Dear Drivers and Riders:
Can improving the management of the Department of Motor Vehicles
really be that difficult? Car registration, parking, ticketing, towing
— some days these issues alone seem to account for the majority of
problems that middle-class citizens have with the District of Columbia
government. You may not have to depend on the District for other
services, but if you own a car you still have to deal with the DMV. As
I've written before, Mayor Barry understood that well, and he won
reelection to his second term largely on the strength of his claims to
have reformed DMV and to have gotten the water bills sent out on time.
Mayor Williams has bragged for two years about the vast improvements
his administration made at the DMV, and he has made that department the
primary example of the upgraded management his administration was going
to institute through the city government. For the first two years of the
administration, though reports about residents' experiences with the DMV
in the press and by themail readers were mixed, they were mostly
encouraging and hopeful. But in the past year there have been increasing
indications that the DMV is still plagued with systematic problems —
problems that are not due to understaffing or underbudgeting, but to
poor management and planning. The continuing problems at DMV could be
the car horn blaring in the night that awakens voters to the systemic
management failures in DC government. More likely, most voters will
sleep blissfully unaware through the night.
At 4:30 a.m., A Car Horn Blares; Police Refuse Assistance, Claim
David Sobelsohn, email@example.com
I am writing this at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, February 4. A car horn has
kept the neighborhood awake since 4:30 a.m. I have just spoken with
several police officers. They include Sergeant M. Hines and Lieutenant
Glover of the First District and supervisor Barbara Hammett of
Communications. Hines tells me that the police have received nearly a
dozen complaints about this car horn and dispatched three squad cars.
Hines, Hammett, and Glover all insist the only thing the police can do
legally is inform the owner of the vehicle. Sergeant Hines reports that,
although the car is registered in DC, the owner has an unlisted
telephone number and therefore the police cannot reach him (the stuck
horn “is not a police problem,” Hines says). Lieutenant Glover
argues that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from either
breaking into the car and disconnecting the horn or towing the car to a
nonresidential neighborhood (the car is “legally parked,” Glover
insists). According to Glover, the police must permit the horn to blare
as long as the car's battery holds out.
Is this a police failure to enforce the law? If so, to whom do I
report it? Or is this a failure of city law to provide the police with
the tools they need? This car horn, by keeping my neighbors and me from
getting a good night's sleep, will cost thousands in lost productivity
from workers too sleepy to put in a good day's work. Besides that are
the two squad cars the police dispatched after the first — what did
the police in those two cars have to ignore to waste their time on this
one car? If Hammett, Hines, and Glover are right regarding city law, we
at least need a new law to equate a car with a stuck horn (or stuck car
alarm) with a car parked illegally. That would at least permit DPW
(Glover says DCPD doesn't tow) to tow the car into a nonresidential
neighborhood. Even better would be a law permitting police, after making
reasonable efforts to locate the owner, to break into the car and
disconnect the horn (or alarm). Do any themail subscribers agree with
lieutenant Glover that such a law would violate the Fourth Amendment?
[This message was also sent to Councilmember Graham, which resulted
in a response giving the legal opinion of the Councilmember's staff
director that the police could have ticketed the car. David Sobelson
responded to the Councilmember, “But slapping a ticket on a car whose
horn is blaring at 4 a.m. doesn't quiet the horn. Does city law permit
the police to do anything else — e.g., break into the car and stop the
horn, tow the car to a nonresidential neighborhood, or at least call the
owner's 'unlisted telephone number'? If so, to whom do I complain about
the police failure to act on this occasion? If not, please introduce a
bill to amend city law. There should be a way, short of vigilante
justice, for DC residents to get a good night's sleep.” — Gary
Illegal Parking on Sunday Mornings
Christopher Koppel, firstname.lastname@example.org
A week ago I came home from work to find no parking anywhere in my
neighborhood (6th and E Streets, SE). I was forced to park with my car
protruding a little too far into the illegal zone, and within a half
hour was given a ticket. This is fine, as I was in the wrong. However on
Sunday mornings, there are any number of vehicles parked illegally all
over the area, and no tickets are issued. They are parked for as long as
five and six hours. A church which moved to our neighborhood from
Maryland is up the street, and the parishioners (all with Maryland tags)
park anywhere they please with no tickets issued. I find this appalling.
Nothing angers me more than blurring the wall between church and state,
especially when laws are being broken. Why are churchgoers treated
On December 23, I mailed in my check for $90 and my completed forms
for renewal of parking and registration. They expire on February 18.
Hearing nothing by January 29, I called Kathy Patterson's office, where
a lady with the world's most sympathetic voice promised to help. She
told me she would fax my name and problem to the DMV, along with the
many others she was sending in daily.
On February 1, she got back to me, saying that the DMV had no record
of my check. I was able to send her, as she requested, a copy of both
sides of the canceled check, plus a copy of the original form as I sent
it in. Since the mails are also in terrible shape, I would have blamed
them for the delay. But the failure of the DMV to record receiving and
cashing my check suggests where the blame really lies.
I hear that many people in my building have the same problem as I do
and have been forced to go down to the DMV to sort it out. The Director
of the DMV used to read themail. I wonder if she still does. She has
work to do.
I wanted to recount a recent experience with DC DMV. I renewed my
automobile registration online on January 7. I called DC DMV on the 29th
of the month wondering when the new tags and registration would arrive.
After going through the standard recorded announcement number I
eventually found a human being. I was told my registration was renewed
January 16 . . . i.e., the online renewal system seems to be little more
than an online access point to a pile on someone's desk that they will
get to in their own good time.
Well, I needed tags and a valid registration. I was told that if the
word was passed to resend the documents to me I would not receive them
until after my current tags had expired (not to mention the registration
that already had expired). I could also come in and pick them up. I
chose the latter. The H street office gave me the tags and told me to
bring the others back when they arrived in the mail. Let's see . . .
register online (credit card charged promptly on January 7) wait three
weeks, then have to go in once to get the tags then go back a second
time to return the set that eventually arrives in the mail. What is
wrong with this picture?
Oh, did I tell you about getting a motorcycle registered this past
summer? It was fairly well publicized. No plates were available. I was
told to come back as each temporary paper plate expired. I did that
twice before tiring of it. I called another four or five times until I
was assured that plates were on hand. Is it just me, or do we spend a
lot of time down there?
Re the dismaying February 3rd post by Jack McKay on the Department of
Motor Vehicle's drop boxes: too bad he had to go to all that trouble,
but is it really necessary to turn in old plates, especially under these
circumstances? When we purchased a car recently, the dealer advised us
to do this, in case someone got hold of our old plates and did something
bad with another car that could be blamed on us. But isn't this
unlikely, unless you carelessly leave your old plates in some public
The DC Board of Education recognizes that Anacostia schools are more
in need of renovation, supplies, equipment, even excellent staffing than
any other District schools — yet the first school building scheduled
for renovation, etc., is Georgetown's Hardy School. Politics as usual!
Open Letter to Chief Judge of the DC Superior Court
Lyla Winter, email@example.com
To Judge Rufus G. King, DC Superior Court. Dear Judge King, in regard
to reinstating Evelyn Queen as a Superior Court Judge — don't even
think about it! Her decisions were unbelievably irresponsible and played
an important part in the chain of events that led to Brianna's death.
[The following message] was just posted on the Columbia Heights
Forum. The first successful use of the tenant receivership law. I hope
that it encourages tenants in similar situations to consider the same.
The law dictates a bit on the priority of repairs and the court
oversees. I am also pleased that the attorney who took this forward is a
Antioch Law School classmate of mine, keeping our public service
training in the forefront.
From: Catherine Harbour, New Parkwell Tenants Association, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: receiver appointed for 3500 13th St. (13th & Monroe)
FYI — The city recently responded to a Tenants Association petition
and appointed Fred A. Smith Management company as the receiver for 3500
13th St. (NW corner of 13th & Monroe). The receiver is like a foster
landlord — the receiver collects tenants' rent and uses the money to
make repairs to the building and to pay bills for the building. The
landlord, Thomas John Ph.D., still owns the building, but no longer gets
the rent money. The city has brought criminal charges against Dr. John
for neglect of the building, and his trial is scheduled to start March
20th. The receivership law was passed about the time the list of hot
properties was published, in March 2000. As far as we know, this is the
first use of the law.
Taxi Maps Don’t Have to Wait
Diane Lee Schulz, email@example.com
Although I appreciated Bob Andrew's suggestion about using the Washington
Post Taxi zone map as the official Taxi Commission map, I hope that
drivers with that extra entrepreneurial spirit will take it a step
further. They could have cards printed with their numbers on one side
and the map on the other to build customer loyalty. Then we could get a
map and a ready taxi number all in one.
My experience with the city's online tax return service couldn't have
been more different from Ms. Gaffney's. I logged in, answered the
questions, and pouf, my taxes are filed, with direct deposit of my
refund. Fast and easy and no fee. I also have to file a Virginia return
this year (thanks to my Virginia employer who mistakenly withheld VA tax
for a few weeks); their online system just didn't work, telling me when
I entered my 2000 information that I had to sign up with 1999 details,
and then refusing the accept the 1999 details, locking out my social
security number, and informing me that I have to file on paper. So much
for “silicon dominion.”
Alexandria, DC, Free Online Tax Service, and Free ATM Withdrawal
Mark Richards, Dupont East, firstname.lastname@example.org
According to my AT&T Wireless bill, I retrieve my messages from
Alexandria, DC. I called to ask customer service where Alexandria, DC,
is, but they were unable to pull it up on the map.
Regarding the problem described with the free online tax service
mentioned by Ms. Gaffney, during the Channel 16 demonstration of the new
service, the Mayor typed in his Social Security number and it didn’t
work for him either — that is, until he was instructed to type the
number in with no spaces. The person who was leading the demonstration
said there were still bugs in the system.
I noticed when I last stopped by the Third District police station at
1620 V St., NW, that if one withdraws cash from the bank machine at the
station, there is no withdrawal fee. Good deal, and a safe place to
Yes, Please Keep Postings Short
Rita Cloutier, RGCloutier@msn.com
Please urge patrons [of themail] to keep postings short, with a
succinct first paragraph telling us what is to be discussed. Frankly, I
read only the first paragraph or two. If the author wants to be heard or
supported, s/he mustn't ramble — it discourages the reader who's short
Problem with Firehouse Preservation
Kathy Smith, Ksmith1804@starpower.net
Sally Berk misses a major point about firehouse preservation. In the
case of the Tenleytown Firehouse, the lot is small and the old building
is set back further than it needs to be. The front and sides need to be
demolished so that the building can be expanded. The existing doors are
too narrow for modern fire trucks and need to be widened. (The doors
were designed for horse-drawn fire trucks.) Yet the original front and
one side are what the preservation folks are fighting to preserve. The
existing doors cannot be widened unless the city wants to spend vastly
more tax dollars doing so than the building could possibly be worth. I'm
not sure, even with huge funds, that the doors could be widened.
The residents around Tenleytown don't mind if the building is torn
down and a new larger building is constructed to look just like the old
building. But that is not what the preservations folks want. They want
to save the original facade of the old building. Unless the building is
made larger, we are unable to get into it the additional rescue vehicle
that we need. This is definitely a case of preservation over public
Now They’ve Done It
Ed T. Barron, email@example.com
The Cleveland Park activists, living in the horse and buggy days and
resisting change, are now applying for landmark status for the Giant on
Wisconsin Avenue. Big mistake, since that will likely curtail any
expansion plans for the supermarket. It may also inspire Giant to pull
the plug on that location and pull up stakes. Landmark status will
require much coordination and coordination with the very slow moving DC
government for approval of any exterior changes to that building.
Home Depot was faced with that same situation when the old
Sears/Hechinger's Building in Tenleytown was granted landmark status.
With a very hard row to hoe in getting that site developed as a hybrid
Home Depot store, the execs at Home Depot pulled the plug and opted for
a site in NE DC, where a Home Depot was welcomed by residents who wanted
improved products and services. Should Giant pull the plug on the
Cleveland Park store some 1500 regular shoppers will be greatly
CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS
Duke Ellington Comes to Petworth
Dorothy Marschak, firstname.lastname@example.org
Duke Ellington, DC’s native son and America’s most renowned and
prolific composer, comes to life this Saturday at Petworth Library,
Georgia and Upshur Streets, NW, from 2-3 p.m. You are invited to a
presentation by saxophonist Fred Foss, educator and director of the Fred
Foss Youth Jazz Orchestra with pianist Benito Martinez, on the “Music and Influence of Duke Ellington.” This program is one
of an ongoing series, “Music Around the World” of nineteen
free programs for all ages presented by CHIME (Community Help In Music
Education) between now and the end of May at 4 DC libraries: Petworth,
Lamond-Riggs, Benning and Mt. Pleasant.
Other programs this month include February 23 at Lamond-Riggs Library
(South Dakota Avenue at Kennedy Street, NE) , singer and actress Angela
Polite (now in the cast of Gospel According to Fishman at the Signature
Theater) will present “The History of Gospel Music.” February
26 at Mt. Pleasant Library, 16th and Lamont Streets, NW, 7-8 p.m., Fred
Foss and Benito Martinez will present “Music of the Latin
Diaspora,” with a special emphasis on Latin Jazz. For a complete
schedule of all 19 programs, to learn more about CHIME, or to volunteer
or donate, visit our website at http://www.chime-dc.org,
or contact email@example.com.
Are you looking to have thought provoking conversations that have the
potential to alter your perspective on life? Open Space Forum No. 7:
Dealing with Conflict in Personal Relationships, Saturday, February 16,
4:30 - 7 p.m. at the DCJCC, 1529 16th Street, NW. Cost $5.
The Open Space Forum meets informally on a monthly basis, bringing
together a group of people from diverse backgrounds to discuss issues in
an open and inclusive way. Please visit http://www.mediate-facilitate.com
for more information.
Join us for Mardi Gras food and fun. Tuesday, February 12, 7:30 - 10
p.m. Cover charge $10 to benefit Food & Friends. At the Jamba Juice
Cafe in our store, Fresh Fields/Georgetown, 2323 Wisconsin Avenue NW.
Free parking. Reservations required at customer service, 333-5393, or
online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dance, play, eat and
celebrate. Music by our favorite DJ, David Beatty, palm reading, trivia
and limbo contests. Raffle and prizes. Menu: jambalaya, Cajun catfish,
crepes (strawberries, chocolate), and sparkling (non alcoholic) cider.
CLASSIFIEDS — HOUSING
Temporary Housing Wanted
Reena Kazmann, email@example.com
A friend from New York is temporarily commuting to DC to consult at a
nonprofit. She would like to rent a room from Monday-Thursday nights
through March 22. Kitchen privileges would be nice, but are not
essential. She is a nonsmoker and quiet. Ellen may be reached during the
day at 362-7530 or at 212-362-7530 anytime.
CLASSIFIEDS — SERVICES
Government Contract Certification for DC Business
Art Jackson, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the year 2001, more than $200 million in government contracts were
awarded to businesses like yours, and in 2002 more than $250 millions is
expected to be awarded. The AHJ Group will assist small, minority, and
women-owned business in acquiring certification to bid on government
contacts. To schedule an appointment call 240-508-5926 or E-mail
CLASSIFIEDS — RECOMMENDATIONS
Please help me avoid a vacation disaster! I would appreciate
suggestions from folks who have had relatives visit from out of town who
stayed in a hotel in downtown DC. I would like to identify a clean, well
run, moderately priced hotel with easy access to the Mall, preferably
with a pool, for my brother and his family (two kids). All ideas are
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