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
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 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/22/AR2006122201223.html?nav=emailpage).
Fenty Buys into a Bogus Crime Theory
Jack McKay, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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 http://www.jefflindsay.com/Block.shtml.
The Board of Education is going to vote on the proposed increase on
Governing the Schools, Amending the Charter
Lars H. Hydle, email@example.com
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.
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.
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?
As reported by Mark Segraves of WTOP (http://www.wtopnews.com/index.php?nid=596&sid=1079140),
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
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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, email@example.com
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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 http://www.mpdc.dc.gov/communitysurvey
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 http://www.mpdc.dc.gov/districts.
A list of public library locations is available at http://www.dclibrary.org/branches.
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 email@example.com.
CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS
DCRA’s Ask the Director Sessions, March 8
Linda Argo, firstname.lastname@example.org
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, email@example.com
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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, Pbaxter@udc.edu,
274-6246, or to Makiko, email@example.com,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
2007 Members of the Cultural Institute of Mexico please call 728-1647 to
get your free tickets.
Women in Architecture, March 15
Lauren Searl, email@example.com
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 http://www.nbm.org.
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