Freedom of Speech
As always when I publish anything by or about Jonathan Rees, I have
received numerous complaints. Bill Coe, below, writes that he
understands that themail is supposed to be an open forum, but that it
shouldn’t provide a forum for Rees. Bill’s position is that he
strongly supports freedom of speech for people whom he approves of when
they say things that he agrees with. To me, that doesn’t seem to be a
very strong version of freedom of speech. In fact, it’s the opposite
of freedom of speech, and the opposite of an open forum.
There is certainly a place for closed groups and closed fora, open
only to those who share the same opinions and beliefs or only to those
who are friends with each other. People who want to communicate with
others who are of like mind should be free to do so. People need
reinforcement for their beliefs and, by definition, people are most
comfortable with those they are comfortable with. But there is also a
place and a purpose for open fora, where people open themselves to
challenge and confrontation, where beliefs are contradicted and where
members meet with people whom they may not only be uncomfortable with,
but whom they may actively dislike.
You’re not going to agree with everything you read in themail, and
you’re not going to like all the positions that everyone (including
me) takes. I certainly don’t agree with every message in this forum.
But I think that we all learn something when we listen to the positions
that we resist most strongly.
One correction to Dorothy’s posting in the last issue about the
BOEE’s firing, and then rehiring and promoting, Dan Seligson, who
wrote an article discussing problems at the polling place where he had
been a poll worker. The correction is that Seligson has been offered as
position, not as a precinct captain, but as an area representative, for
the BOEE on voting days.
I Want What I Want, When I Want It
Dorothy Brizill, firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday afternoon the city council Committee on Government Operations
held a public oversight hearing on the Office of the City Administrator.
However, what should have been a rather pedestrian hearing took an
unusual turn when Committee Chair Carol Schwartz decided to grill City
Administrator Dan Tangherlini about a retirement awards program that the
Fenty administration is about to implement.
On January 10, Mayor Fenty sent to the council for its “consideration
and approval” a bill, the “Retirement Incentive and Voluntary
Severance Incentive Act of 2008,” B17-589, that would “offer
voluntary early retirement and retirement incentives to affected
employees who are covered under the provisions of the Civil Service
Retirement System (‘CSRS’); as well as a voluntary severance
incentive program for certain District government employees.” The bill
was referred to Councilmember Schwartz’ Committee on Workforce
Development and Government Operations. Schwartz scheduled a hearing and
began discussions with the mayor and the city administration about her
concern that the legislation was “too broad and too wholesale,” and
could result in a significant brain drain among District employees.
While these discussions were ongoing, the mayor decided not to wait for
the legislative process and, without informing Schwartz or the council,
signed an Executive Order (2008-31, http://www.dcwatch.com/mayor/080220.htm)
that will establish a “Retirement Awards Program.” The mayor’s
order wasn’t even published in the February 22 or February 29 DC
Register, so no one, including the council, found out about the order
except by seeing in the February 29 Register a “Notice of Emergency
and Proposed Rulemaking” from the Department of Human Resources to
amend the DC Municipal Regulations (Title 6, Chapter 19, Incentive
Awards) to carry out the mayor’s order.
The administration’s actions will undoubtedly heighten the growing
tension and distrust between the mayor and the council. The
administration is now arguing that it doesn’t need the legislation or
the council’s approval to institute a retirement incentive program,
but even if the council doesn’t challenge the legality of the mayor’s
unilateral action, the administration will still have to come back to
the council to get funding for it — the council will have to pass any
budgetary allocation or reprogramming.
Quality School Review Reports
Erich Martel, LSRT member, Wilson HS, ehmartel at
starpower dot net
Attention LSRT members: in January, the twenty-seven DC public
schools facing mandatory NCLB restructuring were visited by “Quality
School Review” teams. Last Tuesday, February 27, these reports were
E-mailed to the respective school principals, who were supposed to share
them with their Local School Restructuring Teams (LSRTs) the following
day. The principal was supposed to compile all of the responses and
return them to the Chief of Schools, Ms. Tracy Martin. The deadline for
the return was last Friday, two days after having received it.
Some principals immediately shared the report with their LSRTs.
Others waited until Friday, allowing LSRT members a short time to read,
evaluate, and respond. Some schools report, however, that the principals
would not release their school’s report. This is a serious matter and
should be immediately corrected by providing each school so affected
with the complete report
On February 26 at 12:23 p.m., during lunch recess, my son walked
unaccompanied into the Wilson gym hoping to enjoy a game of basketball.
Instead he found himself surrounded by five ninth grade students. All
five proceeded to punch him in the face while other Wilson students
watched horrified, until two twelfth graders broke it up. The good two
Samaritans also suffered scratches and hits to the face. Not one single
adult was present to help my son — not a teacher, staff member, or gym
instructor; there was no one in the hallway to help him to the nurse,
either. My son is recovering; he suffered serious bruises to his face,
eye and ears. The doctor says he was lucky to escape a skull fracture or
loss of vision or hearing. Again, this occurred during lunch recess on
school property. The camera that would have captured the attack had been
sprayed with paint during the summer. No one has yet bothered to clean
it, and the attackers were well aware of this.
On the same day, a ninth grade student was also “jumped” — a
term used to describe a violent assault by a gang on lonely victims.
Unfortunately, several Wilson students have been victims of the same
crime two or three times. One of them was jumped twice by the same kids,
who wanted his iPod. Another parent who withdrew her daughter from
Wilson is now angrily blogging about the assault on her daughter. All
these violent crimes occurred a day after Wilson security had discovered
a gun in a student’s bag by a metal detector. Teachers and students
are still unsure whether the gun is now in or out of the building. This
school year Wilson, like other DCPS schools including Bellvue, Anacostia,
and Roosevelt, has had an increase in violent student assaults,
robberies, and fights. Security and school staff blame the increase in
school violence on the poorly planned ninth grade transition plan. This
was echoed during the last S.H.A.P.E. meeting of parents, teachers, and
city security officials.
As I continue to investigate my son’s assailants’ backgrounds I
discovered that many of them are actually seventeen years of age, and
yet are still ninth graders. Some have been responsible for several
assault charges this last year. Two came directly from Choice and Oak
Hill with several prior suspensions, expulsions, and other behavioral
and emotional problems. Some have been expelled from their neighborhood
schools and are still on probation, but are permitted to attend Wilson.
A number of our students, aged seventeen to twenty-one, have been
socially promoted or come from Oak Hill, Choice, and other poorly
performing schools. Their numbers in the school are increasing but there
are no programs to support their transition and socialization process
within the Wilson school culture. These children are often poorly
prepared and unable to participate and keep up with the rigors of the
curriculum. They lack the discipline and personal management skills to
attend one of the least structured schools in the district, so they end
up in the hallways avoiding teachers and security officers. Most lack
the proper tools to maintain in-class interest and focus, and are rarely
in class — to the delight of many teachers who are tired of the
discipline issues that are a constant irritant to both students and
I am very concerned about my son’s safety. I am also concerned
about the safety and well being of all the other Wilson students who
have been subjected to terror and violence within our school walls,
whether directly victimized or as they witness their friends and
classmates endure aggression and hostility. I also worry about the many
kids who could be effective learners if we only offer them the minimum
— the ability to read and write on level.
DC Homeowners Pay Lowest Property Taxes in
Ed Lazere, email@example.com
DC homeowners’ property assessments may have risen steeply in
recent years, but their property tax bills have not, according to a new
report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. The report, entitled Good Deal
for DC Homeowners: Property Taxes are Lowest in the Region, uses data
from the District’s Office of Tax and Revenue to compare DC homeowners’
property taxes to those of homeowners in surrounding suburban counties.
The main findings are:
DC homeowners pay the lowest property taxes in the region. Among
homes selling for $500,000, for example, DC homeowners paid an average
tax of $2,170 in 2007, compared to $3,110 in Montgomery County, $3,690
in Prince George’s County, and over $4,200 in Arlington and Fairfax
counties. Half of all DC homeowners are paying less in property taxes in
2008 than in 2005. Another 36 percent have seen tax bills grow less than
five percent per year since 2005.
The homeowner property tax rate likely will continue to decrease in
the future due to the “calculated rate” provision, which
automatically triggers a cut when property tax collections grow more
than seven percent per year. Given that DC property taxes are already
the lowest in the region, the report recommends that the calculated rate
be eliminated and argues that any future property tax relief should
target low-income renters and homeowners, who are the most likely to be
burdened by property taxes. The full report can be found at http://dcfpi.org/?p=136.
I think it’s time to turn the representation issue around 180
degrees and use a new slogan: “No Representation then No Taxation.”
D’ya think the Mint would accept “America’s Federal Fiefdom”?
Allow me to comment on Mr. Kiger’s posting in themail of February
28 about DC’s “state” quarter. I couldn’t agree more that the
slogan, “(No) Taxation Without Representation,” must be accepted as
going to the heart of our community’s standing in this nation. If it
can appear on a government-issued license plate, why not on a piece of
legal tender? With the US Mint’s rejection of our submitted design, DC
is forced to accept a coin bearing an anodyne expression of who we are
and where we want to be. Benjamin Banneker? Duke Ellington? Both are
admirable figures in this city’s history, but no one in the larger
voting public will give a thought to what they mean for us today.
Apropos of all this, I found a fascinating explanation of the
expression, “Taxation Without Representation,” in Wikipedia. It goes
as follows: “‘No taxation without representation’ was a slogan in
the period 1763-1776 that summarized a primary grievance of the American
colonists in the thirteen American colonies. The phrase ‘No Taxation
Without Representation!’ was coined by Reverend Jonathan Mayhew in a
sermon in Boston in 1750. Boston politician James Otis was most famously
associated with the term: ‘taxation without representation is tyranny.’
Parliament had controlled colonial trade and taxed imports and exports
since 1660. By the 1760s the Americans came to believe they were being
deprived of a historic right. The Bill of Rights 1689 had forbidden the
imposition of taxes without the consent of Parliament. Since the
colonists had no representation in Parliament they complained the taxes
violated the traditional Rights of Englishmen in the Magna Carta. The
British responded that the colonists had virtual representation . The
Americans rejected the Stamp Act 1765 (which was repealed), and in 1773
violently rejected the tax on tea imports at the Boston Tea Party. The
British could not accept this illegal act because it undermined the
authority of the Crown in Parliament. When Great Britain began to crack
down on the illegal activities performed by the colonists, the colonists
formed militias and seized control of each colony, ousting the royal
governors. The complaint was never officially over the amount of
taxation (the taxes were quite low), but always on the decision-making
process by which taxes were decided in London, without representation
for the colonists in British Parliament.”
We know all about “virtual representation,” don’t we? (By the
way, under current DC gun laws, we citizens could never form militias of
our own in order to resist this injustice — although such militias
are, in the Second Amendment, precisely the justification for our right
to bear arms, but that’s another matter.) Perhaps we should propose
the Rev. Jonathan Mayhew or Mr. James Otis as best suited to appear on
DC’s commemorative quarter. After all, they said it first, and they
said it best.
Allow me to comment on Mr. Treworgy’s posting in themail of
February 28. His observations on Jonathan Rees remind us, yet again, how
execrable this gentleman is. Rees’s frequent appearances in themail
demean its reputation, while calling into question its editor’s
In his own defense, Mr. Imhoff likes to invoke such values as freedom
of expression, the marketplace of ideas, etc. These are ideals which
can, of course, be abused by the likes of Mr. Rees. We see such abuse
demonstrated by groups and individuals more universally despised than
Mr. Rees ever will be. I doubt that Imhoff would publish the ravings of
slanderers or outright bigots. Therefore, it seems to me that he needs
to consider the boundary of acceptable expression in themail and whether
Mr. Rees has too often crossed it.
Had no trouble, but I could not send an E-mail out saying I would
bring cheesecake to a lunch, as it violated sexual harassment policy.
Class Action Case on Unfair Assessments Being
Appealed to Supreme Court
Peter S. Craig, firstname.lastname@example.org
On February 22, 2007, after deliberating for six months, the D.C.
Court of Appeals denied the petition by D.C. homeowners to reconsider
its decision of July 19, 2007, reversing the decision of Judge Eugene
Hamilton in the class action suit initiated by fifty taxpayers in 2002.
Acting under the Civil Rights Act, 42 USC 1983, which was amended by
Congress in 1979 to permit any District resident to sue DC government
officials for redress against any violation of Constitutional rights
done under color of local DC law, Judge Hamilton issued a decision on
September 26, 2005, ruling that the use of across-the-board multipliers
by the Office of Tax and Revenue for tax year 2002 assessments was an
unconstitutional denial of due process of law and equal protection and
therefore void. On January 13, 2006, he awarded refunds for the class of
35,000 D.C. homeowners adversely affected by these across-the-board
increases. The refunds were limited to any increase in their 2002 taxes
plus 6 percent annual interest. The city estimated that such refunds
would come to $15 million.
The Williams administration appealed this decision. On brief and at
the oral argument, the District’s lawyers argued that the city could
secretly adopt any methodology for assessment that it wished, even using
a dart board if OTR so desired, and that DC residents were barred from
contesting assessments on the basis of discrimination or lack of notice
as to how the assessments were made. Despite the Congressional directive
to permit class actions on “any matter” involving assessments, the
city argued that such class actions could not be brought.
A three-judge panel of the DC Court of Appeals (Chief Judge
Washington, Associate Judge Thompson and Senior Judge Kern) agreed with
the Williams administration’s position. It ruled that local DC law
supersedes the 1979 Congressional amendment to the Civil Rights Act,
that the District assessors may use any method they want to assess
properties without regard to the requirements in the DC Code that each
property must be assessed on the basis of its own characteristics, and
that DC taxpayers may only challenge the valuation of their own property
and are not entitled to any redress if others are given preferential
treatment. Although Congress amended the DC assessment law to permit
class actions in the Tax Division of the Superior Court as to “any
matter” involving property taxes, the decision effectively rules out
any class action by insisting that the class be limited to persons who
appealed their assessments to BRPAA (although BRPAA panels are powerless
to correct discriminatory assessments or the lack of fair notice to
Mysteriously, the panel relied on the District’s Anti-Injunction
Act for most of its discussion, although no injunction was sought or
granted in the present case. The panel also claimed that for there to be
a class action, every taxpayer adversely affected had to file a futile
appeal to BRPAA. The panel totally ignored the fact that under the Civil
Rights Act, the constitutional rights for due process and equal
protection trump any local law to the contrary. A full copy of the
forty-page decision may be read at the DC court web site, http://www.dcappeals.gov/dccourts/appeals/pdf/06-TX-177+.PDF.
At a meeting held Sunday evening, the five DC lawyers who have been
tirelessly working on behalf of the D.C. taxpayers since this
controversy began in 2001 met and agreed that it was desirable to seek
review by the Supreme Court of the United States by filing a petition
for a writ of certiorari. In addition, it is clear that corrective
action is necessary by the DC council to restore fairness and integrity
to DC laws involving the assessment process. So far, Councilman Jack
Evans, chairman of the committee overseeing OTR, has been a full
supporter of OTR’s desire to do whatever it pleases in any way it
pleases, without regard for traditional statutory and constitutional
requirements. In 2002, he introduced and supported “emergency
legislation” which the court now finds eliminated any requirement that
OTR inform the public of the methodology used in revising assessments.
Lawyers working on the case will be drafting a “Fair Assessment Act
of 2008,” to be submitted to the DC council for its approval. The
present controversy began when OTR, under the leadership of Henry Riley,
decided that it would be “more efficient” to assess residential
properties in groups, rather than on a property-by-property basis as
required by law. Riley reintroduced a system which he called “trending”
by which all properties in a group would be increased or decreased in
their assessments by the same percentage, as determined by secret
studies. That system had been declared illegal under DC law in Levy
v. District of Columbia in 1990 and was condemned by the Montana
Supreme Court as an unconstitutional denial of equal protection in the
same year. Likewise, in District of Columbia v. Green, a class
action suit decided in 1973, the DC Court of Appeals had ruled out
across-the-board increases in assessments as in violation of the Equal
Protection clause, insisting that under DC law assessments had to be
made on a property-by-property basis, not a neighborhood-by-neighborhood
basis. In reintroducing this so-called “trending,” Mr. Riley claimed
it was consistent with the standards of the International Association of
Assessment Officers. However, in the trial in this case, it was shown
that the practice violated IAAO standards., IAAO’a chief expert, Dr.
Robert Gloudemans, prepared a study showing that the practice
reintroduced by Mr. Riley resulted in discriminatory assessments far
worse than were acceptable by IAAO standards and in general they favored
owners of more expensive properties, resulting in regressive taxation.
Mr. Riley’s brainchild touched off the class action lawsuit
contesting 2002 assessments. A similar class action lawsuit has been
filed contesting 2003 assessments. That second case has been stayed by
agreement until the first case is resolved. In the interim, Mr. Riley
has been relieved of his job and the city has abandoned the use of
so-called “trending.” However, the decision of the three-judge
panel, unless overruled by the Supreme Court or the DC council,
threatens once more to cause havoc in the city’s assessment practices,
where the dart board and secretly derived across-the-board multipliers
will replace the constitutional requirements of equality and fairness in
The class action lawsuit has been handled on a pro bono basis
by four Cleveland Park lawyers, Peter S. Craig, Nathalie Black, Stephen
M. Truitt, and Stephen Ives, assisted by John Goodman, representing the
D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations, which filed an amicus
brief in the Court of Appeals. To meet out-of-pocket costs, the lawyers
rely on charitable contributions, which may be made by sending checks
payable to The Committee of 100 on the Federal City, mailed to Peter S.
Craig, chief counsel, at 3406 Macomb Street, NW, Washington, DC 20016.
CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS
Georgetown Branch Library Fundraiser, March 4
Jerry A. McCoy, email@example.com
A fundraiser for the Georgetown Branch Library and its Peabody Room
(Georgetown history special collections) will be held on Tuesday, March
4, 6:00 p.m., at Blake Hall, St. John’s Church, 3240 O Street, NW, in
Noted interior designer Bunny Williams will give a lecture and sign
copies of her book Bunny Williams’ Point of View. For more
information go to http://www.doylenewyork.com/BunnyWilliams/default.htm.
The library was heavily damaged by fire and water on April 30, 2007.
Video of the dramatic conflagration may be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQIaYU-46do.
National Building Museum Events, March 6-7
Jazmine Zick, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, March 6, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Building for the 21st Century:
EnergyPlus and Google SketchUp: The Next Phase of High-Performance
Building Design. Speakers discuss EnergyPlus and Google SketchUp’s
role in changing how architects and designers plan and organize a
building’s design. Free. No registration required.
Thursday, March 6, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Paris on the Potomac. Architectural
historians Cynthia Field and Isabelle Gournay and decorative arts
curator Liana Paredes explore French influence on Washington, DC, after
L’Enfant. $12 members; $12 students; $20 public. Prepaid registration
required. Walk-in registration based on availability.
Friday, March 7, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Spotlight on Design: Thomas Phifer
and Partners: Control: The Changing Role of Architects. Thomas Phifer,
AIA, principal of New York-based firm Thomas Phifer and Partners,
discusses how his work is expanding the traditional role of the
architect and his firm’s close collaboration with other professionals.
$12 members and students; $20 public; free to Virginia AIA members.
Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on
availability. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street,
NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at http://www.nbm.org.
Jewish Life in Turkey, Then and Now, March 9
Diana Altman, email@example.com
B’nai B’rith’s Klutznick National Jewish Museum and the
District’s Sixth and I Historic Synagogue are showcasing the rich
history of Jews in the Ottoman Empire and their cultural legacy in
modern-day Turkey with the photography exhibition “The Historic
Synagogues of Turkey.” On loan from the American Sephardi Federation
through May 20, the exhibition tells the little-known narrative of the
largest Jewish population in any Muslim country. The Jews prospered in
the heyday of the Ottoman Empire and they continue to thrive. The story
of Turkish Jews, then and now, is found in its synagogues. The
exhibition displays the architecture of Turkey’s fifty remaining
synagogues, which contain decidedly Islamic and Ottoman influences.
These elements serve as examples of a world where Jews and Muslims live
side by side. The exhibition and associated programs are made possible
to a large extent by a generous grant from the Ester Plihal Memorial
Fund. A series of cultural/educational programs accompany the
photography exhibition. All programs will take place at Sixth and I. For
all program questions, call Michelle Weiner at 408-3100 x300 or Leah
Gross at 857-6572.
“The Historic Synagogues of Turkey” exhibition unveiling and an
evening of Turkish culture will take place on Sunday, March 9, 2:00 p.m.
to 4:00 p.m. In addition to unveiling the photography exhibition, guests
will hear from the Ambassador to Turkey to the United States Nabi Sensoy
and his wife, Gülgün, both scheduled to attend. Rabbi Joshua Maroof of
Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Rockville, Maryland will also
speak. Kosher Turkish desserts, vendors selling Turkish jewelry, and
more. There is no charge for this event; registration recommended. See http://www.sixthandi.org
for online registration, or contact Michelle Weiner at 408-3100, x300.
A Taste of Turkey: Cooking Class, Tuesday, March 25, 7:00 p.m. to
9:00 p.m. Sheila Kaufman, co-author with Nur Ilkin of A Taste of
Turkish Cuisine, will demonstrate to guests how to make typical
Turkish cuisine. Kaufman will discuss the impact and influence of Jews
in the Ottoman Empire on Turkish culture and cuisine. Charge is $15 per
person; RSVP required: 857-6572.
“Desperate Hours” film screening and discussion, an evening with
the director, Wednesday, April 2, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Screen Victoria
Barrett’s award-winning documentary about the little-known narrative
of Turkish citizens, Muslim and Christian alike, who worked to save Jews
from Hitler’s concentration camps. Question and answer session to
follow. There is no charge for this event.
Policy Panel Discussion: Israeli-Turkish Relations, date and time to
be determined. Learn about the diplomatic relations between these two
countries from public affairs experts and representatives of both Israel
We are accepting applications from groups and organizations to
participate in the 29th annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Parade. This
annual event, chaired by Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, is open to
any group or organization in the DC, MD, and VA area. We invite those
who wish to share in the celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr., to join us and march on Saturday, April 5. The parade will
kick off at 12 noon at Ballou High School in Ward 8. For additional
information to have your group join us in the march or help us promote
the march, please contact Dorinda White at 491-3033. We hope you can
join us! Feel free to visit http://www.mlkparade.org.
WASA Hearing on Lead Pipe Replacement Program,
Michele Quander-Collins, firstname.lastname@example.org
The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) will host a
formal public hearing on its review of the Lead Service Removal (LSR)
Program on Thursday, May 1, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Council
of Governments Office, 777 North Capitol Street, NE (first floor
training room). The goal of the current LSR program is to remove all
35,000 known public lead water service lines in the District by 2016 at
a cost of more than $400 million. The service line is the pipe that
brings water from the main in the street to the home, and WASA has
removed more than 14,600 lines so far in public space. The aggressive
LSR replacement program began in 2004 in response to elevated lead
levels found in tap water at many District homes. For the last three
years, following a change in water chemistry, tap water in the District
has met federal limits for lead and is in compliance with the Safe
Drinking Water Act regulations.
WASA is hosting a series of community meetings and providing
information on its web site (http://www.dcwasa.com) to educate the
public and invite discussion on District drinking water quality, the
status of the LSR program and whether to continue or modify the
aggressive pace of the program. The purpose of the program review is to
analyze information from all sources, including the public, before
deciding if and how the pace of the current program should be modified.
Partial replacement may temporarily increase tap water lead levels for a
few weeks, so WASA provides customers with information (e.g. brochures,
letters, door-hangers) on how to minimize potential exposure for the
period after the replacement has been completed. The WASA’s staff
recommendation will follow the public hearing this spring.
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