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February 10, 2008

Keep It Secret

Dear Truth Seekers:

There’s one common thread that unites Sue Hemberger’s, Marc Borbely’s, Jonetta Rose Barras’s, Cherita Whiting’s, and Dorothy’s messages in this issue of themail — the enormous difficulty of getting information out of the District government under the Fenty administration. Indeed, the administration seems to take pride in its ability to withhold information and keep secrets from the public and even from the city council. I spoke with a councilmember today who brought up, without my urging, the frustration of trying to pry public information from city departments and agencies.

Here’s one more example: the city council wants to make some changes to its facilities in the Wilson Building, and to do that it needs to get a copy of the architectural plans of the building from the Office of Property Management. It has been trying to get those plans for over six months now, and it has run into a series of delays and excuses. If the administration will stonewall the city council for six months on an item as neutral, inconsequential, and public as the plans for the very building in which councilmembers have their offices, can you imagine the difficulties and denials it places in the way of citizens and reporters who request information that may reflect badly on its plans and claims? Well, if you’re reading themail, you probably can imagine it.

On Monday morning at 11:30 a.m., the Statehood, Republican, and Democratic state committees for DC, Maryland, and Virginia, Mayor Fenty, Maryland Governor O’Malley, Delegate Norton, and Virginia Representative Moran will all gather on the steps of the Wilson Building to encourage people to vote in Tuesday’s presidential primary election. This is an election that in DC is only for a national office, but it is taking place locally in DC, so I guess that it qualifies for mention in themail. In addition, anything that brings this diverse a group together at one place for one common purpose is worth noting.

Gary Imhoff


Something Rotten in the State of DC
Dorothy Brizill,

On Tuesday, DC voters will go to the polls to vote in the presidential primary. The election will be overseen by the District’s Board of Elections and Ethics. Over the past fifteen years, I have regularly attended the monthly meetings of the BOEE and have on occasion brought issues to the Board’s attention, including the massive forgery on Mayor William’s reelection petitions in 2002 and the violations of District and federal laws with regards to the 2004 and 2006 slots initiatives. But I wasn’t prepared for what occurred at the Board’s monthly meeting on February 6. Rather than approve of the minutes of its previous meeting on January 9, Board members Charles Lowery and Lenora Cole adopted a resolution to alter the public records of the meeting, including the stenographer’s transcript of the meeting and the written minutes, to delete any reference to issues and concerns that I had raised at the January meeting regarding the operations of the Board.

At last week’s meeting, I told the Board that I did not believe they had the legal authority to alter the official transcript of a public meeting of a government agency. After the Board meeting, I reviewed the District’s Municipal Regulations governing the operations of the Board (Volume 3) and found that “regular meetings of the Board shall be open to the public” (Section 102.3); “the minutes of Board meetings and hearings are a matter of public record” (Section 405.1); “the transcript . . . shall be the sole official transcript of the hearing” (Sec. 405.4); and “changes in the official transcript may be made only when they involve errors affecting substance. . .” (Sec. 405.7).

I also went to the District’s Office of Boards and Commissions (OBC) to review the instructions about official meeting records in the handbook for board and commission members that the office has regularly provided to the public and had previously published online. The handbook had been removed from the OBC’s web site. The receptionist indicated that the handbook was being revised and that no copies — old or new — were available. When I said that I simply wanted to see a copy, old or new, she said she would try to locate one. When I returned to the office two days later, and someone working in an office with the name tag Shomari Wade, Esq., but who refused to tell me his name or position, said that in order to secure a copy of the handbook I would have to file a written Freedom of Information Request to the mayor’s general counsel, Andrew Richardson, who is the interim replacement for Peter Nickles. OBC’s director, Bridget Davis, told me that she could not tell me when the new handbook would be available, other than to say it would be “less than a year.” The mayor’s general counsel, Andrew Richardson, said that that the Fenty administration could decide that “all DC government documents may be the subject of FOIA,” and stated that, “We can’t allow folks to just walk in and for people to give away government records or documents.” This interpretation directly contravenes District law, which provides that individuals have a right to inspect any public record (Sec. 2-532), except where disclosure is exempt under Sec. 2-534, and that a FOIA request needs to be made only when there is some question as to whether information in the record would fall under these limited exemptions. Richardson effectively announced to me that his policy as the mayor’s general counsel will be to require a FOIA request for all public documents, thereby deliberately misinterpreting and abusing the FOIA law to limit the public’s access to information from its government.


Tenleytown RFP
Sue Hemberger, Friendship Heights,

On Friday, February 1, nearly a month after the deadline for submissions had passed and three proposals had been received, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) has chosen to revise the terms of the Tenleytown Request for Proposals (RFP) radically. The rebuilding of the Tenley-Friendship branch library (fully funded and already underway) will proceed independently from any public-private partnership involving the expansion and modernization of Janney Elementary School and the construction of affordable and market-rate housing at this location.

On the one hand, I’m happy to see that our much-delayed library project won’t be derailed once again. On the on the other hand, I’m amazed at the incompetent way DMPED has handled this whole project. Two of the three developers who submitted proposals relied heavily on the component of the project that now seems to have been prohibited (a mixed-use library/residential building). One wasn’t even notified of the amendments to the RFP or of the new deadlines (two weeks to create a proposal for doubling the capacity of an elementary school and finding a new location for the more than one hundred residential units each developer had proposed!). No word yet from Roadside Development, whose unsolicited proposal prompted the issuance of the RFP, and who may have been the only contestant to anticipate this turn of events.

This is a project that has been mishandled from Day 1, which, judging from recently FOIA’d documents, was sometime in January 2007, when ex-Roadside employee and DMPED’s new Director of Development David Jannarone and ex-DMPED employee and Roadside’s new Vice President Susan Linsky began developing a strategy to get Roadside’s proposal for a public-private partnership at the Janney School/Tenley-Friendship Library site approved. Jannarone’s conflict of interest, coupled with DMPED’s failure to seek council approval for the project or even to do the site planning necessary to determine whether there would be any land left over once Janney’s facilities needs were met, has tainted this process from the beginning. And if competitive bidding looked like a sham when every other developer was given two months over the holidays to develop a school/library/housing project that Roadside had been working on for at least a year, imagine how it looks now when the rules of the competition are changed retroactively and applicants are given only two weeks to rethink the project without the library in the mix.

It’s time for Mayor Fenty to tell DMPED to start over and do this right. Don’t put this campus on the auction block unless and until it is determined that there will be excess land on the site after Janney’s facilities needs have been met. Then take the project to the council and ask for the land to be surplussed. Draft an RFP that clearly and accurately lays out what the project is and what the selection criteria will be. Provide enough time to enable developers to write realistic and detailed proposals. Make their submissions public and give the school and the ANCs representation on the selection committee. Meanwhile, I hope the concerned citizens will urge the council to provide the DC Auditor with the resources necessary to investigate DMPED’s handling of public land sales and leases. The problems we’ve had in Tenleytown are happening in neighborhoods citywide. Last week, an ANC 3E special committee (of which I am a member) requested an investigation into DMPED’s decision-making in issuing the Tenleytown RFP. While the DC Auditor acknowledged the importance of the issues we raised, she also indicated that other priorities kept her from pursuing this particular case but added that public land may be a focus in future audit work. Deputy Mayor Neil Albert seems way too eager to play Let’s Make a Deal (without making sure it’s a good deal) and the council grumbles but ultimately goes along. We need a more systemic look at what’s going wrong and why, otherwise DC government will keep making the same costly mistakes over and over again.


Schools Ombudsman
Cherita Whiting,

Well, since December what has the Education Ombudsman done for the residents of the District of Columbia, for parents, students, and employees of DC Public Schools? On the first day of the out-of-boundary process, I was flooded with questions from parents of students whose schools remained on the school closure list. The DCPS web site was not updated with the correct information for the open slots, and three schools (Murch, Hyde, and Oyster) were not even listed as options for parents to choose from. It seems to me that, since the reasoning behind having an Ombudsman is to ensure fairness and to resolve conflict for parents, students, and employees of DCPS, on the first day for the “out-of-boundary” process, the Ombudsman should have made sure that DCPS presented accurate information for parents to have a chance to make the best decisions on where to send their children. This was not the case, since the information on the web site still showed data from last year.

In reviewing the Ombudsman Report, I was horrified to see that she listed twelve students who were in the eighth grade at age seventeen. Seventeen! It should have been a priority to her office to seek and find an educational avenue for the students and their parents to move these students to a better learning environment for them. At the very minimum, they should be given preparation to take the GED, given night school, or offered something other than having to sit in class with eighth graders and age seventeen. The report also lists the number of in-person visits to the Ombudsman’s office in the month of December were only five. With all the problems across this city, that can’t be right. If it is right, then a high percentage of parents and students must not know there is an Ombudsman who should be at their service.

In most cities, Ombudsmen work more hours than most because the person in that position is the person to go to for results. In DC, it seems to be just another six-figure job that doesn’t rock the boat.


Open Letter Urges Rhee to Submit Schools Budget in Time for Mayoral Hearing
Marc Borbely,

DC Public Schools Chancellor Rhee is planning to submit the proposed DCPS budget “at the end of this month or early in March.” This would mean that the public will lose its main opportunity for commenting formally on her budget. Every year, a mayoral hearing is held on the proposed DCPS budget. “In no event shall this hearing be prior to the annual submission by the Chancellor of its proposed budget to the Mayor.” DC Code §38-917(2) ( Other provisions of this same law, passed through a citizen’s initiative in 1987, require the schools budget this year to be submitted to the mayor by February 13. If the budget is not released by February 19, the mayoral hearing will be pretty much a joke, and parents, teachers, students, and neighbors would lose a significant opportunity to ensure that the Chancellor and Mayor’s priorities are at least somewhat aligned with the public’s priorities.

The budget this year will incorporate significant policy decisions. It will likely include specific dollar proposals for items such as the base levels of per-student funding, No Child Left Behind restructuring at twenty-seven schools, “enhanced staffing” at certain schools, and the more than forty new programs (such as high tech campuses, fine arts programs, and Montessori) the Chancellor has promised to institute next year.

Parents who value their legal right to comment on the proposed budget have drafted an open letter to the Chancellor, to be sent to her tonight (Monday). A copy of the letter and instructions for signing on (the deadline is 8 p.m. tonight) are posted at All are welcome to sign on.


DPR: Who’s Got the Money
Jonetta Rose Barras,

Who is Evelyn Woolston? Answer: one third of the Department of Parks and Recreation’s financial accountability structure. The agency’s director, Clark Ray, and its chief financial officer, Keith Fletcher, represent the other two thirds of the DPR’s fiscal control system. A former head of the Arts Club and long time patron of the theater and dance communities, Woolston also is chair of the Recreation Assistance Board. By law, she and her members help to oversee the DPR’s Recreation Enterprise Fund, which is separate from the agency’s operating budget.

Between 2005 and 2007, the DPR deposited a total of $5.3 million in its Recreation Enterprise Fund. Those revenues were collected from a variety of sources including senior citizens programs, daycare services, permits, and general administrative fees, according to interviews with agency officials and finance documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

While the Recreation Enterprise Fund may be minuscule when compared with DPR’s general budget, it’s the perfect vehicle to measure the agency’s financial management system. After conducting interviews and reviewing reams of documents, I have found that the fund has been improperly managed for several years. DPR has used its Recreation Assistance Fund to pay basic, recurring expenses that should be financed through its annual operating budget. Individuals have been paid for services that may not have been performed. And, in one case, an individual received a check from the DPR but immediately returned it; the check subsequently went to pay for a DPR Christmas Party. (Read the full story at


When People Are Given a Chance for Self-Advancement
Phil Shapiro,

Byte Back is a grassroots nonprofit organization in DC that gives people the chance to help themselves learn technology skills. Some of the stories of Byte Back graduates are simply astounding. Graduates not only advance themselves to better paying jobs, but they pour back much into the community, too. You can hear a few of these stories, along with stories from volunteer teachers and board members, in this video shot at the Byte Back tenth anniversary celebration: (This QuickTime video is hosted on the Internet Archive, which provides free, unlimited web hosting for video, audio and text files.)

How can we extend Byte Back — and similar organizations in other cities — so that everyone who wants to learn technology skills can? A simple way would be to add a surcharge of one dollar to every new computer sold in the United States. No one would notice such a surcharge, and then we’d have $30 million per year to fund organizations like Byte Back. In my mind, Byte Back has proven its value a thousand times over. In this information economy we need to create structural support for organizations like Byte Back, or we’ll assuredly fall further and further behind in the global marketplace.


Sample Ballot in the February 7 District Weekly
Rachel Thompson,

Is it true that we have more candidates on the Democratic primary ballot who have withdrawn from the race than have not? Is this an error, or hasn’t anyone at the Board of Elections and Ethics heard of “just in time” printing? Pages 14-15 in the February 7 District Weekly section list Richardson, Edwards, Kucinich, Clinton, Obama, and Uncommitted. Given that we saw Edwards’ votes go significantly more to Obama than to Clinton in the Super Tuesday races, what happens to the votes that go to candidates who are no longer in the race?


Candid Councilmembers
Arthur Delaney,

Check out your DC councilmembers on Loose Lips video at


February 2008 InTowner
P.L. Wolff,

This is to advise that the February 2008 online edition has been uploaded and may be accessed at Included are the lead stories, community news items and crime reports, editorials (including prior months’ archived), restaurant reviews (prior months’ also archived), and the text from the ever-popular “Scenes from the Past” feature (the accompanying images can be seen in the archived PDF version). The complete issue (along with prior issues back to January 2002) also is available in PDF file format directly from our home page at no charge simply by clicking the link in the Current & Back Issues Archive. Here you will be able to view the entire issue as it appears in print, including all photos and advertisements.

The next issue will publish on March 14 (the second Friday of the month, as always). The complete PDF version will be posted by the preceding night or early that Friday morning at the latest, following which the text of the lead stories, community news, and selected features will be uploaded shortly thereafter.

To read this month’s lead stories, simply click the link on the home page to the following headlines: 1) Dupont Circle “Main Streets” Organization Credited for Programs Helping Merchants; $5 P Street Valet Parking Starts March 1; 2) Citywide Preservation Groups Raise Objections at Hearing to Confirm New HPRB Members; 3) Judge Orders City to Respond to Citizens’ Complaint That Library System Flouted the Law; 4) Free Recital by Thomas Pandolfi to Showcase First Baptist’s New Steinway Concert Grand Piano.


Parking Tickets in the Void
Mary Bloodworth,

In August I contested two tickets and never heard anything back. Two weeks ago I needed to renew my registration and, like a previous poster, I saw that the tickets were still on the record, though the fine had not doubled. I called the Department of Motor Vehicles, where a helpful person looked in my record and stated that the tickets were still in contestment (his word) and not to worry about them. Sure enough, I was able to renew my registration without a hitch.


Home Schooling
Peter Orvetti,

I have great respect for Mai Abdul Rahman’s commitment to education in the District of Columbia through her work as a teacher and educational policy activist, but as a homeschooling parent in the District I must express my concern with some of the notions she has suggested here (themail, February 3). Ms. Rahman rightly expresses concerns about the well being of children, but from this seems to suggest the District require homeschooling parents to set “clear educational criteria aligned with the school district’s educational standards” and mandate standardized tests. The issues are dissimilar.

It is unfortunate when a human tragedy becomes fodder for political debate, but since the District government has decided to link the Banita Jacks case to homeschooling, I have little choice but to examine it in those terms. As I have said here previously, it is just common sense that the city should require homeschooling families to let the city know that they are providing education outside of the public schools. The Jacks case is not about education policy but about social services policy; what Jacks was doing was not homeschooling but coerced truancy.

This episode reminds me of the crackdown on student rights that occurred following the Columbine High School incident in April 1999. In the shock following an atrocious but irregular event, policymakers and regulators looking to “do something about it” singled out societally unorthodox characteristics of the perpetrators and cast those with similar characteristics as somehow suspect. In Columbine, it was students’ attire and tastes in music and entertainment; in the Jacks case, it is homeschooling. Both conclusions are faulty, to say the least. For nearly a century, the US Supreme Court has consistently held that the 14th Amendment’s due process clause should be interpreted to mean that parents’ rights to direct the education of their children is a fundamental right, akin to those listed in the Bill of Rights. In constitutional terms, that means the government has the burden of proof, and not the parents.


Disagreement in themail
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Gary opined, “The usual debate over any correctional institution or agency — prisons and jails, parole services, and so on — is whether their main purpose is punishment or rehabilitation of people who do bad, criminal, or violent things”. Quite right. And, while not expressing an opinion either way on this, nor speculating whether it would work here, I’ll mention that bonus material on the DVD of Sicko (Michael Moore’s movie on healthcare) shows interviews with corrections authorities and prisoners in other countries that shows their balance is strongly rehabilitation, not punishment or simply warehousing. It makes any of our Club Fed prisons look like Alcatraz. As a brief review, I highly recommend watching the movie and all the extra DVD content.



Ward Three Democrats, February 11
Thomas M. Smith,

The Ward Three Democratic Committee will sponsor a community meeting featuring DC Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. In addition to updating the committee on the current status of DC’s finances, Dr. Gandhi will respond to questions from the community. Additionally, longtime National Democratic Party and women’s rights activist Ann Lewis also will make special remarks. Lewis is a senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton for President campaign.

Monday, February 11, 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb Street, NW.


Discover Engineering Family Day, February 16
Jazmine Zick,

Saturday, February 16, 10:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Discover Engineering Family Day. Learn how engineers make a difference in the world around us during the Discover Engineering Family Day. Watch the host of PBS’s Design Squad rappell from the top of the Great Hall; explore a race car and learn about the science of racing, and much more. Free drop-in activity for all ages. National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.


UDC-DCSL Katrina Law Symposium, February 29
Joe Libertelli,

The University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law is proud to host a symposium titled Katrina’s Wake: Emergency Preparedness and Response from the Bayou to the Beltway. The symposium will feature leading scholars, advocates, and public officials who will examine the parallel racial and economic disparities in New Orleans and the District of Columbia. Topic areas include the administration of justice, long term and foster care, and accountability in disaster planning and relief spending.

The Symposium will be held on Friday, February 29, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., in Building 38, Second Floor Windows Lounge, University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, 4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW (Red Line Metro at Van Ness Station). The event is open to the public and is wheelchair accessible. Following the symposium, a reception will be held releasing the new edition of the Law Review.

Last year, UDC-DCSL students, faculty, and administrators traveled to Louisiana and worked in a variety of capacities on behalf of Katrina survivors with local organizations. They conducted succession research to assisting survivors with insurance claims on their homes; provided assistance to the New Orleans Public Defenders Office resulting in the release of dozens of accused who had served more time than if they had been convicted; assisted exploited Latino day laborers to understand their rights and receive payment; and helped rebuild a home. In December 2007, the Pro Bono Project of the Greater New Orleans Area named UDC-DCSL its “Law School of the Year,” and faculty members were honored by the Louisiana State Supreme Court. The University of the District of Columbia Law Review is a student-run periodical that publishes articles of topical legal interest. Our aspiration is to serve the community by raising awareness of important legal issues of social concern.



Original 1887 GM Hopkins Map Sale
Paul K. Williams,

I’ve just reduced the prices on my twenty-two remaining original G.M. Hopkins Maps from 1887 in our eBay store. Get them before they are gone forever, as these are rarely if ever on eBay. They are the original, color maps showing houses and buildings in Washington at the time. One is a live auction, the remainder can be purchased immediately,

We also have very high quality color prints of each of the 44 original maps if your original map has already been sold! I’ll happily tell you which map number contains your area of research or interest,


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