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March 23, 2008

Discouraging Words

Dear Encouragers:

Marc Borbely and Anne Sullivan have discouraging messages in this issue of themail. Borbely explains the legal situation of the school budget better than I can, but basically what happened this year is that Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee flouted the law that requires them to hold open public hearings on their proposed public school budget before that budget is presented to the city council. Since Fenty’s and Rhee’s definition of “reform” is eliminating any meaningful involvement in the schools by citizens, they refused to hold those hearings this year, even though they are legally required in order to inform citizens and get citizen input. When a group of citizens sued over this, their case was unfortunately heard by a judge who surprisingly accepted Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles’ usual argument — the law doesn’t apply to Mayor Fenty; he doesn’t have to obey it.

Fenty, Rhee, and Nickles, however, know that the court decision they got was a fluke, and that they would be very unlikely to get a favorable court ruling the next time they flouted this law. Therefore, the mayor has proposed a change in the law to cut citizens out of the school budget process permanently, and to eliminate these public budget hearings in the future. Is the city council likely to protect citizens’ rights, to reaffirm the law as it is written, and to preserve the public’s right to learn about the school budget and to have a meaningful opportunity to comment on it? It’s not likely — to do that, city councilmembers would have to see themselves as representing the interests of citizens, and they haven’t done that yet as they’ve caved into every initiative by Fenty and Rhee to take DC public schools out of the hands of parents and citizens and give them over to private contractors.

On the contrary, most councilmembers seem to see themselves as representing their own interests and the interests of developers and contractors, and the citizens be damned. Anne Sullivan points out a shockingly blatant example of this in what are normally fairly quiet and polite council hearings, the oversight hearings over Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. When Sullivan presented the testimony for her Commission, she gave an example of how the administration routinely ignores the legal role of ANC and the requirement that departments and agencies give great weight to ANC positions. She talked about how the administration has pushed through the highly questionable development proposals for the Janey School and Tenley Library without ever even acknowledging the ANCs resolutions and proposals, much less giving them great weight. In response, neither Councilmember Gray nor Cheh expressed any sympathy for the role of the affected ANC. Instead, Cheh engaged in yet another one of her hostile, badgering attacks on citizens who dare to disagree with her position in their testimony. She misrepresented Sullivan’s testimony to try to humiliate her, as she tried to minimize and deny her role in championing this development. And Chairman Gray sat by silently and let the hectoring go on without protest. A city council that treats citizens who testify before it in this way is not likely to treat citizens with respect when it considers the laws that it passes to govern them.

By the way, I hope you had a good Good Friday, Easter, Purim, Narouz, Eid Milad an Nabi, Small Holi, and/or Magha Puja, or, if you preferred, I hope you had a good time sleeping in late this morning.

Gary Imhoff


Fenty and Rhee: No More Budget Hearings
Marc Borbely,

The mayor’s proposed Budget Support Act would repeal DC Code 38-917 (posted at, which requires DCPS and the mayor each to hold a hearing on the DCPS budget before they make their budget proposals. This provision was enacted by citizen initiative in 1987, approved by 77 percent of voters. It was amended by the council last year to state that the Chancellor, instead of the Board of Education, must hold the hearing for DCPS. For twenty years, these DCPS budget hearings provided parents, students, teachers, and community members a chance to inform decision-makers about funding needs at particular schools, or about the school system’s overall needs. DCPS is the only agency required to directly involve citizens in the budget process.

In their first year in control, Fenty and Rhee have not done well with regard to public participation in the budget process. Rhee finally scheduled her budget hearing only after 98 parent and community leaders sent her a letter reminding her of the hearing requirement. Fenty held his hearing before Rhee released any budget proposal for the public to address, though DC Code 38-917 says, “In no event shall this hearing be prior to the annual submission by the Chancellor of its proposed budget to the Mayor.”

Now, the mayor and Chancellor have come up with an ingenious yet simple way to avoid such problems in future years: repeal these offensive public-participation requirements. No more budget hearings. Their proposal is Section 4031 of the Budget Support Act, posted by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, at


Interrogation in Council Chambers
Anne C. Sullivan, ANC 3E05,

How should citizens who testify in front of the council should be treated? On March 18, I testified at Chairman Gray’s Public Hearing Roundtable on ANCs on behalf of the ANC 3E. A common complaint that was heard on all nights of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission testimonies was that the ANCs are not given “great weight.” I illustrated how this phenomenon occurred recently in ANC 3E when public land and development rights to part of the elementary school land and part of the library had been put up for sale over the objections of the ANC, and none of the resolutions passed by the ANC regarding this sale had been given any weight. I discussed that the land was being sold without the government’s going through proper evaluations and determinations (according to the DC Code) that the land was not needed for public use and could be spared to sell off to a developer.

I talked about Councilmember Cheh’s role in all of this, and I stand by everything in my testimony. The main part of my testimony begins around hour mark 1:50:00 of this video:, but the questioning by Council Member Cheh (Ward 3) begins at hour mark 2:01:40. I believe the councilmember exhibits outrageous behavior. I hope that standards of conduct are established in Council Chambers to prevent this type of abuse in the future.


Heller v. District of Columbia
Harold Foster; Petworth, Ward 4,

Let me be up front about a couple things concerning Heller v. District of Columbia, right from the start. First, I am African-American. Second, I am a third-generation Washingtonian. Third, I was — “was” being the operative word — a member of the NRA. That is until they made a racist pigs’ breakfast of the first attempt to overturn this city’s ridiculously over-broad handgun ban, in 1976. Fourth, I probably need to add here that I am also a lifelong member of Amnesty International, the ACLU, MoveOn.Org, DFA and the Socialist International. So you shouldn’t read too much into my previous NRA membership before finishing this post. Fifth, and most relevantly, I am a legal firearms owner, have been for some time, and regard the District’s handgun ban to be pointless, unworkably overbroad, therefore probably unconstitutional, and certainly useless in achieving its stated purpose, which is to control or reduce handgun-related crime in this town.

I hope and realistically expect that this particular rightward-tilting Supreme Court will probably uphold the core substance of the lower court’s ruling (and the arguments of large numbers of us in this city): that a blanket handgun ban effectively criminalizes otherwise law-biding citizens for nothing more (or less) than wanting to own a handgun. In fact, to ease the heartburn of the mayor and those of you on the other side of this particular capital-d Debate, I would expect a rather narrow ruling that will acknowledge the District’s right — or responsibility — to enact reasonable, prudent, and proper restrictions on weapons that could endanger the public. But it will also probably require the city to take this permanent regulatory monkey off of the backs of the rest of us, and order the city to develop a legal procedure by which law-biding citizens who are of sound mind and body can purchase, register, and own handguns.

Not Tommy guns, mind you. Or RPG-7 rocket launchers. Just handguns. An item, by the way, that historically, when legally purchased and registered, has been used in exactly one violent crime in this city in the period from 1954 through 1976, when this silly ban went into effect. By contrast, in that period of time how many deaths can be attributed to legally purchased and registered automobiles in Washington, DC? Given the ratio of gun-related deaths to legally owned auto-related deaths, shouldn’t the city also ban private ownership and registration of automobiles? Or cigarette lighters, since they have caused more violent deaths in this city than have legally owned handguns?

So, I frankly hope that I finally do get something personally useful out of Uncle Clarence and his conservative crew downtown on East Capitol Street. And I hope that they do it in a way that makes clear to those of my fellow citizens who honestly but, put rather bluntly, ignorantly think that this handgun ban has somehow reduced handgun-related crimes that criminalizing law-biding citizens or their conduct only amounts to a kind of constitutional race to the bottom. Besides, I keep waiting for others to notice that, by definition, crimes are committed by individuals who are not going to be deterred by any legal proscription on either their criminal conduct or the weapons they obtain to engage in it. But that technicality somehow always gets lost in this particular Debate. C’mon Uncle Clarence. I knew that if enough constitutionally controversial matters came before you, sooner or later you and I would wind up on the same — and correct — side of at least one of them.


Arms in DC
Lucy Mallan,

And all this time I thought the Second Amendment was about the right to bare arms. Now I guess I am going to have to wear long sleeves, even in the summer.


Mayor Fenty’s Proposed 2009 Budget
Jonathan R. Rees,

Mayor Adrian Fenty on Thursday proposed slashing hundreds of vacant positions, slowing a promised tax cut, and keeping new spending to a minimum in an effort to close an expected budget shortfall in fiscal 2009, as reported by the Washington Examiner. The $5.66 billion proposed local funds budget amounts to a .66 percent spending increase over the current year — significantly less than the 8 and 9 percent increases of the recent past. The $8.7 billion gross funds budget, including all federal funds and grants, represents a 3.26 percent increase. “I think without any question you would describe this as a fiscally conservative budget,” Fenty said.

The spending plan closes a projected $96 million revenue gap by eliminating more than five hundred non-critical vacant positions and repealing a commercial real estate tax break authored by Council Chairman Vincent Gray. Fenty proposed a lesser, phased-in tax reduction, slashing the impact of the council-approved cut by roughly $80 million.

In my estimation, the proposed Fenty budget does not slash enough, but the slashing should not come at the expense of jobs but should come from eliminating facilities costs, consolidating agencies, holding down the costs of mayoral special assistants, a overly top-heavy payroll of managers, and more, such as paying double rent for a crime lab and paying for facilities going unused. Fenty’s budget keeps intact the positions of those making the higher salaries, and goes after those on the other end of the payroll totem pole; and it does not eliminate a lot of waste. The Fenty administration, like its 2009 proposed budget, is like a Chevrolet Corvair; it looks good on the outside, but when you drive it, it’s a lemon.


Scenes of the Past Column Interactive Map
Paul Williams,

We’ve just completed a Google map of the locations of the InTowner newspaper’s “Scenes of the Past” column from 2001 to 2008. Each listing has a direct link to that month’s PDF version of the column. Enjoy!


Setting the Record Straight
Dorothy Brizill,

After nearly two weeks of soul-searching, I sent a letter ( last week to the Washington Post’s executive editor, Leonard Downie, to voice my concerns regarding the March 12 City Paper article ( that detailed the practice of Post reporter David Nakamura’s providing favorable coverage of the Fenty administration in exchange for being given advance notice fo the administration’s policy decisions and appointments.

I had hoped, perhaps naively, that the incident and my letter would encourage the Post to review how reporters and editors interact with government officials. Instead, I received an E-mail from Downie ( that thanked me for my letter, but dismissed my concerns and suggestions.


No Commuter Tax, No Tolls
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

In themail, March 19, Robert J. Kabel argued against collecting tolls at roads entering DC. And he implored Vincent Gray to “identify other avenues to locate sources of funding for our roads, bridges, and tunnels that will not raise taxes or fees.” Isn’t that always the answer to an unpopular tax or fee? Tax someone/something else? What would “other avenues of funding” be besides taxes or fees?

Ah, cutting services, of course. Which nonessential services would he suggest cutting? And aren’t they likely to have equally fervent defenders who plead for cutting something besides their cherished programs? And isn’t this where we are now, paralyzed because introducing any way to raise money for services — no matter how useful — is unpopular?

Mightn’t raising money from users of roads to maintain and improve roads actually benefit people paying tolls/fees? Wouldn’t commuters — even Republicans — like better roads? Do they believe that roads are built and maintained by pixies employed by charitable foundations?



Vincent Gray at Ward 3 Democrats, March 27
Tom Smith,

The Ward Three Democratic Committee will meet this Thursday, March 27, at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church. The meeting will begin promptly at 7:15 p.m. Our major guest speaker will be DC Council Chair Vincent Gray. In addition to Chairman Gray, DC Democratic State Committee Chair Anita Bonds will make brief remarks updating the committee on political issues across the city, including the May 3 DC state convention to be held at UDC.

Our meeting also will include a short discussion on the experiences of Ward 3 residents who traveled to Ohio and Texas for the presidential campaigns. Ron Bitondo, a former member of the committee and active in the Obama campaign, will discuss his experiences in Ohio; and I will discuss what it was like working during the Texas primary and caucuses as a volunteer in the Clinton campaign.

We expect to conclude our meeting no later than 9 p.m., and a short reception will follow to enable members to socialize with one another. No refreshments will be served during the meeting. If you have any questions about the meeting, please feel free to contact me.


National Building Museum Events, March 27, 29
Jazmine Zick,

Thursday, March 27, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Spotlight on Design: Emerging Voices. Presented in partnership with the Architectural League of New York, Emerging Voices turns the spotlight on architecture firms just beginning to achieve prominence in the profession. This program will be held at the University of Maryland. Free. Registration required.

Saturday, March 29, 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. National Cherry Blossom Festival Family Day and Opening Ceremony. Family Festival (10:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.), Opening Ceremony (4:00-5:30 p.m.). Welcome Washington, DC’s, cherry blossom season at a festival celebrating Japanese arts and design and at the official opening ceremony of the 2008 National Cherry Blossom Festival. Free drop-in program. All ages. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. For more details or to register for both events, go to


Dorothy Naor, Israeli Peace Activist, April 1
Ann Loikow,

Dorothy Naor, an Israeli peace activist and member of the feminist group New Profiles and the Israeli Committee for Residency Rights, will speak to the St. Columba’s Peace Fellowship at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall on Tuesday, April 1. All are welcome. She will speak about the price Israelis and Palestinians pay for occupation and expansionism:

“While symmetry can never exist between oppressor and oppressed, occupier and occupied, few people realize that Israelis, too, pay a high price for the expansionist policies of their successive governments and for the occupation of Palestinians and Palestine. The deleterious impact of these policies on Israelis is readily apparent in the devaluation of human lives, in the socioeconomic sphere, in post-traumatic distress, and in a tremendous lack of security. Palestinians suffer yet more. For the sake of peace, security, and a future to look forward to by all the peoples of the area, the facts should be known as widely as possible in the hope that grassroots movements will arise to help shape US government policy towards a happier Israel-Palestine.”

Dorothy was born in the United States, met her Israeli husband in college, and moved to Israel in 1958. She has a PhD from Tel Aviv University and has been an English teacher for most of her professional life. She is an incredible and courageous woman who has been working for peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine for decades. St. Columba’s Church is located at 4201 Albemarle Street, NW, one block west of Wisconsin Avenue and the Tenleytown Metro stop on the Red line.


Citywide School Budget Form, April 2
Cherita Whiting,

Parents United for the DC Public Schools and the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals, and Educators (SHAPPE) invite you to attend a forum on the DCPS Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2009. Learn what’s in the budget for DC public schools next year with expert analysis by Mary Levy of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, participate in discussion of how the budget will affect your school — both the strengths and weaknesses of the budget, and prepare to testify at the city council hearing on the DCPS budget on April 8. Wednesday, April 2, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Florida Avenue Baptist Church in the lower auditorium, 623 Florida Avenue, NW. For parking and Metro information visit and click on “contact us.”

Support for the meeting is also being provided by the Ward 4 Education Council and the Education Committee of the Federation of Civic Associations.


Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, April 5
Robert Cashdollar,

Whether it’s for community service hours, a merit badge, or just to get your hands dirty for a good cause, join us for the 20th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup on Saturday, April 5. Thousands of volunteers of all ages will pick up trash from different cleanup sites around the region, rain or shine, so don’t miss out! Find a cleanup site near you by visiting or calling 301-292-5665. Additional cleanups from March 8-April 26, with site information, are also listed.

Don’t forget to sign our guest book, enter our photo contest, and raise money through the Trash-a-Thon! Structured like a walk-a-thon, participants ask family, friends, and neighbors to sponsor their cleanup efforts. All proceeds go toward a watershed-wide Regional Education and Awareness Campaign for Trash (REACT). Print out a Trash-A-Thon Pledge Sheet at Sign up sponsors and collect donations for REACT. Return your Trash-A-Thon pledge sheet and donations to Ginny Harris by April 26, 2008, to site leaders on cleanup day, or have sponsors pledge online at by April 26 (if your sponsors pledge online, please ask them to list you as the participant, then mail or fax us your Pledge Sheet).


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themail@dcwatch is an E-mail discussion forum that is published every Wednesday and Sunday. To change the E-mail address for your subscription to themail, use the Update Profile/Email address link below in the E-mail edition. To unsubscribe, use the Safe Unsubscribe link in the E-mail edition. An archive of all past issues is available at

All postings should be submitted to, and should be about life, government, or politics in the District of Columbia in one way or another. All postings must be signed in order to be printed, and messages should be reasonably short — one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal — so that as many messages as possible can be put into each mailing.

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