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March 7, 2007

Conflicts of Interest

Dear Interested Taxpayers:

At its legislative session on Tuesday, the city council considered Mayor Fenty’s nomination of Benjamin Soto to the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission. Soto had initially said that he had made a $250,000 loan to a friend; it eventually came out that the money was actually an investment that Soto had made in the Nationals baseball team. At the legislative session, only Councilmember Carol Schwartz was particularly concerned about this glaring conflict of interest. Of all the councilmembers, Schwartz probably knew Soto the best. Years ago, he had even worked for her as a member of her council staff. Yet Schwartz was the only one who understood why someone who had an investment in a sports team shouldn’t be put on the government commission that does business with that team.

Councilmember Kwame Brown dealt with the conflict of interest as a racial issue, and said that the council should be proud that a minority businessman had a quarter million dollars to invest. Councilmember Jack Evans argued that a quarter million dollars wasn’t that much money, and that a small investment like that shouldn’t affect Soto’s judgment -- further proof, if any were needed, that councilmembers are overpaid. The mayor’s office didn’t understand the problem any better than the councilmembers. The two solutions that it offered were that Soto would join the Sports Commission and recuse himself on any votes about baseball and the baseball stadium, which would have made him a practically useless member of the Commission; or that Soto would put his investment in a blind trust. Councilmember Graham was helpful on that point, when he asked the sensible question about how it could be considered a blind trust if Soto knew that it contained his quarter million dollar investment in the Nationals team. In any case, Schwartz insisted that a serious conflict of interest existed, and she stuck to her point until Soto and the mayor’s office relented, and Soto agreed to sell off his Nationals investment. That doesn’t mean that as a member of the Sports Commission he won’t vote for extravagant giveaways to enrich wealthy sports promoters at the expense of District citizens and taxpayers. He probably will, but that’s what the Sports Commission does anyway. But at least he won’t benefit from it personally. In DC government, that’s what passes for a rare and hard-won victory for good, clean government, and the credit goes to Carol Schwartz.

Gary Imhoff


Increasing Water Bills
Matt Forman,

Every time my water bill arrives, I keep thinking that it’s a lot higher than it used to be. On February 23, WASA published proposed water rate increases in the DC Register. The water service rate will increase from $2.03 to $2.18 per CCF, sewer from $3.06 to $3.29, and the "right of way occupancy fee pass through charge" would increase from $.44 to $.47. In other words, the total cost per CCF would increase from $5.53 to $5.94, an increase of 7.4 percent since last year’s increase. (1 CCF = 748 gallons.)

In 1999, a bill for 4 CCF was $16.36 (which I found cleaning out a closet). Today, a bill for the same 4 CCF is $25.07, which also includes a DC Government Stormwater Fee and a Metering Fee, neither of which was charged back in 1999. Thus, there’s been roughly a 53 percent increase in our water bills over the past eight years (again, with another 7.4 percent next year). Over that same period of time, the increase in the Consumer Price Index was under 25 percent. Meanwhile, the meter is saying that I’m using a lot more water than I used to, which I doubt.

Despite the increasing rates and the scandal over the lead in the water, both Mayors Williams and Fenty praised WASA chairman Glenn Gerstell on the occasion of his resignation last December (


Fenty Buys into a Bogus Crime Theory
Jack McKay,

Our new mayor, asked on WRC TV about the broken windows theory of crime, i.e., the notion that allowing small crimes to go unpunished promotes the perpetration of larger crimes, said this: “Absolutely, we support the broken windows theory — we want to crack down on smaller crimes to prevent bigger crimes from happening” (Channel 4, March 1).

This broken windows theory, promising a cheap, easy, and painless way to reduce serious crime, is immensely popular. If it were so, then surely there would be ample proof for it today, twenty-five years after James Wilson and George Kelling offered the hypothesis. However, “I still to this day do not know if improving order will or will not reduce crime,” said Wilson in 2004. “People have not understood that this was a speculation.” Rudy Giuliani’s minor-crime crackdown in New York City is commonly taken to support the notion. But a recent study of crime rates in New York City found “no support for a simple first-order disorder-crime relationship as hypothesized by Wilson and Kelling, nor for the proposition that broken windows policing is the optimal use of scarce law enforcement resources.” San Francisco, despite pursuing a policy of relaxed enforcement, has seen decreases in crime rates greater than those in New York City. A 1997 study of crime in Chicago found that rates were linked not to “broken windows,” but to concentrated poverty and to an absence of neighborhood cohesion.

What cracking down on smaller crimes does do is consume police and court resources in arrests of minor miscreants for minor offenses, thus inevitably reducing resources for dealing with serious criminals. The “we” in Mayor Fenty’s reply included Chief Lanier. I do hope she has a more sophisticated view of crime prevention than does the Mayor.


Increased Graduation Requirements and Next Year’s Ninth Graders
Erich Martel, Wilson High School, ehmartel at starpower dot net

DCPS junior high school students presently take six credits per school year in grades 7, 8, and 9 (a two-semester class is worth one credit). A typical schedule is three classes in the morning, lunch, and three classes in the afternoon. Ninth grade students take classes whose credits (Carnegie units) count toward graduation requirements. Until now, students in eighth grade expected to take six classes (six credits) in ninth grade. Except for Wilson High School, all DCPS general high schools operate on a 4x4 block schedule, which means they take four long classes each semester (four double periods; each semester-long double period is supposed to be equivalent to a two-semester single period class). Thus, classes like Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II are taught in a single semester of double periods.

Wilson High School has been the last holdout. If the superintendent’s plan to raise graduation requirements from 23.5 to 26.0, Wilson will be pressured to adopt an 8-class, 8-credit, schedule. That means that our new ninth graders from Francis, Jefferson, Deal and other junior high schools and middle schools will not only transition into a new environment as the youngest students, but will also find themselves responsible for a much heavier load.

There are many problems with these schedules. They create the illusion of greater learning, but actually reduce actual time as well as productive or quality time in each class. One site with extensive information is The Board of Education is going to vote on the proposed increase on March 14.


Governing the Schools, Amending the Charter
Lars H. Hydle,

Whatever the overall merits of the mayor’s school governance proposal, amending the charter without direct voter participation is extremely troubling. During last fall’s election, both candidates and voters agreed that education is very important, our schools are not doing well, and something should be done to fix them. But the prescriptions offered by the candidates at the time varied widely, so that one cannot say that there is already a popular mandate for the mayor’s plan or any other. The plan reduces the power of the Board of Education, now partly elected and scheduled in 2009 to be fully elected, to the advisory level, rather like an ANC for schools. This should not be done without a popular vote.

Transferring legislative authority over the schools from the Board of Education, whose elected members are chosen in nonpartisan elections, to the council, whose members are elected in partisan elections, means making education part of partisan politics. In DC, there are at least tens of thousands of federal and DC employees who can run for nonpartisan offices such as Board of Education, but who are forbidden by the federal Hatch Act from running for partisan offices. Our Home Rule Charter provides that charter amendments initiated in DC must be approved by the council and mayor must be approved by the voters before they are submitted to the Congress. All amendments to the charter must be approved, not just reviewed, by the Congress. Congress retains the authority to amend the charter with or without the concurrence of DC elected officials or voters. So in effect the mayor’s proposals for charter amendment, if approved by the council, would be just recommendations from our elected officials to the Congress, which would have no legal or even ethical obligation to approve these proposals as presented. DC voters would have every right to lobby the Congress to reject or amend the proposals.

In the absence of a robust two-party system in DC, voters play an important role as a check on the mayor and council. Perhaps that is why the first charter amendments to our Home Rule Charter established the initiative and the referendum. Compared to the voters, the council is already too powerful. In 1995 the council overturned a voters’ initiative capping campaign contributions at $100. The council redistricts its own wards each decade, permitting council members to chose their constituents. In 2001, the council repealed a 1994 initiative imposing term limits on the council and mayor before it could even take effect. Voters cannot initiate a charter amendment, only to ratify an amendment approved by the mayor and council, and it is this power that the mayor seeks to take away with respect to his school governance proposals. If these school governance proposals are sweeping and important enough to warrant amending the charter, they are important enough to take to the voters for their ratification.


Getting Away with It
Robert Evans,

I still don’t know why anyone would be surprised with how the city administration and council think they can get away with the proposed changes to DCPS. You must remember that the previous mayor and former city council were sufficiently arrogant to overthrow a legitimate public referendum and abolish mandated term limits. Any government that can do that can certainly feel empowered to do anything else they feel like doing as long as they don’t think Congress will stop them. That is why I am tired of hearing DC politicians decry the lack of democracy for DC, when the council feels they can deny democracy to its own citizens anytime it wants.


Enforced Referendum
P. Walters,

The obvious question raised by Gary’s article in themail [March 4] is how District voters can force a referendum on Fenty’s school plan. If the mayor and council chair are content to evade the Charter’s requirements, how do citizens enforce the Charter against them? Perhaps lawyer readers of themail could address that process?


Help Us Obi-Wan (Gates) Kanobi, You’re Our Only Hope
Liz Karch, wizzyliz at comcast dot net

Can I be the only one who sees the irony in the final shakeup of command at Walter Reed Army Hospital and the continuing, deplorable conditions at DC Public Schools? If our mayor is serious about correcting the problems in DC schools, not only the infrastructure but student performance as well, could he — would he — clean house as Secretary Gates seems to be doing? Or will Mayor Fenty keep the top dogs at DCPS and expect the old dogs to learn new tricks?


Students For Sale
Shawn McCarthy,

As reported by Mark Segraves of WTOP (, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council Chair Vincent Gray want to sell corporate naming rights to parts of DC public schools. Fenty said: “I think it’s a good thing. I think there should be public-private partnerships in schools. I don’t think the government should just try and do everything themselves.”

This is dirty money and we can not allow Fenty and Gray to sell the schools out to corporate hucksters. Public education should be commercial-free. Companies want to advertise to school children because it is very lucrative. It is lucrative because children spend a lot of time at school, they are a captive audience, and advertisers use the authority of the school as a marketing tool. School is a good place for companies to brand children. Companies have even been known to use high schools to gather market research from teenagers, and pitch products to them, without parental consent.

Commercial advertising in schools has gone too far and is getting more intrusive, and should be scaled back. School-associated names, are traditionally reserved for heroes as a link between schools and civic virtue. Corporate naming rights would help replace this virtue with a commercialized vision where everything is for sale. Every educational material and school book, every wall poster, vending machine, TV monitor and administrative announcement, every library, cafeteria, auditorium and bus, every athletic field, gymnasium, scoreboard and championship game, and even the name of every school is a potential occasion for an advertisement. The purpose of advertising is antithetical to the purpose of education. It promotes the wrong values to children and corrupts the integrity of public education. Children should not be for sale.


It Is True, The Emperor Has No Clothes
Jonathan R. Rees,

After waiting in great anticipation to know what plan Mayor Fenty had concerning his coup d’etat of our public schools, we find out that he really had none. At the last minute, he actually engaged in a vulgar act of plagiarism of a plan to better our schools written by DC Public School Superintendent Clifford Janey.

Shame on you, Mayor Fenty, for deceiving the voters! What other frauds do you have store for us?


The Army and Health Care
Sam Jordan,

Mine is a military family. My father is buried at Arlington Cemetery with full honors and my son, Khalil, is stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in his second tour of duty. I am writing to introduce a perspective related to the Washington Post’s series on the deplorable conditions facing wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It isn’t the whole story.

Last July, while on a training exercise that required a considerable amount of time crawling in swampy terrain, my son was bitten by an insect, according to the Army, and contracted viral encephalitis. Symptoms of this infection may include swelling of the brain, loss of short-term memory, deficits in language abilities, severe headaches and seizures. We are fortunate that the inflammation in his brain subsided early. However, the other symptoms persist. Like so many soldiers, my son faces serious, long-term health challenges due to the inadequacy of health care provided by the Army. He has not even received the therapies recommended by the Army’s own neurologists and physicians. Nevertheless, he has been cleared for return to duty status. He’s among the “walking wounded.”

His mother and I have received no response whatsoever to our complaints forwarded to the Army and the Congressional delegation representing his hometown, Harrisburg. Pennsylvania. Yet, we urge the many families that share our concerns not to remain silent, but to form with us a community of interest and fight for quality health care.


Final Week to Submit Comments in MPD’s Community Survey
Kevin Palmer,

The Metropolitan Police Department is conducting a community survey designed to identify ways to improve services to all community members. Information from the survey will be used to help understand the specific needs of the community and determine which programs have been successful and those that may need additional attention. District residents and business owners, commuters, and visitors are welcome to participate in the survey. Members of the community may complete the surveys online at or via a paper form. Collection boxes for the hard copies of the survey are available in every police district station and substation, as well as in all twenty-two DC public libraries. To find the closest MPD facility to you, visit A list of public library locations is available at

Additionally, hard copies may be completed and mailed to MPDC Headquarters. Survey respondents are asked to complete the survey by March 14, whether they do so electronically or via a printed form. Your answers are confidential and will be used only to help the Department understand community issues. MPD plans to track its progress over time through additional surveys just like this.

For more information about the survey, please contact Annie Russell, Director of the Policing for Prevention Division, at 727-1585 or E-mail her at



DCRA’s Ask the Director Sessions, March 8
Linda Argo,

Lisa Marie Morgan, interim director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), will begin holding weekly meetings with District residents at DCRA on March 8. Morgan will meet individually with DCRA customers from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at DCRA offices, located at 941 North Capitol Street, NE. Each session will last approximately ten minutes, allowing Morgan to meet with more than a half dozen DCRA customers each Thursday.

“Ask the Director” gives DCRA customers the opportunity to bring concerns and kudos directly to Morgan. Sign up for “Ask the Director” is available on a first-come basis each Tuesday. The sign-up sheet will be available at the information desk in the Permit Center until all spaces are filled.


CERT Training, March 10 and following
Randi Blank,

Saturdays, March 10, March 24, March 31 and April 14, 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library, 3660 Alabama Avenue, SE. CERT (Certified Emergency Response Team) Training. DC Citizen Corps program provides CERT training to individuals who live or work in the District of Columbia to provide citizens with emergency preparedness training to prepare themselves, their families, and their communities to handle emergencies. Upon completing all eight units, participants receive a certificate, manual, hard hat, and backpack filled with emergency supplies. Training will be provided by Serve DC/Executive Office of the Mayor, and is funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Adults. For more information call 645-4297.


Labor in Globalization Forum, March 12
Michael Andrews,

The University of the District of Columbia will host an open forum on Labor in Globalization: What Is the Role of Labor Unions in 2007? Panelists: John Sweeney, President, AFL-CIO (invited); William Lucy, International Secretary-Treasurer, AFSCME and President, Coalition of Black Trade Unions; Armand F. Pereira, Director, Washington Office, International Labor Organization; Lawrence Mishel, President, Economic Policy Institute; Mary Hatwood Futrell, Dean of The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD) and President-Founder Educational International/NEA; Paul Nehru Tennassee, Director of International Affairs, UDC, and former WCL representative to the UN. Moderator: Melanie Anderson, acting dean of the School of Business and Public Administration, UDC.

At the University of the District of Columbia, Windows Lounge, Bldg 38, second floor, 4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Van Ness-UDC Red Metro Line. Monday, March 12, 5:00 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Refreshments, 5-5:30 p.m. Please RSVP to Perita,, 274-6246, or to Makiko,, 274-6277.


Instituto de Mexico Events, March 13-15
Barbara Ruesga,

Three events on the road to the Universal Forum of Cultures Monterrey 2007. Shostakovich Sonatas: Carlos prieto (cello) and Doris Stevenson (piano). Carlos Prieto has been recognized as one of the most outstanding cellists of our times. He has performed in recital and with major orchestras around the world, and is also known as a distinguished author and untiring supporter of Latin American composers and music. Tuesday, March 13, 7:30 p.m., at the Terrace Theater, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW. Free admission, but tickets are required. 2007 Members of the Cultural Institute of Mexico please call 728-1647 to get your free tickets.

Concert by duet “Musica Maestro,” Wednesday, March 14, 6:30 p.m., Cultural Institute of Mexico, 2829 16th Street, NW. Free admission, limited space available. Reception will follow. RSVP 728-1675. Presented by the President of the FORUM Monterrey 2007, Othon Ruiz.

Ballet of Monterrey gala. Mexico’s Ballet de Monterrey melds Mexican-Latin musical culture with classical ballet, creating a vibrant and colorful blend of tradition and virtuosity. Dancers perform excerpts highlighting both technique and artistry. Thursday, March 15, 7:30 p.m., Lisner Auditorium. George Washington University, 730 21st Street, NW. For further information, please contact Claudia Raymon at 888-534-8900 or via E-mail to 2007 Members of the Cultural Institute of Mexico please call 728-1647 to get your free tickets.


Women in Architecture, March 15
Lauren Searl,

Thursday, March 15, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Women in Architecture: Histories, Herstories, Reappraising the Legacy of American Architecture. What is involved in recovering the lost histories of 20th-century architecture? What criteria can architects and historians adopt that will more equitably evaluate architecture? How can women architects create and preserve their own legacies? For a discussion of these questions as well as to celebrate women’s history month, join Gwendolyn Wright, professor, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University and host of the PBS series, History Detectives; along with Cynthia Hammond, assistant professor of architectural history at Concordia University; Susan Piedmont-Palladino, associate professor at Virginia Tech’s Washington/Alexandria Architecture Center and curator at the National Building Museum; and, as moderator, Wanda Bubriski, director of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. $12 Museum and AIA members; $20 nonmembers; $10 students. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


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