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January 16, 2008


Dear Surprisers:

Surprise. I'm not going to give my opinion about something, because I'm not sure what I think about it. Maybe you can help me formulate an informed opinion. Mayor Fenty, as everyone knows by now, has fired six city workers in the wake of the Banita Jacks case. Were these firings a long overdue bringing of accountability to the District's child welfare system, or were they a rash and unwarranted overreaction? Two articles in the Washington Post today present both sides of that argument. Its editorial, “After the Firings: Real Accountability in the Banita Jacks Case,” predictably praises Fenty for swift and decisive action. Richard Wexler’s op-ed article, “Fenty's Unthinking Ax,” presents a well-reasoned case that, as the pull-quote says, "The rush to judgment will end up hurting more children.” My guess is that people in the neighborhoods least likely to deal with the Child and Family Services Agency will be the most likely to think favorably of Fenty's firings. At yesterday's council hearing on the Jacks case chaired by Tommy Wells, there was an overflow audience consisting largely of CFSA employees, who were concerned both about the Jacks case and about the implications of the firings for due process and for how they would be able to do their jobs in the future. What do you think? 

Tom Oliver,, pointed out a typographical error in the introduction to the last issue of themail (which I've already corrected online). I wrote “childrens’” rather than “children’s.” Catching typos is a good game, and Tom made a good catch. 

Gary Imhoff 


Poverty in the District of Columbia
Dorothy Brizill,

Today, the city council's Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs held the first of a two-part oversight hearing on poverty in the District of Columbia. More than one hundred people have signed up to testify. A major focal point of today's hearing was a recent study by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, “DC's Two Economies: Many Residents Are Falling Behind Despite the City's Revitalization,” DCFPI's research report notes that: “Despite citywide job growth, employment among African-American residents and those with no more than a high school diploma has been falling. The employment rates for these groups are at nearly the lowest level in thirty years. The gap between high-wage and low-wage workers in the District is at an all-time high. Wages have barely changed in thirty years for DC's lowest-wage workers, after adjusting for inflation, while DC's top earners have been large earnings gains. Income inequality in the District is greater than in nearly every large US city. DC's rich-poor gap has widened over the past two decades. Poverty in the District is at the highest level in nearly a decade. Since with the last 1970's, some 27,000 more DC residents have fallen into poverty.” 

At today's hearing, several witnesses complained that the Fenty administration was not effectively addressing the problems facing the District’s poorest residents. One example cited was the District’s Commission on Poverty. Although the Commission was established by council legislation in September 2006 (DC Law 16-151), neither Mayor Williams nor Fenty has taken the necessary steps to make it operational. Fenty, for example, has not provided the necessary personnel to staff the Commission or named a chairman. In addition, it wasn't until last week, on the eve of the hearings, that Fenty nominated six of the Commission’s twenty-one members. Advocates quickly raised concerns about the qualifications and backgrounds of these nominations and about the fact that none lives east of the Anacostia River, where there is the highest concentration of poverty in the District. (The six nominees are Anginetta Rodgers, Ward 5; George Vradenburg, Ward 3; Peter Edelman, Ward 3; Martha Ross, Ward 1; Jan Eichhorn, Ward 6; and Clarence Carter, Richmond, Virginia.) 

Footnote: last week Mayor Fenty also forwarded to the council the nominations of three individuals to serve on the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals. All of the nominees — Cliftine Jones, James Walker, and John Mahshie — live in Ward 4, and all have strong ties to the District's real estate industry. Jones is a real estate broker, Walker a certified real estate appraiser, and Mahshie vice president of Tutt, Taylor, and Rankin Sotheby's International Realty. 


Black Hole for Parking Tickets
Jack McKay,

Way back last summer, my wife got a parking ticket for parking beyond a “no parking to intersection” signpost. The Metropolitan Police Department officer was evidently unaware of the law that permits Residential Permit Parking-stickered cars to park as close as twenty-five feet to an RPP-block intersection, though the no-parking signposts are placed forty feet from an intersection. (See “Minimum Distance from an Intersection to Park,” in themail, January 17, 2007.) This is not the first time, and I have successfully denied a previous such ticket by mail, as I point out to the Department of Motor Vehicle ticket folks the current law, supported by photographs of the parked car. In my role as an ANC Commissioner, I've instructed the MPD in this oddity of parking law, and the DPW (Parking Enforcement) as well.

But this August 2007 ticket seems to be stuck in a DMV black hole. I promptly mailed in a denial and explanation, as I've done before. Four months passed, with no response. In December, I mailed in another inquiry, with a repetition of the explanation. Another month has slipped by, and there the ticket stays, silently blocking any possibility of renewing my wife's automobile registration. Happily, I renewed for a two-year period last time around, so I have a number of months remaining before the situation goes critical. But I do not know how to deal with a bureaucracy that simply ignores written communications. How do I get the DMV to wake up and do something?


Comcast Scheme
Clyde Howard,

Comcast has hatched a scheme to force the viewing public to buy into their digital network after the federal government stated that if you are receiving TV via cable you do not have to do anything extra to receive TV programming. But Comcast said, "Oh yes you do, you have to buy into our digital network if you want to continue to receive certain TV programs." How are they doing this? By slowly removing networks off their regular cable and moving them to their digital network. So far they have removed five networks off regular TV, channels 49, Turner Classic Movies; 53, American Movie Classics; 71, CMTV; 76, TVGN; and 77, a leased access station. What is so ridiculous is that Comcast is saying nothing to the viewing public about removing these programs and the city council is numb to what is happening. 

The advertisement from the Federal Government about the continuation of cable TV reception without adding anything extra didn't include Comcast's scheme to force the viewing public to purchase or rent digital decoders for their TVs. To me, it is a form of blackmail. The Office of Cable Television should step up to the plate and hold Comcast liable for its underhanded tactics against the viewing public. It looks like the saving grace for the consumer is to champion the onset of Verizon's Fios throughout the city so we can get rid of Comcast.


Proposed Alternative to Closing at Least Some Schools
Dorothy Marschak,

It seems to me that decisions to close schools should be made on a per case basis. I was surprised at the criteria that I saw used to select the doomed schools: square footage per student? That may be a dominant variable for real estate developers and leasers, but what does it have to do with the needs of students? A spacious older school with an auditorium, computer room, gym, etc. will be high on the list to be axed under that criterion. Also, why is the loss in enrollment between 2002 and 2006 a relevant way of selection? Why should it be assumed that a school that has already lost many students (for whatever reasons) is the one that is most likely to continue losing them? Aside from feeling less than convinced by the criteria selected, I would hope that other viable alternatives could be considered to closing neighborhood schools that have the loyalty of students and parents and are closer than the one-half mile from homes that have been proposed as a reasonable distance for children as young as four to walk, possibly without adult accompaniment.

I understand Councilmember Evans is fighting to keep Shaw open on the grounds that it is also the venue for other needed public services. Why would this not be a good argument for keeping many of the other “underpopulated” schools open as well? Why shouldn't our schools serve as neighborhood centers, as so many of them do, at least in part. Why couldn't schools also house health clinics (perhaps shared with students and the community), library branches, other social services that are needed for students, and, in non-school hours, after-school programs (those involving programs like performing arts which require space and sound proofing have difficulty finding space), adult education programs, and space for community meetings (of which there is a real shortage of affordable space). If other organizations sharing the space paid their fair share of upkeep, that should remove the financial argument for closing schools (still being open to possibilities that there are other good grounds for closing particular schools). 

Mary Levy demonstrated in her testimony that the cost savings from the closings will be almost half the amount estimated, and in any case are most unlikely to be dedicated to the curriculum enrichment in music, art, and physical education that has been offered as the main justification for the closing. Do others feel this suggestion is one they could support?


Which Way Is the Team Kicking?
William Haskett,

I wonder if the “communications team” in the chancellor's office is really open to conviction (in either sense of that term) or whether the pretense of attention is simply a fig-leaf concealing what is actually meant. I have recently attempted to send serious proposals for the long-term shape of the District's public schools, and received in reply only an empty one-sentence acknowledgment from “the team,” without the slightest indication that anyone had read what I had written. The second piece was especially charming. I had written to suggest that reform of schools could only occur in the context of social reform. It was a large proposal, of course, but difficult to confuse with a half-baked proposal to give monetary rewards to some teachers, which was never mentioned in anything I had recommended. It had all the trappings of a highly conditioned bureaucratic response, without the humor of irony or the pretense of a reasonable response. It may be that I expected too much. The proposal to hold simultaneous “community forums” on school closings comes, I expect, from the same stable, and should be read and understood with a like skepticism.

I wonder, as always, why things fall out so often in this fashion when the word "reform" has stirred the pot of lethargy. 


Homeschooling as Scapegoat
Peter Orvetti,

One of the more unfortunate media takes on the Jacks family tragedy came from the New York Times on Saturday, January 12. A story on page A8, available online,, leads by saying, “Ten states and the District of Columbia, where Banita M. Jacks was charged on Thursday with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her four daughters, have no regulations regarding home schooling, not even the requirement that families notify the authorities that they are educating their children at home. The lack of supervision of the home-schooling process, some experts say, may have made it easier last year for Ms. Jacks to withdraw her children from school and the prying eyes of teachers, social workers and other professionals who otherwise might have detected signs of abuse and neglect of the girls.”

The article by Jane Gross, very critical of homeschooling in general, notes that a 1991 DC attempt to impose strict restrictions on homeschooling, “with rules that included unannounced home visits,” was thwarted on constitutional grounds. The District “still has no formal regulations . . . although parents are supposed to file an 'intent to withdraw from school' form with the district, something that did not happen in the Jacks case.” Mayor Fenty has “promised ‘to establish better tracking and monitoring of home school families.’”

My wife and I are parents to twin three-year-old boys, and we intend to homeschool them. In fact, we are already doing so. Living in the District of Columbia, a city where we chose to settle in order to start a family, allows us access to some of the world's greatest cultural, educational, and artistic resources, and we spend lots of time at galleries and museums with our sons. Homeschoolers are most often people who are lucky enough to have the financial resources and ability to be able to devote a lot of time to their children, and who choose to give them a unique academic experience. By homeschooling in DC, we are not rejecting our city, but embracing it. I do hope Mayor Fenty and the city will act with caution and discretion in their review of homeschooling in the District.



Taxes: What Every Entrepreneur and Consultant Needs To Know, January 19
Barbara Conn,

Is your business paying more in taxes than required by law? Whether your business grosses millions of dollars each year or you are just getting started as an independent consultant, you probably hire an outside accountant to handle tax return submission. The ultimate responsibility for paying appropriate taxes, however, is yours. Do you have the basic accounting knowledge needed to supervise the work of your accountant? Do you stay current on tax law changes? Because tax return deadlines for corporations and individuals are approaching, the focus of this presentation will be on income tax compliance and preparation rather than on tax planning and consulting issues. This presentation will alert you to mistakes and oversights that can cost you money, and to tax law changes you need to know about.

Gather your colleagues (whether consultants, small business owners, entrepreneurs, soon-to-be small business owners, freelancers, or free agents), and your questions, and bring them to this Saturday, January 19, 1:00 p.m., gathering of the Capital PC User Group (CPCUG) Entrepreneurs and Consultants Special Interest Group (E&C SIG). There will be a handout. These monthly events are free and open to all. This month's event is at the Cleveland Park Branch Library (first floor large meeting room) at 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW (between Macomb and Newark Streets), over a block south of the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station on the Red Line. For more information about the seminar, the speaker, and CPCUG (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization), visit To RSVP, send E-mail to


Join the Movement to Save Public Property, January 19
Parisa Norouzi,

Schools and libraries are not for sale! Attend a community forum on changing DC law to save our public property. Saturday, January 19, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Light refreshments served; potluck items welcome. The Reeves Center, 14th and U Streets, NW, second floor. Identification required to enter building. Directly following the forum will be a march along the streets of Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan and a rally in front of the home of one of our city council targets. To RSVP or for more information on Empower DC, call 234-9119. 

Find out what current DC law says about public property disposition (sale, giveaway); what the People's Property Campaign proposes for new DC laws; what the People's Property Campaign's legislation, Bill 17-0527, recently introduced by Councilmember Thomas, says; and how you can get involved in shaping this bill and getting it passed by the DC council. 


One Billion Slum Dwellers and the Environment, January 22
Jazmine Zick,

What one billion slum dwellers mean for the environment, a discussion with Michael Cohen, Director, The New School International Affairs Program; Pietro Garau, Past Chief of Research, United Nations Center for Human Settlements (Habitat); Rose Seisie Molokoane, National Chairperson, The South African Federation of the Urban Poor; Robert Neuwirth, Author of Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World (moderator); Sergio Palleroni, cofounder and director, BaSiC Initiative; and Maria Sonia Vincenta Fadrigo, Regional Coordinator, Homeless People's Federation Philippines (HPFP). 

What are the environmental consequences of a slum dwelling population that grows by twenty-five million people each year? Tuesday, January 22, 6:30-8:00 p.m., at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. 12 Museum members; $20 public. Free for students with valid ID. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Register for events at For series information and resources visit the For Greener Good web page,


Black History Book Talk at Cleveland Park Branch
Beth Meyer,

Jesse J. Holland, the author of Black Men Built the Capital: Discovering African-American History In and Around Washington, DC, will give a talk on “The Hidden History of Washington, DC: The African-American Presence in the Capitol, the White House, and the National Mall” on Tuesday, February 5, at 6:30 p.m., in the first floor auditorium of the Cleveland Park Branch of the DC Public Library, Connecticut and Macomb Streets, NW as part of the DC Public Library's celebration of Black History Month. A book sale and signing of the book, courtesy of the Trover Shop, will follow the program.

Mr. Holland has covered politics from the US Capitol and the White House for The Associated Press since 2000. His book was used as a reference at the US House of Representative's hearing on “The Construction of the United States Capitol: Recognizing the Contributions of Slave Labor.” His book talk will tell the story of African-American contributions to the US Capitol, the White House, National Mall, as well as other sites in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

The Cleveland Park Branch of the D.C. Public Library is located near the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station. All District of Columbia Public Library activities are open to the public free of charge. For further information, please call the Cleveland Park Library at 282-3080.


The Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration, February 10
Jeanny Ho,

On Sunday, February 10, the Chinese Community of the Greater Washington Metropolitan area is going to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year in Chinatown on H Street, NW, between 6th and 8th Streets, from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. This year will be the year 4706, the year of the Rat. In Chinese legend, people born in the year of the Rat are known to be the most industrious and hardest working. They are always busy in pursuit of an ambitious personal goal, honest, and loath to betray a confidence. They are born perfectionists. As a result, they are often successful financially, and are good providers for their family and those they cherish most dearly. Rat people inspire loyalty in others who are close to them. 

CCBA is very proud to sponsor this event. The festival includes folk dances, musical bands from various genres, local high school, cultural exhibition, and a parade. The popular lion and dragon dances, as well as a five-story high firecracker that will be lit at 3:45 p.m. will also be featured in the program. Please bring your friends and family to join us for this exciting and joyful event which routinely attracts more than 40,000 patrons/tourists. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, an umbrella organization representing thirty Chinese-American organizations throughout the Greater Washington Metropolitan area, will host the event. 

The CCBA works closely with local and federal government officials and members of other community base organizations throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia in order to provide services and educational programs to the Chinese-American community. Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for Chinese Americans in the area to promote understanding of Chinese culture and to assist Chinese immigrants to a strange new land. We recognize that America's strength lies in its diversity. By promoting, protecting and representing Washington's ethnic Chinese heritage, the CCBA is proud to help the members of the community build their American dream.


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