Dear Fellow Peons:
Three random political thoughts: Three sitting Councilmembers (Jarvis,
Allen, and Evans) kicked off their reelection campaigns yesterday. The three events made
clear that the District of Columbia has only two political parties, and that they aren't
Democrats and Republicans they are incumbents against everybody else. The majority
of Councilmembers attended all three events, and many of their endorsement speeches had
one message: always reelect everybody. The major reason we need term limits is that
incumbents form a solid front against challengers to keep their jobs and prevent change.
Of course, several years ago the Councilmembers overturned a citizen-driven initiative
that had lowered the limits on campaign contributions; I have no doubt that sometime
before term limits actually go into effect in DC the incumbents will band together in
self-protection and overturn the citizen initiative that passed them.
School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman seems to have successfully
hoodwinked the press into believing that she is hobbled by too many layers of government
micromanaging her work, when the truth is that she just doesn't want to be answerable and
accountable to the public, to parents, or to elected officials. Congress has barely
touched school issues since Ackerman has been Superintendent; the Control Board has
confronted Ackerman only once (when it didn't support her campaign against the Paul
Charter School); the appointed Emergency Board of Trustees, when it was active, was
completely deferential to Ackerman, who was one of its members. The School Board has had
no power or authority since Ackerman has been in office. The Mayor, though he now supports
Ackerman, was openly complaining a few months ago that she routinely snubbed him and his
inquiries. In fact, the only institution that has attempted any oversight over the public
schools. has been the City Council, and that is what has aroused her ire. She is indignant
that Councilmembers would dare to ask her any questions, or try to get information that
she has withheld from them and the public. The major targets of Ackerman's wrath are
Councilmembers Patterson and Catania, who may well be our two best, most responsible and
conscientious Councilmembers that alone should have aroused suspicion about
Finally a good word, perhaps my first and likely my last, about Marion
Barry. I have frequently complained about Tony Williams and Alice Rivlin, but my musing
about Arlene Ackerman this week clarified for me the failing that these three have in
common. Marion Barry, for all his deceptions and lies, has always been honest about one
thing: he likes the people of DC. He likes being with Washingtonians, likes mingling among
us. Williams, Rivlin, and Ackerman would rather keep their distance from us peons, and
they don't see any advantage in listening to us, since they and their limited inner
circles know more and better than we do.
Kathy Patterson, kpattDC3@aol.com
The Council's budget process includes two rounds of budget hearings each
year: a committee performance review (January-February) where we assess agency performance
in the previous fiscal year and current year to date, and the second hearing after the
budget is submitted (usually March) when we review the proposal for the next fiscal year.
Mrs. Ackerman made her one and only appearance before the Council to defend the DCPS
budget proposal on April 7; she did not appear at the earlier performance hearing,
possibly because it had been rescheduled, but this meant collapsing the performance review
with the budget hearing. Like other Councilmembers I had two 10-minute rounds of questions
that afternoon. That was insufficient time to review performance, and my colleagues and I
prevailed on Committee Chairman Kevin Chavous to recess the DCPS portion of the hearing
for another day the following week. That was on a Friday. By Tuesday I learned that both
the committee chair and the Council Chairman had received calls from Mrs. Ackerman
informing them that she would not return to testify before the Council. She had been
disrespected, she is said to have said, by every member of the Education Committee
(Ambrose, Mendelson, Schwartz in addition to Chavous and me). This was a hearing in which
there was one sharp exchange between Councilmember Catania and Superintendent Ackerman
over test scores. I have a tape and invite anyone who wishes to view it. The follow-up
hearing took place the next week, the superintendent boycotted, surrogates adequately
fielded the many questions, and we moved on.
Current and former D.C. government agency directors routinely respond to
questions on performance during the Council's annual budget review. It is the Council's
job to ask questions. The questions can be summed up thus: what have you done with the
taxpayers' money and what has been accomplished thereby? Since the Post today mentions me
in the context of this routine legislative exercise of submitting prepared questions for
Council budget hearings, I share a sample of questions asked in a February 14 letter and
the April 7 hearing, and information provided in response.
Mrs. Ackerman wrote in a Post op-ed that DCPS has the shortest time
frame in which to remove ineffective teachers a policy I support. I asked for
statistics. The answers: in 1998-99, 28 teachers in a corps of nearly 6,000 were rated
unsatisfactory. This year 37 have been rated unsatisfactory. And terminations?
In two years this policy has led to 18 voluntary departures and two terminations. Even the
associate superintendent for academics acknowledged April 13 that this does not represent
a rigorous evaluation process.
Mrs. Ackerman, in the Post, said student enrollment has
been affirmed by an outside auditing firm. I asked a series of questions on the
enrollment audit echoing questions posed in a December 20 letter urging a hearing on the
audit, including the finding that 18% of the audit's sample had not proven residency.
DCPS, on April 13 and in writing, described follow-up internal audits that consisted of
individuals going to each of 146 schools and looking at the forms filled out by parents,
finding a 99% compliance rate. There was no review of the actual residency
documentation. I asked about funding for gifted and talented programs; there is none, but
DCPS is now applying for federal funds. I asked about funding for advanced placement; the
only DCPS support now is using federal funds to pay the costs of AP tests for low-income
students. I asked about Mrs. Ackerman's statement that more than 50,000 students have
attended summer, Saturday and after school tutoring programs I asked for measurable
results. A GW study of summer school in 1998 found modest gains for children testing at
basic and below basic. I asked for measurable results for the
6,000 children who remained at the same grade level in the last two years. I
am still waiting for the measurable results part of the question. The DCPS
representative April 13 said 6,000 children did not exactly repeat a grade they
were retained in June, went to summer school, may have moved on to the next
grade or may have stayed back a few weeks or months in the fall and he would get back to
me with more information. Anyone who would like a copy of the letter mentioned in the Post
or my additional comments for the Education Committee's budget report with
DCPS responses can call my office, 724-8062.
So our superintendent may be lured away to San Francisco. Good riddance.
If Ackerman leaves soon I guess the Control Board would interview, pick and confirm a new
superintendent all by themselves. It is really important that we make it clear that the
citizens must have a say about our next permanent chief public school administrator. We
should insist that a temporary superintendent be picked from among a handful of
administrators who have worked successfully with the community. In other words not
Elois Brooks. The schools really do depend on the citizens to make them work and after
three and a half years of being left out of our schools we really have to find someone who
can help us work together.
Ed T. Barron, firstname.lastname@example.org
While pointing the finger(s) at the City Council, the School Board, the
Mayor, and the Control Board about them micromanaging her job, Ms. Ackerman should also
look and point at the mirror. Why? Because she brings micromanagement onto herself. There
are classical, proven ways to avoid being micromanged. The best of these is to start with
a solid plan that has specific, time oriented goals. Then you take your plan to all those
affected by the plan and get them to agree or disagree with those aspects of the plan that
affect them. When you have buy-in or lack thereof, you march forward to the next level of
approval (it beats the hell out of me to figure what the pecking order might be, but I'd
make the Mayor the last stop) At each level you get either buy-in or positive suggestions
on changes. At the end of the line you have a pretty good idea of what the final plan
looks like and the Mayor gets the final say. When he says its a GO, everybody
salutes, and the Plan leader is cut loose to do her thing.
Ms Ackerman never came up with any overall plan. She operates, like most
officials in the district, by the seat of their pants, reacting to fire drills. I have
used this process with teams that others never thought had a prayer of success. When the
teams I mentored/facilitated finally came to the top of the organization with their
presentation and plan, they wound up getting both the verbal and real support from the
top. Then they were cut loose and invariably succeeded beyond their own and others'
wildest dreams. If you involve the players in the game and in setting up the rules, they
will make things happen and not snipe from the sidelines. The bushwackers who do try to
derail the coach will be very visible and cut down at the pass by the head honcho.
The Tuition Reimbursement Plan
Stan Wellborn, STANW@aecf.org
The DC Tuition Reimbursement Plan does encompass public higher educational
institutions in all states, not just Maryland and Virginia. The press coverage of the
final resolution of the House and Senate bills did not include this fact. Opening this
important avenue to public colleges and universities to DC graduates was a real step in
the right direction, since it gave qualified high school leavers a much wider range of
options. Moreover, the benefits of a subsidized tuition are available to graduates of both
public and private secondary schools in the District.
The web site had not been updated with this new information as of last
week, but students can still apply for the tuition reimbursement using the old form which
can be downloaded from the Internet site. The funding reimbursement only applies to
students enrolled in state colleges and universities as of fall 2000, since the
legislation does not go into effect until then. The law pays to public institutions
not to students or parents the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition
for DC graduates.
Tuition Confusion Resolved?
Randy Wells, Wells@ShawDC.com
For such a terrific benefit, it has been difficult to get accurate
information on the program. Based on the actual law, the in-state tuition for DC high
school graduates initially applies only to public colleges and universities in Virginia
and Maryland, private historically Black colleges and universities in Maryland and
Virginia, private schools in DC, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, Arlington County,
Fairfax County, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County.
The Mayor has the option to extend the benefit for DC students accepted to
public colleges and universities outside Maryland and Virginia, subject to several actions
(including a determination that a significant number of DC students are having difficulty
gaining admission to public schools in Maryland and Virginia due to in-state admission
preferences by those schools, consultation with Congress regarding expansion of the
program, and consideration of the effect such an extension would have on the availability
of funds provided for this benefit by Congress).
The full text of the DC College Access Act of 1999 is available at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=106_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ098.106.pdf
Could someone explain to me how a 5th man on a fire truck would have
prevented any of the firemen deaths? My understanding is that a non working radio in one
case, and falling through a floor into a basement were the causes of death. I really don't
understand why another set of eyes watching these events would have helped. There seems to
be some issues of training, procedures and equipment that were repeated in the recent
Chief Tippett is very popular because he promoted a lot of folks that
spend most of their time sitting around. In reality, most (I seem to remember a figure of
80 percent, it may be even more) of these trucks are going on ambulance calls. In this
case, the firemen seem to mostly stand around and watch the EMS workers. Perhaps the money
could have found for the 5th man, if the fire trucks did not answer the ambulance calls.
It would be nice to see some reasoned research and discussion of fire department
Featherbedding at the Fire Department
Jamal Washington, email@example.com
Gary Imhoff says the extra millions of taxpayer dollars that former Fire
Chief Tippett wanted were for safety, but it was really just featherbedding in the bad old
Washington tradition. Let's look at the facts: The biggest part of the money was for a
fifth man on ladder trucks. Tippett says this would have saved the lives of two fire
fighters at the Cherry Road fire, but the Federal investigation into those deaths
recommended better equipment maintenance, better compliance with procedures, and a bunch
of other improvements but NOT a fifth man on fire trucks. Read the National
Institute on Occupational Safety and Health report on the Cherry Road fire for yourself
it's at www.dcfd.com.
Tippett never met a plan to hire more fire fighters that he didn't like.
He says he needs 5.5 full-time employees to fill one fire fighter job 24-hours 7-days.
Fairfax County does this with 3.75 employees. Chicago does it with 4.5 employees. Tippett
didn't resign over safety, he resigned over featherbedding.
You can tell tourist season is arriving in DC. Mom, Pop and the trolls
trundle down the street in their shorts, t-shirts, fanny packs and a map of DC in hand.
You often spot them huddled on a corner studying the map in hand. This is our cue to be
nice. What are you trying to find? is an easy question to ask and usually
elicits a response from them. The answer to their dilemma is usually as simple as
Dupont Metro is straight up this street or go one block this way and
McDonald's is on your left. The tourists will thank you, you'll feel good and maybe
hear that was nice of them as you walk away and, most important, they may
leave DC with a fond memory of something other than a museum or a family photo taken in
front of the Lincoln Memorial. Plus, being nice can be contagious.
Every city has some kind of reputation perceived by those outside of that
city. DC's reputation is comprised of a complex mix of misperception and outright
misinformation, among numerous other adjectives. Since word of mouth is the best form of
advertising, our best opportunity to win friends outside the city and correct a plethora
of media-fed misinformation can be easily achieved by helpful face-to-face contact with
our tourists. Then we can trust them to go home and pass on the good news about our city,
their capital. Hopefully, they'll someday return the favor to some stranger visiting their
Am I the only one offended by the DC-bashing I regularly detect in Dr.
Gridlock's column in the Post? In recent columns he has solicited nominations for
the worst potholes in the District not in the metropolitan area, mind you, just in
the District. No one will dispute that our roads are a mess, but it's not as if every
local example of scarred pavement is in DC. But good ol' Dr. Gridlock singles us out for
that distinction. There have been other instances of his anti-DC bias as well. On more
than one occasion when a suburban reader would complain about parking or other
transportation matters in DC, his response would be, in effect, why go into the District
anyway, when you can find whatever you need in the suburbs. Once he answered a query about
gas stations with the inaccurate statement (at least on my side of town) that gas is
cheaper in Maryland anyway, so why buy it in DC. I'll forward this to the ombudsman, but
like others have noted, she usually doesn't acknowledge receipt of submissions.
Speaking of being offended (I'm getting to that cranky age), my stomach
turns at the sight of state flags that incorporate the Confederate battle flag flying over
Columbus Circle opposite Union Station. With all the attention that's been focused on the
flag issue in South Carolina, scant attention has been paid to the other southern states
(Georgia and Mississippi come to mind) whose flags feature the stars and bars. The
Columbus Circle display is probably on federal property, thus not in the domain of DC
officials, but it would be nice if some of them, or perhaps Del. Norton, were to comment
on how offensive these flags might be to local residents.
Citizen Involvement in DC Decision-Making
Mark-David Richards, Dupont East, firstname.lastname@example.org
I've done a good bit of work in the field of public involvement in
decision-making, and have written about it. Representative government was increasingly
called into question in the 1970s. In many cases, conflictual power relations between
decision-makers and attentive population segments led to direct action, lawsuits, death by
delay, and gridlock. Hearings weren't reducing conflict few in the public felt
heard even as they yelled into microphones for hours. (And, project directors cringed at
the thought of being greeted by outrage and threats.) They started thinking,
Yo, maybe we can resolve issues and develop a win-win situation if we discuss the
issues before announcing implementation. (They were questioning what is known in
IAP2 jargon as the Decide, Announce, Defend method). The problem is partly
about how to develop structures so that a majority of citizens can come to agreement on
needs, priorities, goals, methods in accordance with local values, and maybe even have
final say in a vote. While not everybody is qualified to operate a big city government for
which its citizens are liable (citizens decide who is qualified when they pick elected
officials), and while most people only follow up to five issues attentively, most have
valuable insights on issues that could affect them. Polls measure thinking at the time
questions are asked, and give a baseline, but on most issues a large proportion are
uninformed of (but interested in) basic knowledge considered useful in making an informed
decision. With new information, opinions may change and the public can provide helpful
input and, usually, wise judgments. Today, some federal agencies and private companies are
trying to involve the public. It is difficult to design a method considered legitimate by
most. Sometimes, methods appear to be elite bargaining (stakeholder groups), or public
relations masquerades. In fact, public involvement projects never guarantee anything.
Neighborhood Action, in my view, is a process developed with thoughtfulness, establishes a
good foundation to build on. It was designed by Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer (http://www.americaspeaks.org/); I applaud
her team's good work. NA won the Project of the Year Award of The International
Association for Public Participation (IAP2) (http://www.pin.org/,
go to core values and awards; also see 2000 Conference, see Conference Activities
Welcoming Speech where Williams describes NA). I have been involved with IAP2
and practitioners (won an award years ago). That PEPCO is funding some of NA shows me
they're paying attention to DC I commend their support. (That shouldn't exempt them
from anything.) The NA method could be considered for a School Board discussion, but it
may be late in the game for that and would be a tricky to design. In any case, I applaud
the Mayor and his team for taking a risk and asking citizens to participate
(believe me, most with power are scared of this kind of project because it requires
sharing power: Didn't ask, didn't hear). I applaud those who showed DC
citizens aren't sitting on the sidelines. I'm confident that DC can and should have full
local self-government, and I'm glad Mayor has taken a national leadership position, as
demonstrated by the IAP2 award. One day, I hope more DC citizens will become confident in
their ability to self-govern and demand full democracy of Congress
equal to other citizens who live in states.
Dont Throw Good Money after Bad
Ed T. Barron, email@example.com
The Mayor's proposal to add $65 million to improve services
will just be tossing good money after bad. The District Government services are
notoriously ineffective and inefficient. What is needed is a transfusion of performance by
the existing District employees. Want to see a notoriously inefficient and ineffective
operation? Just go down to the Records Bureau on C Street NW. Ask for a copy of a Police
report or other record, then sit back, watch, and wait. The ballet of the slow moving
clerks is entrancing as they flit from one file cabinet to another and then to boxes.
Never once alighting on a computer, one clerk will flit while the others watch in awe. You
might just win the lottery that day and get your report (I did not and had to get a copy
of the original at the 2nd Police District) but don't go if you are hungry. It will be a
long time before you get results.
The same caution about throwing money away applies to the schools. Mayor
Williams wants to add $85 million to the DCPS budget. Just adding money won't help one
little bit in improving the effectiveness of the educational programs nor improve the
education of the kids in the District. If you need an example, just look at Kansas City,
MO, where they added $2 billion to the school system to make beautiful facilities out of
the aging schools. The result no improvement in the educational processes, and the
State of Missouri has now taken over the school system from Kansas City. It's not money,
Mr. Mayor, it's performance.
I guess I didn't make my point clear. The problem is not that Ed can't
handle it; the problem is the rest of us poor readers who are forced to wade through pages
of name calling and retorts.
Not Jumping [on] Shipp
Ann Carper, firstname.lastname@example.org
I'd like to say that I was very happy with the prompt response I received
from Post ombudsman E.R. Shipp earlier this year. On January 3, I wrote: Before my
mother died last May, I used to read the corrections to the obituaries and wonder if the
survivors were so distraught that they forgot how the decedent died, how his/her name was
spelled, how many children he/she had, etc. Now I think the blame must, more often than
not, be with the Post obituary writers. Even after faxing information about my
mother, including the cause of death, the obituary writer got it wrong, necessitating a
correction the next day. The obituary staff should realize that the obituary is an
important final record of a reader's loved one, and it's upsetting, even with a
correction, to have wrong information published.
On January 6, I received her reply: Believe me, they know this, but
it doesn't hurt to remind them over and over again. Thank you for bringing this to my
attention. E. R. Shipp, ombudsman
Decorators Inventory Sale at Hechinger's
Kirsten Williams, email@example.com
Forty of the leading designers in the greater Washington area will be
selling their wares Thursday, May 18th through Sunday, May 21st. Come to the old
Hechinger's in Tenleytown (4500 Wisconsin Avenue) 10 am - 6 pm, help support the Women's
Committee for the National Symphony Orchestra and get some great pieces for your home.
Plenty of free parking and only a $5 donation to get inside!
Salon des Ejectes: The Last Show of the F St.
Michael Berman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Downtown Artists Coalition presents the last showing of the F Street
artists: Salon des Ejectés, at 505 Gallery, 505 7th Street, NW. Reception, May 18, 6-8
pm. Show, May 8-31, Wednesday-Friday, 11 am - 5 pm. For more info call 737-6836. Artists:
925 1/2 F Street, Richard Dana, Jason Gubbioti, Judy Jashinsky, Rex Weil, Chris French;
931 1/2 F Street, Michael Berman, Stevens Carter, Iain Lowrie; 933 1/2 F Street, Stuart
Gosswein, Annie Adjchavanich, Nancy Van Meter, Colby Caldwell, Mimi Masse, Jen Semo,
Derrick Deborja, Beatrice Valdes, Paz.
The wrecking ball is poised to demolish the historic 900 block of F
Street, N.W. This block of 19th century buildings contain the last undeveloped intact
commercial row downtown. The buildings also contain the last permanent artists' studios in
the Downtown Arts District. The District's Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulations state
that artists' studios should be preserved and protected within the Downtown Arts District.
In response, the Downtown Artists Coalition is presenting an exhibition of work by the
artists who have studios in the threatened buildings. Artists in the downtown district, a
tradition dating back to Matthew Brady, are on the verge of disappearing forever beneath
the bulldozing of our downtown heritage. It is not too late to save their downtown
studios. Come out for Third Thursday,
May 18, to show your support for keeping artists downtown in the arts district and keeping
these historic buildings alive.
The Downtown Artists Coalition is a non-profit organization formed to
preserve, foster and maintain affordable artist's studio spaces within the District of
Columbia's Downtown Arts District. Members of the Coalition include all of the artists who
have studios currently located in the buildings subject to demolition permits.
Runnymede Singers Concert
Renee Schwager, email@example.com
Enjoy a free Spring concert by the Runnymede Singers at Catholic
University's Ward Recital hall (for directions, please go to http://publicaffairs.cua.edu/direct.htm)
7 pm Sunday, May 21st at 7 p.m. The Runnymede Singers will perform this free concert of
International and American Spiritual, Doo-Wop and Broadway! What an hour it will be! Some
parking is available; near Metro. For a bit more information about the Runnymede Singers
go to http://www.netcom.com/~renee508/runnymede.html.
For even more information, email Renee Schwager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DC Center for the Book Programs
Patricia Pasqual, email@example.com
The DC Center for the Book in cooperation with Vertigo Books will be
offering the following programs at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library at 901 G Street
NW in the main lobby. Programs begin at 6:30. Tuesday, May 16, 2000, Elizabeth Kim will
read from and discuss her work, Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Extraordinary Journey of a
Korean War Orphan. Kim watched as her grandfather and uncle hung her mother, an
honor killing for bearing the child of an American soldier. This work is
already receiving praise akin to Angela's Ashes. Thursday, May 25, 2000, Jill
Nelson will introduce her anthology, Police Brutality, which is a thoughtful
historical and sociological examination of this persistent domestic problem.
Last Longview Retreat before Summer Break
Connie Ridgway, firstname.lastname@example.org
Massage for Fun and Healing will be held at Longview, a
retreat center only 15 miles south of DC, on June 3, from 10 am to 4 pm. Cost $80. This is
a beautiful place just to relax, and learning massage techniques you can use on yourself
or give to others just adds to the restfulness of the day. Led by Connie Ridgway, Licensed
Massage Therapist and Clinical Social Worker. Check out more information at website: http://hometown.aol.com/kaniru/Longviewretreats.html.
Urban Services Grocery Delivery can make your life easier! We deliver
traditional and organic products to your door and to your kitchen at supermarket prices.
Great service; family operated. Serving Capitol Hill and much of Northwest DC. Visit http://www.urbangrocery.com, or call 544-5081 for a
A couple of years ago we found a terrific computer specialist, Robert
Whisler, through this newsletter. Now Whisler seems to have disappeared, and our PC is
needy again. Does anyone have a knowledgeable and friendly computer person who does home
visits to advise on using various software programs?
Michael Stempel, email@example.com
Any recommendations for a good HVAC engineer would be appreciated. I am in
search of the Mr. Scott of central-air retrofits in old colonials. (You can
hang meat in the basement, and need window units upstairs).
I am looking for a landscaper/excavator to remove the top few feet of my
back yard. Does anyone have experience with someone who could remove and haul off a bunch
of dirt and an old concrete slab?
Antique Wood Restoration
David Burka, firstname.lastname@example.org
I am looking for a person that can restore a small fine antique that is
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