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August 29, 1999

Life’s No Picnic

Dear Citizens:

Bryce Suderow and Ed Barron say they don't see the improvement. If you do, let us know where you found it. But don't tell me the potholes have been repaired — I was out driving around the city today, and the streets are in good repair like the Emperor's new clothes are beautiful. To relate this to the government salary discussion we continue in this issue of themail, if we're paying higher and higher salaries (and sky-high salaries compared to other cities), what are we getting for it? Please be specific.

Parenthetically, I hereby award Lee Perkins themail's conciseness award. You'll see why below.

Gary Imhoff


Williams’ Picnics
Bryce Suderow,

I enjoyed reading Amanda Ripley's piece on the Mayor's picnic in Ward 6 in this week's City Paper. Actually, the picnic was even more of a disaster than she was aware. Some weeks ago, Mayor Williams' office informed people that there would be a picnic in Ward 6 in early October. Then, out of nowhere, the Mayor's office decided to hold the picnic on Saturday, August 21st, and they made the decision only a little more than a week before the new date. Anyone familiar with Ward 6 is aware that the month of August is the worst time of the year to hold a picnic. Nearly everyone leaves town. Apparently the Mayor's office didn't think of this. They also seem to have failed to publicize the event. No one I have talked to ever saw any flyers or notices sent out by the Mayor's office. Consequently, here on the Hill, very few people even knew there was a picnic planned.

About one week before the Ward 6 picnic, the Mayor's office began to worry about attendance at the picnic. They phoned the D.C. Library system and begged them to ensure that people attended the picnic. Accordingly, Roxanna Deane, one of the top officials in the Library system, phoned SE Branch Library about a week before the picnic and asked them to send a staff person to the picnic to help boost attendance. Since only two staff members were scheduled to work on the day of the picnic, they could not comply with the request. Only about 40 people showed up for the event, a pathetic turnout. The Ward 8 picnic would have been as big a fiasco at the Ward 6 fiasco if citizens like Sandra Seegars had not publicized the event by passing out flyers and if Ward 8 businesses had not raised money to buy the food.

If the Mayor's handling of these two picnics was an isolated example of incompetence, I wouldn't be alarmed. But City Council members tell me that the entire staff of Mayor Williams' office is constantly fumbling the ball and unaware of the most basic problems out here in the rest of the city. Metro reporters tell me off the record that the Williams administration is just as incompetent as the Sharon Pratt Kelly administration of a few years ago. A group of citizens and I met with the mayor's staff on three occasions and we found that so-called public safety experts from the Mayor's office — Monty Wilkinson and Eric Christian — were completely unaware of and uninterested in the crime problems on the streets of Washington. The poor performance of the Mayor's office raises a number of questions: If the Mayor can't even put together something as simple as a picnic, how can he hope to close this city's drug markets (as he claims he will do in August 26's Post? How can he reform the D.C. Government? And won't public faith in this city's government be severely shaken when people realize that Anthony Williams — who ran as Mr. Fix-It — is unable to govern this city?


Where’s the Beef?
Ed T. Barron,

It has been ten months since we elected Tony Williams Mayor of D.C. and eight months since he took office. Like many others, I voted for Tony because he seemed to have all the characteristics and personality traits that would allow him to evolve into a true charismatic leader. I knew it would take a little time for him to adapt to his new role and to begin to overcome the built in resistance to change. To date, however, I don't see any real efforts on the part of our new Mayor to evolve as a charismatic leader. I see a lot of reactionary activity in response to things that happen in D.C., but I don't see any pro-active activities to make the right things happen. Where's the beef?


Full of the Dickens
Mark Richards, Dupont East,

In 1842, just before Alexandria retroceded, Charles Dickens arrived in DC from Philly by steamboat. In “American Notes for General Circulation” he described Washington as “the head-quarters of tobacco-tinctured saliva” because so many officials chewed tobacco and spit ... on the walls, floors, everywhere. Here is more of what he wrote: “The hotel in which we live, is a long row of small houses fronting on the street, and opening at the back upon a common yard, in which hangs a great triangle. Whenever a servant is wanted, somebody beats on this triangle from one stroke up to seven, according to the number of the house in which his presence is required; and as all the servants are always being wanted, and none of them ever come, this enlivening engine is in full performance the whole day through. Clothes are drying in the same yard; female slaves, with cotton handkerchiefs twisted round their heads, are running to and fro on the hotel business; black waiters cross and recross with dishes in their hands; two great dogs are playing upon a mound of loose bricks in the centre of the little square; a pig is turning up his stomach to the sun, and grunting ‘that’s comfortable!’; and neither the men, nor the women, not the dogs, nor the pig, nor any created creature, takes the smallest notice of the triangle, which is tingling madly all the time.…

“It is sometimes called the City of Magnificent Distances, but it might with greater propriety be termed City of Magnificent Intentions; for it is only on taking a bird’s-eye view of it from the top of the Capitol, that one can at all comprehend the vast designs of its projector, an aspiring Frenchman. [BTW: Major Charles Pierre L'Enfant, a temperamental gay man, was loved by G. Washington and locals for his design, but not by the three commissioners, whom he infuriated.] Spacious avenues, that begin in nothing, and lead nowhere; streets, mile-long, that only want houses, roads and inhabitants; public buildings that need but a public to be complete; and ornaments of great thoroughfares, which only lack great thoroughfares to ornament -- are its leading features. . . . To the admirers of cities it is a Barmecide Feast [illusory abundance]; a pleasant field for the imagination to rove in; a monument raised to a deceased project, with not even a legible inscription to record its departed greatness. Such as it is, it is likely to remain. It was originally chosen for the seat of Government, as a means of averting the conflicting jealousies and interests of the different States; and very probably, too, as being remote from mobs: a consideration not to be slighted, even in America. . . . Few people would live in Washington, I take it, who were not obliged to reside there; and the tides of emigration and speculation, those rapid and regardless currents, are little likely to flow at any time toward such dull and sluggish water.”


DC Government Salaries
Anne Drissel,

The days when we as a nation got away with paying public officials comparatively low salaries to run multi-million dollar agencies affecting the lives of millions of people are over. Skilled, competent, dedicated people are in high demand in every industry, not only in this country but abroad. Most of these high achievers tend to "follow the dollar" into jobs where their earning potential is highest. Sure, there are many who forego high income in order to “serve the people.” But these people are increasingly rare. Meanwhile, the complexities of demands on local, state, and federal public employees is growing. People are demanding quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of the “corporate” performance of government agencies comparable to the private sector. That calls for staff with skills comparable to the private sector — and competitive salaries to attract and retain such high-quality staffing.

The bottom line: we get what we pay for. If we expect to turn this city around, we are going to have to pay for the salaries to attract the competent staff. It means paying medical staff rates for medically trained officials handling administrative duties — a common practice nationwide. It means paying executive level salaries where the market is highly competitive. Not all positions will have the same apparent valuation. Appointing officials — including the Mayor — will make mistakes. There will be turnover, terminations. We'll be stuck with paying out severance pay or severance clauses on employment contracts for senior officials and other contractual employees if necessary when things don't work out or circumstances change dramatically. It also means we should keep DEMANDING performance for what we're paying.

But then again — how is it that the DC Schools — with some of the nation's highest school system salaries at all levels — has one of the most dismal records of performance in the nation?


You Get What You Pay For
Ed T. Barron,

Or so says John Arbuckle. The problem I have with all the big salaries being paid out is that there are so many of them. The District Government is way too top heavily loaded with highly paid administrators. This top heavy hierarchical bureaucracy that was created during Barry's heyday is still with us and we have seen no attempts by our new mayor to restructure this government. Pay should be based on performance and solely on performance. That could be in the form of bonuses for individuals or teams that make things happen.

If we had a more efficient and effective organizational structure (functional and team based) we would need far less watchers and could pay the people who make things happen a better salary for better performance. The problem in most organizations is that many people do not have specific targets for their jobs and, therefore, they cannot be measured against a standard to see how well they are performing. When raise time comes around they are told they did not jump high enough to clear the invisible bar. It's timely to step back and to re-form the District's organizations into a much more efficient structure where each organization has a clear measurable mission and time oriented goals. Translate these goals into individual goals and you have standards to measure performance. The invisible bar becomes visible.


Government Salaries, or Lack of Them
Lois Kirkpatrick,

I believe the U.S. poverty level is defined as an income of $28,000 or less for a family of four. I find it shocking that the median family income in D.C. is only $32,000 — today's (8-26-99) Washington Post reported that the median family income in Fairfax County is $87,569 and in Montgomery County it's $74,898!

But I don't think a jurisdiction's median family income should dictate how much its government workers earn. I think they should make at least as much as their corporate counterparts, where counterparts exist. And whether corporate counterparts exist or not, ask yourself: is it important to you that potholes get fixed and trash gets hauled and thieves get arrested and kids get taught? If it is important, then pay people government workers enough to attract the best and brightest who will get the job done.

And yes, I agree that a top D.C. official should not make as much as the U.S. President. Maybe the President should make more.


Government and Elected Officials’ Wages
Peter Luger,

For years, people entrenched themselves in government jobs because they were decent paying (not high paying) had good benefits (including pensions) and vacation/sick time, they were pretty secure (nearly impossible to get fired from) and the work hours were exactly 40 hours per week, with flexibility in the schedule to work late, work early, work four 10 hour days instead of five 8 hour days. Now that the private sector has taken off and people are making more money, suddenly those government jobs aren't so great anymore. Well, there was supposed to be something admirable about performing public service that made up for the money. Apparently not. Any government worker is free to apply for the many, many available private sector jobs that they believe they have the skills to perform and are so underpaid doing for the government. In a couple of years, should the economy take a downturn, they may clamor for their old jobs back.

As far as elected officials, underpayment can be a serious problem, although in DC, where it's a part time job, I don't believe they are underpaid. Granted, some of the Council members work much more than part time (I believe Kathy Patterson, Jim Graham and Carol Schwartz have all given up outside employment), but they could change the job to full time through legislation. I doubt Jack Evans, Charlene Drew Jarvis, Kevin Chavous (and whomever else I've unfairly left out of the list) would want to give up their lucrative “full time” jobs that they couldn't possibly spend anywhere near 40 hours per week pursuing. In the Federal Government, most of the elected officials, whether I agree with them politically or not, work extraordinary hours and have heavy demand that they can't possibly fulfill. At the very least, Congressman and Senators should receive stipends based upon locality. It would seem to be a lot cheaper for Sen. Mikulski of Maryland to go home to her state every day than it does for Sen. Feinstein of California.


DC Salaries
Damian Buckley,

Gary, there are many of us in the District who do not work for either the local or federal government. To that end we may not have an idea about the level of salaries for various positions. Before we can comment on the underpayment or overpayment, a range of salaries for certain positions would be helpful. It would also seem obvious at the outset that Lois Kirkpatrick does not even take into account the many other benefits for working for the government.


Government Salaries
Lee Perkins,

Too much. [In response to: “Are our elected officials, our top managers, and our line employees paid enough? (Or too much for the actual work they do?) And how should we measure enough?”]


Lee Perkins,

About time, too! [In response to: “UDC is under FBI investigation, Tom Sherwood noted. . . .”]


Secret Service Hit and Run?
Tony Ross,

Last night at about 7:45 pm, as the rain started getting heavier, I was on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street, NW, and saw a valet parking guy from the Yanyu restaurant crash into a parked car (it looked like he threw it into drive instead of reverse), knocking the car so forcefully that it rammed into the car parked in front of it. The interesting thing was that directly next to him was a Secret Service patrol car. I saw the officer look at the accident, sit there for a moment, and then drive on — not to return — and then moments later the valet parking guy drove off. I heard two or three people exclaim, “Look at that, that cop drove right off!” I wondered myself if the officer maybe didn't want to get soaked dealing with some little fender bender, and thus took off.

So, my question is this: what are the responsibilities of uniformed Secret Service patrol officers in situations like this? I could swear I've seen them handing out moving violation tickets from time to time. The problem is that even if they have no responsibility in a situation like this, it creates a bad impression of DC Police. I'd like to think that most DC residents are savvy enough to distinguish between the various kinds of police we have in this city, but obviously that's not the case. Who can I complain to?


DC Quarters
John Olinger, North Lincoln Park,

I probably missed this, but does anyone know whether or not the District will get its own quarter? I think these new quarters are great and look forward to seeing new ones when they come out. If we are going to have our own quarter, has it been decided what will be on the back? And, does anyone else out there think it odd that New Jersey chose a scene of someone leaving New Jersey?


Anacostia Trees
Mary Vogel,

Does anyone know who, what, why the trees along the railroad next to the Anacostia Freeway got such a hideous butcher job during the middle of the drought? It's not as if these trees were growing so lushly that they were blocking visibility. (These trees were struggling like all of our urban trees.) They did, however, provide the citizens of Anacostia with a very minimal buffer from the noise and fumes of the freeway and the rail line. I had long thought that the buffer needed to be widened. It is heartbreaking to find it carelessly destroyed.


Reverse Commuting Discovery
John Whiteside,

For those such as Jeffrey Itell and myself, who commute out to the distant Virginia burbs from DC or just outside, this may be useful: finding myself sans vehicle for a day, I checked out Fairfax Connector's schedules. Much to my shock, they've changed everything since I first considered commuting by public transit (and discovered it was incredibly slow and expensive). There are lots of buses, and the fare from West Falls Church out to the Dulles area is just 75 cents — 25 cents with a Metro transfer. I took it from Arlington to Herndon today; transit time 35 minutes (vs 30-40 by car), cost $1.80 (metro + bus), vs (at 33 cents a mile for gas and tolls and wear and tear) $8. (That doesn't include wear and tear on ME.)

Since I got a call from the shop (where my vehicle is now) to tell me about $300 in unanticipated repairs, this is kind of appealing. There's a web site with schedules at .


DC Voting Rights: The LaRoche Amendments
Tom Matthes,

“Amend: to change or revise (a legislative bill, law, constitution, etc.)” — Webster's New World College Dictionary. When George LaRoche claims that the Adams vs. Clinton case does not ask the courts to amend the U.S. Constitution, he must have neglected to coordinate his spin with the folks who put together its web site. The Constitution does not read, “New States may be added by the courts into this Union.” That power is delegated to Congress by Article IV, Section 3. But that would no longer be true if the courts accept the arguments in Adams vs. Clinton. The web site for this lawsuit (and the alternative lawsuit of Alexander vs. Daley) says of the Adams case, “If Plaintiff's [sic] win: Congress will be forced to stop segregating DC from the rest of the U.S. DC citizens can choose to either to join a state or to become a state. Until that time, DC would manage its own affairs.” In addition to revising Article IV, Section 3, this would repeal (or change) by judicial fiat the provision in Article I., Section 8, that assigns Congress the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever over … the Seat of the government of the United States.” Therefore Mr. LaRoche's statement that Adams v. Clinton does not ask the courts to amend the Constitution is false.

There is nothing wrong with advocating statehood for DC, but the Adams remedy would destroy our constitutional democracy. If the courts can strip from Congress its legislative powers over DC, they can assume the other powers listed in the same section, such as declaring war, raising taxes, establishing post offices, etc. If the courts can unilaterally make DC a state, they can also create other new states. If they can attach DC to another state, they can alter the borders of other states. If the courts can take away the powers of Congress, they can also remove the powers of the president. The federal government would no longer consist of three coequal branches; to paraphrase George Orwell, the judicial branch would be more equal than the others. Moreover, since Article V reserves the power of amending the Constitution to Congress and the States, our written Constitution will be meaningless, because the nine justices of the Supreme Court will be able to rewrite it at will. Mr. LaRoche will have done his part to make the world safe for oligarchy.


District Cablevision, AT&T, Bob Johnson
Jeffrey Hops, Interim Chair, DC Cable Television Advisory Committee,

Re: Richard Rothbaum's comments: First, all cable consumers should know that on March 31, Congress eliminated virtually ALL cable rate regulation in the United States (with the except of “basic cable” — the package with only broadcast stations and the access channels, which most cable operators won't even tell you they are required by law to offer). Secondly, most state utility commissions have no jurisdiction over cable — it is completely a matter of local authority — which city councils have chosen to exercise to varying degrees. In the district, most day-to-day regulatory authority is exercised by the Mayor's Office of Cable Television, but the DC City Council has comprehensive oversight, particularly Charlene Drew Jarvis, head of the economic development committee.

Internet and local telephone access to cable platforms is THE hot issue in telecommunications. Open access equals competition; closed access equal continued monopolization. For people interested in how this will ultimately play out at the Supreme Court, see the District of Oregon's decision, posted at (that's Mount Hood Regulatory Commission). A great deal of information is also available at (National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors).

Bob Johnson's name is in here because the untold story of the proposed sale of District Cablevision's remaining interest to AT&T is that Bob Johnson is the major remaining local shareholder in District Cablevision. According to the information filed with the District, the amount of money Mr. Johnson (founder/owner of BET, etc.) stands to make from this proposed deal is substantial. And when his interest is extinguished, there will be no more effective local or minority presence in the ownership or control of District Cablevision. And AT&T will have free rein to bring the nation's capital its vision of “the open market” in action. As always, please feel free to contact me if you want more information on internet/cable/phone or other related telecommunications infrastructure issues.


Re: Nanny Stories
Michael Stempel,

And will these stories be investigated for validity by the producers of this national talk show by interviewing all parties involved, or should I just make up a tale of high nanny drama and wait for my airline ticket?


Status Report: The Home Business
Larry Seftor,

I received a large amount of E-mail in response to my posting about a new business being run in a house on my street. The story is not over, but I wanted to provide a status report. In response to my request an inspector VERY promptly visited the house. She found a business that was in violation of DC regulations since they had no Home Occupation Permit, and she gave them two weeks to comply. More than one non-resident of the house works there, but as this business is a partnership (an architectural firm), the inspector views these outsiders as partners rather than employees. The inspector told me that exempting “partners” is DC policy. This is my dispute with city officials.

DC Municipal regulation 203.4-d states that “No more than one (1) person who is not a resident of the dwelling unit shall be engaged or employed in the home occupation.” I'll admit that a partner may not be employed (although that is subject to debate about the use of the word here), but a partner is certainly engaged. I plan to write the DC Zoning Administrator, Michael Johnson, but I remain concerned that DC officials seem to have a policy of seeking loopholes for scofflaws. I'll write to themail with further developments.


Plumber and Electrician Recommendations Wanted
Steve Leraris, Crestwood,

We're in need of a plumber and electrician for a bathroom installation. Suggestions welcome.


Real Estate Agent Needed
Lorie Leavy,

My friend Pamela is in need of a good real estate agent who knows the condo market in D.C.'s Red Line neighborhoods (Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Woodley, Dupont, etc.). She's anxious to find somebody quickly because her financing package expires at the end of September. If you know of someone you'd recommend, please email Pamela directly at . Thanks!



Singles Night to Benefit AIDSWalk Washington
Kathy Carroll,

Thursday, September 2nd, Singles Night to Benefit AIDSWalk Washington at Singles Night to benefit AIDSWalk Washington at Fresh Fields/Arlington. Food, fun, music and perhaps “that special someone”! Prizes too, including two United Airlines tickets to anywhere in the continental US (one heckuva first date!) as well as other great “first date” packages from the Washington Wizards, the Washington Capitals and Universal Pictures! Tax deductible donation of $5 to support AIDSWalk Washington. For more info: 703-527-6596.


The War of the Robots
David Sobelsohn,

Footlights — DC's only drama discussion group — meets monthly to discuss plays from the modern theater. Membership is free; we pass the hat to make expenses. At our meeting Monday, September 13, we will discuss a farcical fantasy about rebellious robots, “R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)” (1921), by Czech playwright Karel Capek. The first work of art to portray mass-produced robots, “R.U.R.” spawned a whole genre of literature and film. When “R.U.R.” opened on Broadway the New York Times found it “radical and subversive,” even “nihilistic.” Robert Benchley (in Life magazine) called it “excellent” and “true,” its climax “devastating.” “No other play on modern technology has so captured the public's imagination” (W.E. Harkins, Karel Capek (1962)). Our discussion takes place 7:30-9:30 p.m. (dinner at 6:30) at Luna Books, 1633 P St., NW, 3 blocks east of Dupont Circle. It will feature director John Spitzer, whose production of “R.U.R.” opens in September at DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St., NW. To make reservations for our discussion E-mail or call (202) 638-0444. For tickets to the Saturday, September 25 performance of “R.U.R.” E-mail or call (301) 897- 9314. For more information visit the Footlights web site at


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