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March 2, 2008

Freedom of Speech

Dear Speakers:

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.

Gary Imhoff


I Want What I Want, When I Want It
Dorothy Brizill,

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, 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


Violence in Our Schools
Mai Abdul Rahman,

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 teachers.

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 Region
Ed Lazere,

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


Richard Sundberg,

I think it’s time to turn the representation issue around 180 degrees and use a new slogan: “No Representation then No Taxation.”


DC’s Quarter
Doreen P. Conrad,

D’ya think the Mint would accept “America’s Federal Fiefdom”?

Guess not.


Bill Coe,

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.


Are There No Limits?
Bill Coe,

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 judgment.

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.


Rees’ Home Page
Denise Wiktor,

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,

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 taxpayers).

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,

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 assessment practices.

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.



Georgetown Branch Library Fundraiser, March 4
Jerry A. McCoy,

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 Georgetown.

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

The library was heavily damaged by fire and water on April 30, 2007. Video of the dramatic conflagration may be viewed at


National Building Museum Events, March 6-7
Jazmine Zick,

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


Jewish Life in Turkey, Then and Now, March 9 and following
Diana Altman,

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 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 and Turkey.


MLK Parade, April 5
Dorinda White,

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


WASA Hearing on Lead Pipe Replacement Program, May 1
Michele Quander-Collins,

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 ( 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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