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December 22, 2002

Hot Coffee

Dear Coffee Drinkers:

It's not about coffee, or about Starbucks. Larry Seftor gets it right, below. Our attitude of resigned acceptance is what allows all this nonsense to go on. “The prison's operations are a success, but the prisoners died,” may be a paraphrase of an old joke, but it also summarizes what Mayor Williams said this week in praising the DC Jail after three stabbings and two deaths there, and there was no public outrage. Leaders of the Washington Teachers Union steal millions from its members, and the reaction of government officials is either silence or sorrow — sorrow for the plight of the Union's leaders who got caught, not for the Union's members who were fleeced. (Did I just hear Fred Cooke, Gwendolyn Hemphill's wheeler-dealer lawyer, say, “he left out the 'alleged'; let's sue him”? Okay Fred, here it is: “Alleged leaders of the Washington Teachers Union,” etc.) The City Council and the Mayor get ready to pick taxpayers' pockets in order to give hundreds of millions of dollars to the billionaire boys baseball club, and all that they differ about is exactly how many hundreds of millions they're going to take and how to hide the fact that it's our money they're bestowing on their friends. And we're taking it in silence.

John Cleave, below, writes that in the last issue I exaggerated the importance of crime in DC because “much of the crime takes place in neighborhoods to which visitors rarely go.” All that residents of DC have to do to be safe in our city is to stay out of our residential neighborhoods, where the crime is concentrated, and stick to the safe neighborhoods frequented by tourists and suburban business executives. And we're supposed to be encouraged by that, instead of angered. It reminds me of the title of Richard Farina's 1960's book: Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. This year for Christmas, give yourself a present. You're paying top dollar for coffee in this city. If the coffee isn't hot, complain and keep complaining until it's fixed to your satisfaction. We've been down for a long time, but that still doesn't make down the same as up.

Gary Imhoff


Hot Coffee
Larry Seftor,

I admit it, I'm part of the baby boom. This means that while I still carry a healthy dose of indignation (just ask my wife), I'm also interested in quality-of-life issues, large and small. Interest in quality of life means that I'm willing to buy coffee drinks at Starbucks, even though the quality and value is often low. After all, convenience counts for something in a busy life. However, my quest for tolerance in response to the mediocre is being tested more and more at Starbucks. I'm finding that the drinks, rather than being served hot, are often tepid. Sometimes I complain, sometimes not. This morning, after a complaint, they did the right thing and remade the drink. Another time, at the Starbucks in Chevy Chase Pavilion, they took the drink that I had sipped and stuck the nozzle of the steam pipe from the expresso machine directly into my drink to heat it. (So much for sanitation. I'll never go there again.) I'm thinking of carrying an instant read thermometer in my personal quest for hot coffee. (Anyone know the internal Starbucks guidelines for coffee temperature?) But the larger issue, getting back to my natural indignation, is why do so many people accept poor quality goods and services? Whether it is cold coffee at Starbucks or several years of broken air conditioning at the Friendship Heights Metro station, it is our acceptance of the less-than-adequate that destines us all to those little declines in our quality of life.


What a Bunch of B.S.
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Went to the Wizards game at the MCI Center last Wednesday night and saw a very good game, with Michael Jordan scoring eighteen points in the first quarter and, with minimal appearances thereafter, a total of 33 points for the game. Sat in the upper stratosphere courtesy of a special Washington Post offer. From there I had a great view of the entire arena and noted that there were about 7000 empty seats. The Post on Thursday proclaimed the game a sellout with over 20,000 folks at the game. Were all these folks from the empty seats at the hot dog stands? Sounds like some B.S. to me.


City, Regional, and Federal Governments
Joseph Coletti,

So, City Council set aside another voter-passed initiative, this time for drug treatment, with a demand for more federal dollars that will not come before it can be implemented. Given the unresponsiveness of city government to voters' wants (with causes widely discussed on themail), what do proponents of full Congressional representation really hope to gain? Further, what reason would anyone outside the District have for supporting such a move, particularly in light of our one-party system?

If we want to tilt at windmills, why not seek a merger with Northern Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George's Counties? This would make what remains of Maryland and Virginia solidly Republican in exchange for a new solidly Democratic state. Most of the problems the District faces (e.g., Metro, roads and bridges, education, health care) are regional, so why not adjust political borders to those that more appropriately allocate costs and benefits?


Rogue Contracting without Government Supervision
Ron Drake,

On December 3, a Ft. Meyer Construction Company crew installed a catch basin at the corner of 13th and O Streets, NW, in front of my condominium. To do so, it cut down a tree, and other trees on the 1200 block of O Street were in danger of being cut down. I could not stop the Ft. Meyer workers, because there was no foreman on the job and none of the workers could speak English. I called the DC Department of Transportation, described the situation, said it was an emergency because of the other trees in danger, and asked to have an inspector dispatched. No inspector was sent until after I called Councilmember Phil Mendelson's office; they managed to get an inspector sent the next morning. That inspector reported that Ft. Meyer was not authorized to remove the tree, that the catch basin had been improperly sited and should have been sited to preserve the tree, and that a hefty fine would be levied against Ft. Meyer. The other trees on the block were saved.

On December 14, Ft. Meyer Construction Company started dumping gravel on a vacant building lot that I own in the 400 block of Ridge Street, NW, but when I got to the lot they were gone from the job. On December 16, Ft. Meyer dumped a second truckload of gravel on my lot, and when I arrived I confronted the foreman. He admitted the dumping and claimed that he had the right to do so. He said that my lot was “public space,” and claimed that “all the public space is mine, and I can do with it as I wish.” He told me that Ft. Meyer was going to install an underground electrical box on my lot, and that there was nothing I could do about it. When I ordered the foreman to remove the load of gravel that he had dumped on my lot, he said, “I am going to whip your ass.” At that point, police from the Third District arrived and intervened, and told the Ft. Meyer foreman that he had no rights on my private property. Ft. Meyer has since removed the gravel, but the sod has been destroyed and bare earth has been left in its place. A Ft. Meyer employee found the opportunity to warn me that the workers on the job were well aware of the foreman's propensity to violence.

There was no DOT supervisor on this job, and repeated calls to the DOT and DPW to try to get an inspector to the site were fruitless. The phone number on the posted street notice was wrong, and the person listed was on vacation, with no one covering for him. Finally, the same DOT inspector who had responded to my complaint at 13th and O Streets arrived, but he said he could do nothing because he was assigned to Ward 1, not 2, and no Ward 2 inspector could be located. A DOT official who was finally located by telephone was not only unhelpful; he was abusive and condescending. After speaking to him, I rushed to DOT's office to try to get some assistance. Mr. Tangherlini, DOT's director, was out of the office and unavailable; his chief of staff, Kevin Anderson, was in his office but refused to come out for even five minutes to resolve the matter. Instead he sent out word that he would be unavailable all day, and that he was available for emergencies only by appointment. Since that day, I have been unable to get an appointment with either Mr. Tangherlini or Mr. Anderson, and as it now stands, my building lot is damaged and an underground electrical box is planned for installation — now on public land immediately abutting my lot, but with extensions onto my lot, undermining the foundation of any future house I would hope to build there.


Mental Health Services
Bryce A. Suderow,

This is a follow up to my piece in Wednesday's themail in which gave I details of recent changes in DC's Department of Mental Health. The Department recently switched the company that provides medication to its patients. As a result now patients have to wait long periods of time for their medication, sometimes hours, sometimes half a day, sometimes an entire day. Naturally this causes anxiety in many of the patients, who are none too stable to begin with. I witnessed an incident at 35 K Street, NW, caused by this new system.

At about 3 p.m. on Friday, November 15, I found the pharmacy in complete chaos. There were perhaps a dozen agitated people waiting in line in the hallway. One of them was a man from India. The pharmacist handed him a form to fill out and asked him to go into the break room and fill it out. He was afraid he'd lose his place in line so he attempted to fill the form out right there at the counter. The form is brief and can be filled it out in less than a minute. She could easily have let him finish and it would not have caused much of a delay. However, she ordered him to leave the window. He said, “I’m finished,” as he tried to finish filling out the form. She informed him she would call the guards if he did not leave his place in line. He frantically scribbled on the form. She then called the afternoon supervisor and asked her to get the security guards, a man and a woman. They ordered him to leave. He did not leave. As they wrestled him to the floor, he cried out, “I'm a sick man. I need my medication.” They dragged him outside and threw him in the flower bed. He was later handcuffed and taken to jail by the DC police for trespassing. I asked the supervisor at the desk for the names of the two officers, one of whom was standing right there. She replied: “She’s right here. Ask her yourself.” I asked the female guard for her name. She said: “If you don’t stop asking for my name, I will make you leave.”

This guy was a political refugee from India. He showed me his knee where the skin had been scraped off when he hit the pavement outside the building. He also showed me cigarette burns up and down this same leg. He told me he’d been tortured in India because he was a dissident there. He told me he suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome. What must he think of our city and the service its government provides?


Safety in the City
John Cleave,

If themail must drag our city down at every opportunity, it might at least do it by reporting fairly. The article by Sean Madigan, which you selectively quote, goes on to make a point by Bill Hanbury of the DC Convention and Tourism Corp. that much of the crime takes place in neighborhoods to which visitors rarely go. It continues: “Even with annual reminders about Washington's crime rates and recent fears about possible terrorist attacks, tourists are still coming to the city. The perception of safety is not just held by visitors. The city's CEOs feel pretty safe, too. According to research compiled by the DC Marketing Center, 77 percent of 374 Washington executives say they would rate police protection 'good' or 'excellent.' The percentage is up from 60 percent two years ago.” And it concludes: “Last year, DC finished fourth in the survey. In 2000 it came in second, and in 1999 third.”

Gosh! There has been an improvement on four years ago! How embarrassing.


Board of Elections and Ethics, the Mayor, and Councilmember Orange
Lars Hydle,

Regardless of whether one supported the reelection of Mayor Williams, the rejection by the Board of Elections and Ethics of his flawed renomination petitions, a decision upheld by the DC Court of Appeals, was a huge win for home rule and democracy in DC. If a less independent, less courageous BOEE had allowed the Mayor to get away with the bad petitions, DC's critics would surely have cited this as more evidence of our unfitness to rule ourselves. But even if we had no home rule problem, independent election commissions are an essential element of any democracy.

The three BOEE members serve staggered three-year terms and are subject to nomination/renomination by the Mayor and confirmation by the Council. The November 21 Committee on Government Operations hearing on BOEE Member Stephen Callas's renomination (though a lovefest), and the delays Dorothy described in her last posting, amply illustrate the threat to the BOEE's independence and therefore to democracy in the District. This is so regardless of whether the member whose term has expired continues to sit until replaced. Remember that Councilmember Orange, Chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, last year conducted an oversight hearing very sympathetic to the Mayor after the Inspector General's report, and that the Mayor strongly endorsed Orange's reelection in the Democratic primary. Recently Orange introduced in the Council Bill 14-952, "District of Columbia Primary Nomination Amendment Act of 2002" to permit candidates for Delegate, Mayor, or Council (but not the shadow Senators or Representative or Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners) to be nominated by paying a filing fee instead of by petition, avoiding the embarrassment of fraudulent signatures. The bill was referred to Orange's Committee on Government Operations.

Now we need: 1) pressure on the Mayor to renominate BOEE member Callas ASAP; 2) during the January reshuffle of Council committees, transfer of the Government Operations portfolio away from Orange to a Councilmember more independent politically of the Mayor; 3) enhancements of the independence of the BOEE — i.e., longer terms, appointment by non-elected officials such as the judiciary, or even nonpartisan election as in some jurisdictions.


Public Charter Schools Are Free for All DC Residents
Robert Cane, Friends of Choice in Urban Schools,

Judy Walton errs in lumping together private schools and charter schools (December 18). DC's charter schools are autonomous public schools not connected to DCPS. They are free to DC residents and do not serve an elite population: nearly 100 percent of the approximately 11,500 students in the District's 35 public charter schools are African-American or Hispanic; the overwhelming majority are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The public charter schools are public in every other sense of the term, too: they may not screen out students on any basis, may not discriminate, must be nonsectarian, must serve special education students, and must hold a lottery when the number of applicants exceeds the number of places.

The District's public charter schools now serve 15 percent of all public school students in DC. These schools have brought opportunity and hope to these students and their families. The existence of a strong public charter school movement is the District's best hope for meaningful school reform — including reform by DCPS, which is beginning to feel the competitive pressure that charter schools bring. If we truly want “public education for all people,” we should support all of our public schools — traditional and charter.


The Straight Story on Charter Schools
Andrea Carlson,

Some of your readers have some mistaken notions about charter schools. Charter schools are public schools funded by tax dollars and are free and open to all. And there are some great ones, like Capital City Public Charter School, which two of my children attend. The school serves a diverse mix of kids from all income groups and every zip code in the city. I couldn't be happier with the educational program, the staff, or the administration — all are thoughtful, well-qualified, and dedicated to serving the needs of children. The school is rigorously and regularly scrutinized by the chartering authority, the DC Public Charter School Board and hosts many visiting educators, legislators, school administrators, and others. DCPS could learn a lot from such schools. If you're interested to learn more about Capital City Public Charter School, check out the next open house on January 8, 2003.


DC Public Schools and Charter Schools
Joseph Coletti,

I volunteered at a charter school last year that does a great job educating students. It graduated its first class in May and sent most of them to four-year schools including Brown, Howard, and American. The school started in the basement of a Safeway and is now on the second floor of a building it shares with another charter school. Despite very generous private donations, the school is limited in both what it can provide and the number of students it can accommodate. Last year's graduating class was 24 students and future classes seem about the same size.

As this indicates, charter schools can provide a strong education, but cannot serve enough students to without additional funding which seems most likely to come from diverting funds through vouchers than from an increase in funding from the city or the school system.


Not a Big Surprise
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

The DC school administration has announced layoffs of fifty or more teachers in DC Public Schools that have no classrooms and no students to teach. That's no surprise. They also have been paying some teachers who started after the beginning of the school year more than they have been entitled to. Another group of teachers, perhaps another two hundred, may also be laid off, presumably because they are not needed. The school system still has no real idea of how many actual students are in the system and whether or not they are entitled to be there.

As for the school budget, it contains $56 million for teacher raises. That's the good news. The bad news is that the DCPS will allocate these raises on a percentage basis across the board. In fact that is plain stupid -- giving raises for getting older and for longevity in the school system. Teacher raises should be based on performance and effectiveness, not for getting older. I personally prefer the bonus system for teachers who meet and exceed established goals for themselves and their school. For those teachers who do not immediately repay their overpayment checks, withhold all raises until they have repaid the overpayment.

And, just what has the DC Teachers' Union done for its members lately?



Table AM/FM/Record Player
Alan Henney,

This is a classic Western Auto Supply Co. table-style record-player/AM/FM, free to a good home. We live in the Takoma area. Model number is 5436A. May still work. Please E-mail for details.



Forming a Community Based Orchestra
Thomas Smith,

Hey, dust off those instruments! Looking to form a community based band/orchestra to play Ellington, Bach, Sousa, and everyone else! Call or E-mail Smith: work 703-406-7147, home 737-8088,


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