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May 14, 2000

More Politics

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 Ackerman's complaints.

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.

Gary Imhoff


Council “Micromanagement”
Kathy Patterson,

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.


Superintendent Skips Town
Susan Gushue,

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,

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,

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,

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


Sharon Cochran,

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 Metro fire.

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 management.


Featherbedding at the Fire Department
Jamal Washington,

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

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.


Be Nice to Tourists
Tom Berry,

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 fair burgh.


Dr. Gridlock and Flags
Ralph Blessing,

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,

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 (;  I applaud her team's good work. NA won the Project of the Year Award of The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) (, 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.


Don’t Throw Good Money after Bad
Ed T. Barron,

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.


Personal Attacks
NB Keenan,

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, mcpou@sprint.mail

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 Tenlyetown
Kirsten Williams,

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. Artists
Michael Berman,

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,

Enjoy a free Spring concert by the Runnymede Singers at Catholic University's Ward Recital hall (for directions, please go to 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 For even more information, email Renee Schwager at


DC Center for the Book Programs
Patricia Pasqual,

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,

“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:



Grocery Delivery Service
Richard Urban,

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, or call 544-5081 for a grocery catalog.



PC Help Needed
Rona Mendelsohn,

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?


Central Air-Conditioning Repair
Michael Stempel,

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).


Excavator Needed
Toby Sheppard Bloch,

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,

I am looking for a person that can restore a small fine antique that is mostly wood.


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