tax bracket at $40,000 will indeed be welcome relief for many hard-working families and individuals. (This is also the answer to Steph Faul's question about how a “1 percent” tax reduction can lead to reductions of 2 percent or more in people's tax bills. The reductions are larger at the lowest income levels and the tax brackets are shifting upward at the same time).

Much of the debate has also made a very simplistic connection between services and taxes, as in Anne Drissel's mantra of “No Tax Cuts; More Fix-Ups.” This ignores the fact that the District has already allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for service improvements. The D.C. government's expenditures are budgeted at $4.5 billion in FY 99 and $4.7 billion in FY 2000, up from $3.9 billion in FY 98. If a $600 to $800 million budget increase cannot produce major service improvements, why should we believe that more dollars will produce “more fix-ups,” or that the government should spend that money to buy services rather than individuals? When is enough enough?

The view that the District needs to make an open-ended commitment to devoting all extra resources to service improvements is ultimately self defeating. It allows District agencies to avoid taking a hard look at how they are managed, how they are structured, how existing dollars are being used, and how employees are performing. This approach has failed us in the past and will continue to do so in the future.


Discerning the Problem Is Easy. . . .
Larry Seftor,

The measure of the effectiveness of an organization (a Government in this case) is the amount of resources that are required to provide a certain level of output (services in the case of Government). Because it IS a Government, each tax payer does not necessarily receive full measure for his/her contribution. Social engineering means that those of small need receive less than they pay in and those of great need receive more than they put in. But overall, the sum of services received by tax payers should present a reasonable value for the money paid in. As generally agreed, D.C. residents, rich and poor, are badly cheated. There has been plenty of money for some time (for example, the budget of $5,000,000,000 for 550,000 residents under Barry). The question is where that money disappears to.

In the last issue of themail Harold Goldstein states that no one can know the answer to this problem. I disagree. This problem is in our face each time we read a story about waste and malfeasance in the Post. The problem is in our face each time we visit or call a D.C. office and deal with an intransigent bureaucracy. The problem, very simply, is incompetence from the top to the mid-level managers to the bottom. There may be gems within the D.C. Government who go above and beyond the call of duty, but overall the quality of D.C. Government workers is dismal. That is the problem. I suspect a lot of people understand it. In some cases (the Police department) it has been well documented. But no one wants to discuss it because it is unpleasant, with no clean solution. Better people in our Government would improve the quality of service and, yes, might even allow taxpayers to receive a fiscally sound tax cut.


Missed the Boat
Ed T. Barron,

With a few broken arms from everyone still patting themselves on the back, the Mayor and the City Council have passed a very watered down tax cut that will not likely achieve any of the real aims of a major tax cut. To correct this mistake it is timely to now address the most regressive tax on the citizens of this fair city, the Sales Tax. Sporting the highest sales tax in the region, the District has put a burden on those who can least afford to pay that onerous tax. Let's look at the probable results of a major sales tax reduction (or even elimination, in my wildest dreams). Businesses would find that their sales volume would pick up dramatically. Why, even those tax slugs who earn their income in D.C. and pay income taxes to Richmond or Annapolis would be leaving some of their money right here in D.C. A large increase in sales would offset the loss of taxes from a reduced tax rate. Businesses who have left the District would be encouraged to come back. And, most of all, those who spend the largest part of their income on items that have a sales tax would have more of their income for discretionary purposes. Looks like a win-win situation to me.


Taxing D.C.
Steph “Semi-scientific method at work” Faul,

OK, just how much more *does* it cost to live in D.C.? Being of an experimental frame of mind, I decided to run a small test and find out. GEICO runs an on-line quote service, so I plugged in a fictitious couple — 40 years old, no other drivers at home, driving a 1997 Toyota Camry LE/XLE 8 miles to work every day, 14,000 miles per year. (I chose this vehicle, by the way, because it's one of the 10 most frequently stolen cars. I'll admit this probably stacked the deck a bit.) For an address in Chevy Chase, DC, Zip code 20015, the premium was $735.70 for 6 months. Less than a mile away in Chevy Chase, MD, Zip code 20815, the premium was $475.90 for 6 months. For those without calculators, that's $519.60 extra per year a D.C. resident pays for driving the same streets in the same neighborhood — GEICO's neighborhood, in fact. Paging Jack Evans — do you have a plan for dealing with THIS particular “tax” inequity?


Mark Eckenwiler,

Ted Gest and Frank Pruss both recently expressed concern that the Office of Tax and Revenue is slow to cash checks. Here's my data point: Tax return mailed 4/13. Check cashed 4/16 (according to my latest bank statement). (On a separate note: while doing some historic photo research recently, I ran across heartbreaking shots of a now disappeared baseball field on Massachusetts Avenue, 100 block NE. This plot was at some point taken over as a parking lot — ugh — for the Senate. Can someone whose memory runs further back than mine provide details on when this atrocity occurred?)


Selling Snake Oil
Dorothy Brizill,

On Wednesday, May 19, the City Council will hold hearings on the nominations of Charles Maddox (9 a.m.) and Valerie Holt (2 p.m.). Mayor Williams has selected Maddox to replace E. Barrett Prettyman as the District's Inspector General, and Holt will succeed Williams as the city's Chief Financial Officer. (The 1995 federal legislation that created the Control Board also created — or dramatically changed — the IG and CFO positions. That legislation allows the Council to hold hearings on nominees for these positions, but the Council vote has no effect, since final approval rests with the Control Board.)

Maddox, a resident of Upper Marlboro, has served as General Counsel to the IG, and has been Prettyman's heir apparent for the past year, although he is virtually unknown to DC residents and to other government officials. He will oversee the 69 employees and $8.1 million budget of the IG's office. In recent weeks, enough concern has been raised regarding the work of the IG's office for the Government Operations Committee of the Council to schedule an oversight hearing in the near future.

Valerie Holt has been presented as the independent honest broker the city needs as its CFO. But from August 1988 to October 1989 she served as Deputy Director and Controller for the DC Department of Public and Assisted Housing, just before the Department's mismanagement and financial chaos sent it into receivership, and she was DC's Controller and Deputy DC Controller from November 1989 through December 1994, when the Sharon Pratt Kelly administration was hiding budget deficits and overruns with a variety of accounting tricks. Jonetta Rose Barras wrote, in the Washington Times, that, “If Mayor Anthony Williams' appointment of Valerie Holt as the District's new CFO is allowed to stand . . . there is every reason to believe the city's financial management will quickly devolve to its former chaotic, crisis state.”

[The Mayor's press release nominating Maddox and Holt and their resumes are available at ]


DCPS’d Off
Bob Donahue,

I read the mail on DCPS from Mr. Barron and Blair and, while I am interested to see new attention directed toward the beleaguered DCPS, came away from these messages confused as to what solutions we have out there. It seems clear to most that Ms. Ackerman lacks the management skill, political acumen, judgment and decisive leadership to reform the system. Witness special education, transportation, human resources, facilities, grants, the exodus of skilled professionals, etc., etc. Can anyone tell me what DCPS has done to avoid future budget deficits, other than getting MORE MONEY from a cash rich DC government? (Also, Mr. Blair, didn't the World Bank employee recently leave DCPS shaking his head in disgust?). It is frustrating to see the Council, Mayor and Control Board fiddling while DCPS plunges further into a hole. Yet it must be remembered that she is an agent of the Control Board's bold, decisive, Chicago-style takeover which Mr. Barron seems to favor. Am I, therefore, to conclude that the system is unfixable? That we are out of answers? To wait for a crisis to erupt and force new changes?


Merit Pay for Teachers — Wrong
Ed T. Barron,

On the surface, the proposal to include merit pay for teachers who demonstrate good performance through results, may seem like a good idea. It's not. Why is it not a good idea? Because it stimulates competition between and among teachers. That's the wrong kind of competition. What is needed is competition between schools and cooperation among teachers in the same school. A pool of money for performance should be set aside in the contract. That pool of money should be awarded to the schools that meet, or exceed, their performance goals. This creates a team spirit in a school where all the teachers are encouraged to help each other and, in particular, the lowest performing or most inexperienced teachers.

When a school meet its performance goals, that school should receive a large bonus. Then all the persons who operate that school, including teachers, principal, and all the supporting staff (office, admin, janitorial, etc.) should decide on just how to spend that bonus. It could be divided equally among all the persons working at that school or it could go to buy something that would really enhance the school for the students. The bonus could be split any way the majority of members agree to use the monies. In any event, the bonus should be treated just like a World Series bonus. Every individual working at the school full time gets an equal share. That's the way a real team works. This approach will achieve far better results in improving the District Schools than a teacher performance incentive.


Fighting Pay Phone Proliferation
Patrick Shaughness, Upper Palisades, ANC3D-4,

However fashionable it is to bash ANCs at the moment, one valuable service they have provided is a way to fight the proliferation of pay phones. An excess of pay phones, especially on the street, can dramatically alter the character of a public area for the worse. They can encourage drug activity, loitering and all sorts of unwelcome traffic. Under current law, ANCs are required to be notified of the installation of outside pay phones on private property. They have 30 days to object to the Public Service Commission. Now Bell Atlantic wants the PSC to remove the notice requirement for ANCs. Why? I suspect they want it removed because it works.

The point here is not to protect ANCs, but to preserve a channel of public input into a decision that has been crucial for neighborhoods all over the city. A meeting will be held Monday, May 17th at 6:30 pm to discuss the proposed change at the Office of the People's Counsel, 1133 15th Street, NW, Suite 500, phone 727-3071. I won't be able to attend, but if you go or are otherwise involved in the issue feel free to email me as this issue develops.


Those Trees with Purple Flowers
Stephanie Gerard,

One of the Mail correspondents mentioned trees with purple flowers in Rock Creek Park. Those are Royal Paulownia trees, similar to catalpas. They flower in May before they leaf out — whereas the catalpas leaf out before they flower (white or yellow flowers, and later than the Paulownias, late May into June).


Brochure on Street Trees
Mara Cherkasky,

GreenStreets Initiative, an urban forestry project in Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, has produced a brochure in English and Spanish on how to plant and care for street trees. Copies of the brochure are available at the Mount Pleasant Library, or from Mara Cherkasky at 986-0858 or


NARPAC: Helpful Contributions
Anne Drissel, Mt. Pleasant,

Please, let's not sling rocks at the efforts of people in our community to help restore the city of Washington to effective and responsible functioning. I personally know some of the NARPAC folks. They're longtime DC area residents. Just because someone's house or office, at this point in time, is a couple blocks outside the city line, that doesn't mean they can't be involved in helping this city. The folks at NARPAC have done a commendable job of trying to locate, catalog and publish documents, data, and information regarding the DC-government-related operations and functions. Most of this material is not otherwise available to residents, businesses and persons interested in the city. Their work is mostly self-funded and done on their own time, with no staff. They pay out of their own pockets for servicing of the NARPAC web site. It does not hurt to have informed opinions and viewpoints expressed. It allows us a chance to gain different perspectives on the issues that challenge us. Let's celebrate rather than criticize such efforts!


NARPAC Defends its Address and Approach
Len Sullivan,

Thanks to Adam J Marshall for challenging NARPAC's legitimacy — again. We are a national, all-volunteer, non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) Maryland corporation. Our five major participants have logged 105 years of DC residency so far: four still pay DC income and property taxes. Our postal address is, by law, in Maryland, but our principal address is global — at . Almost half of our resolved addressers are dot-com, another quarter, dot-net. Referrals have come from 200 different sites, and our readers have come from 50 different countries, scores of US colleges nationwide, and dozens of US government agencies. We have donors from several states.

NARPAC's objective is to interest Americans everywhere in helping solve DC's major problems, many of which did not originate in DC's neighborhoods, most of which have parallels in other American core cities, and some of which require creative federal and regional solutions. Some part of DC belongs to all Americans — it is their capital city, and they should help make it a source of national pride. Most of the site's “critical” materials are excerpted from official studies and current news. Based on those and our own data analyses, we offer hundreds of constructive long-range, policy level suggestions throughout the site. Many would help DC neighborhoods — albeit indirectly. We welcome constructive inputs. Amen?



Slide Talk Lecture and Book Signing
Matthew Gilmore,

Kathryn Allamong Jacob, Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C., May 20, 1999, 6:15 p.m. - 8:30 p.m., Martin Luther King Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW. The events of just four years of history produced more commemorative sculpture in Washington than any other period in over 200 years of American history. Those four years, years of the Civil War, and its Northern heroes command the vantage points of Washington, her most visible parks, and lend their names to those circles and squares we know best -- Scott, Farragut, Logan, Sheridan, Dupont. In Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C., Kathy Jacob tells the stories behind the many statues commemorating the heroes of the Civil War — putting them in historical context and describing the sometimes bitter battles over their construction, from the first erected in the 1860s to those still being built today.

More detailed than James Goode's Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C. (1974), Testament to Union describes and illustrates forty-one sculptures, including some of the most familiar, General Winfield Scott, Admiral David Farragut, to the newest, the African American Civil War Memorial. Her slides, evocative images photographed by Edwin Harlan Remsberg, capture striking images of the monuments — war and sacrifice — straining horses, terrified men. These sculptures bear silent witness to the struggle to preserve the Union and are the result of conscious efforts to define the nation's memory of that struggle. Jacob also authored Capital Elites: High Society in Washington, D.C. After the Civil War. Limited numbers of each book will be for sale and signing; call 727-1213 to reserve a copy.


Ask the Mayor
Jim Farley, WTOP Radio, (One of the few Washington radio stations that did NOT flee to the suburbs),

Tony Williams will be on the air live taking calls from WTOP listeners on Thursday, May 20th from 10 am to 11 am. 1500 AM or 107.7FM depending on where you live. Readers of themail usually ask the best questions! And if you want to ask a question of a REGIONAL nature, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore will take calls from WTOP listeners live for an hour Tuesday, May 18th at 10 am.



Prints, Dolls, and More
Edna Small,

For Sale: Framed print (large), Opus II by Boulanger, $100.00; framed print, La Civette Parisienne by Michel Delacroix (Paris), $75.00. Also 3 Japanese Nishi dolls, small microscope, gymnastics folding mat, single mattress and box springs, child size folding chairs (2) and table, wooden indoor window shutters (pair spans 59 inches when open, 32 inches high), child's horseback riding helmet. Call 337-4906 or 328-1083 or e-mail



Edna Small,

Basement efficiency in Glover Park. $600/month June and July. Or one year lease at $570/month. 202-337-4906 or 328-1083. E-mail


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