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April 9, 2008

Candid Cameras

Dear Video Subjects:

The Fenty administration’s unending list of missteps has, surprisingly, resulted in some setbacks recently. It seems that, as long as the city council doesn’t have to stand up and gather the courage to vote, but can counter Fenty’s mistakes just by asking questions and shedding a little light in the dark corners, some of the most egregious assaults on good government can be beaten back, or at least postponed. The Safe Homes Initiative has been thoroughly exposed as an unwarranted intrusion on citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, although Fenty continues to deny it. It gives me pleasure to have the opportunity to congratulate Councilmember Mary Cheh for taking a correct and courageous stand, and telling MPD Chief Lanier to her face that she wouldn’t let the police search her home ( The highly profitable and highly suspect Lottery Board contract that the administration submitted to the council couldn’t withstand the most basic questions (, and just a day after it was presented to the council it was withdrawn for “further review” ( Of course, not a day can go by without a new outrage and insult to the civil liberties of District residents, so Fenty has announced a program to consolidate over 5,200 government spy cameras (who knew there were that many) into a single system to be run by the DC Homeland Security Agency ( Dorothy writes more about that below.

Since the Fenty administration won’t do anything right, I’ve been forced to write scolding, disapproving, quarrelsome introductions to themail for the past several issues. This greatly misrepresents my normally easygoing, good-humored nature. (Pause here for your laughter to die down.) Therefore, I’d like to make a friendly recommendation in two words: Susan Wong. Wong is a soft-voiced pop-jazz vocalist who has released five albums, Close to You, I Wish You Love, A Night at the Movies, These Foolish Things, and Someone Like You. She mostly explores the later additions to the Great American Songbook, choosing songs from the past few decades that, in her performances at least, turn out to be direct descendants of the classic Berlin-Gershwin-Porter era. She sings them with a light touch against a lush orchestral background reminiscent of the forties and fifties. The kicker is that she’s Chinese, born in Hong Kong and now based there, but raised mostly in Australia, and that she has made a career of singing American songs in English throughout Southeast Asia, mainly outside of Hong Kong and China. Her albums, as far as I know, are available in the US only as imports. (The best source may be, though I’d welcome learning about more convenient or cheaper distributors.) However, a small selection of her songs is available on YouTube by searching her name. Her web site,, won’t tell you much more than this, but who needs to know the singer when we have her songs?

Gary Imhoff


Big Brother
Dorothy Brizill,

At a Tuesday press conference, Mayor Fenty announced his administration’s “launch of the Video Interoperability for Public Safety (VIPS) program to connect the city’s more than 5200 cameras into one network” ( The proposal would create a surveillance network consisting of more than 5200 video surveillance cameras (CCTVs, or closed-circuit television cameras) that are currently operated by eight District agencies: DC Housing Authority, 720; DC Public Schools, 3,452; Department of Parks and Recreation, 181; Department of Transportation, 131; Metropolitan Police Department, 92; Department of Corrections, 218; Office of Property Management/Protective Services Division, 466; and DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, 4 ( The video monitoring system will consolidate the CCTVs from these eight agencies within the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA). The Fenty administration asserts that the surveillance network will enhance public safety in the neighborhoods. However, it fails to acknowledge that most of the CCTV’s are located inside District government buildings. In addition, while HSEMA has already begun to implement the initiative (including constructing the monitoring facility at their offices inside the Reeves Center), the Fenty administration still cannot detail the project’s total cost, although it claims that “the VIPs program will reduce the cost to monitor the city’s CCTV cameras by one third.”

I haven’t had a chance to research the code, regulations, and legal issues surrounding the camera consolidation, but off the top of my head, I think the program is illegal in several respects. 1) When MPD Chief Ramsey proposed the police surveillance cameras, there was a great deal of public discussion, and a formal rulemaking exercise adopted specific procedures that were approved by the council regarding those cameras: including who can view them, storage of the tapes, etc. Under this proposal, MPD’s cameras would be accessed by DC’s Homeland Security employees as well as, possibly, employees of other agencies. By doing this, the Fenty administration will be violating the specific rules that were adopted by the council regarding MPD’s cameras. 2) More than three thousand of the cameras are in DCPS facilities. As you know, there is a great effort made to protect the privacy of children in the schools, and a volume of the municipal regulations addresses the school system. For example, in order for a news outlet to take a camera into a school, it has to get the permission, not only of the principal, but also of the chancellor. While school cameras are now used only by school personnel on an in-school basis, under this proposal students would be surveilled by Homeland Security employees away from school campuses, violating the privacy of school children. 3) The administration is implementing Phase 1 of the plan — the build-out at Homeland Security and the detailing of personnel to Homeland Security — now, but it is proceeding unilaterally, without any council approval of the initiative or any budget reprogramming. Indeed, the initiative first appears in the FY2009 budget on page C55 of volume 2. Essentially, the Fenty administration is illegally evading the council’s budget process and the need for council approval of the program, and daring the council to confront it.


Budget Suggestions
Linda Lynn,

Mitch Wander [themail, April 6] asked for suggestions about balancing the budget without taxes. I will be the first to say that I don’t consider the DDOT fees taxes, as the nineteen dollars, with a seven-dollar renewal, couldn’t have covered the processing of the permits for street occupancy and certainly provided no incentive for builders to get off the street. Read the Budget Support Act on the web site.

That being said, here is my list of things that could leave the mayor’s proposed budget without impacting city services. These start on page 66 of the Budget Support Act and are part of twenty-four million dollars in grants that have no requirements for what they are used — I would at least put a requirement for their use in. There is a ten million dollar grant to Ford’s Theater. Why the heck are we giving a grant to the Feds? Two hundred fifty thousand dollars for Fort Dupont Ice Arena, another Federal venue. Three hundred thousand dollars for the National Building Museum, but for no program in particular. One million for the Washington Ballet (down from five million last year), but not for any program in particular, although they do have programs in the schools and community.

I personally think that fourteen of this twenty-four million should be put into a grant fund for a competitive grant competition; there is one hundred thousand dollars in administrative expenses included. Many of these are worthy causes but are being given a competitive advantage, as other nonprofits have to go through a Request for Proposals process and monitoring of their spending. There is also another twenty-plus million in dedicated grants starting on page 28, billed as economic development projects. The tax that galls me is the .3 percent increase in registration fees for property sold for under four hundred thousand dollars (I cannot fined the line item at the moment).

One also needs to take a look at how much DCPS is really getting. It is stated that they are getting a thirty million dollar, increase but there are also numerous costs they have lost, while they have not lost the budget funds. For example, maintenance has been transferred to the new maintenance agency, but the money was kept in the DCPS budget. As of January 10, OCTO took over the IT functions for DCPS — a fifteen million-dollar function plus more than forty DCPS employees who were fired, yet only 2.5 million was transferred to OCTO. So the money available to DCPS has gone up at least twice the additional 30 million they are receiving in this budget. Executive salaries in the Mayor’s office have also gone up in the budget far more than the cost-of-living increases or performance awards would allow (assuming the performance award program had not been suspended).


Math Errors in DC FY09 Budget
Rob (I Hate Math) Fleming,

I’ve been looking over the FY09 Budget Request for the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration and I’m finding a lot of math errors — probably transcription errors and/or calculations based on earlier figures and not updated in the totals columns. Others might want to take a look at some other agencies and see if there are mistakes there, too.

For instance, in Table 40-PBB, they show a FY09 request of $47,515 and a FY08 appropriation of $45,048, and say this is an increase of $16. It’s actually an increase of about two and a half million bucks, because they list dollars in thousands.


Post Civil Rights
Villareal Johnson,

How do we, as younger people, become actively involve in the affairs of our community for an extended period of time for issues and causes that are dear to us? I ask this question because those of us who were born after the civil rights generation have to stake claim to our future eventually. Current situations, such as educating our children, school loans, job security, and affordable housing should warrant some type of action by us, right? I mean if we are to inherit a legacy and a future, we should at least begin to examine closely the true value of that legacy and our future.

As a student of history, I see that monumental accomplishments were achieved in all areas of social justice and equality for minorities. However, after forty years are those achievements still available to us? And if so, what do we need to do to ensure that they will be there for our children and their children? Just a random thought


Our Power Down
Lisa Swanson, Petworth DC,

“DC may be seen as a government town, but tourism is our industry.” Regarding our urge for tourists to create their own power trip: can we let all the tourists know that DC’s power doesn’t even reach all the way to a vote in Congress?


Mayor’s $2 Million Power Trip Campaign Benefits His Family’s Business
Paul D. Craney,

Mayor Adrian Fenty’s two million dollar “Power Trip” marketing campaign which is intended to promote tourism for the District has a subliminal message: shop at Fleet Feet Sports, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Phil and Jan Fenty. The ads include one with Mayor Adrian Fenty jogging in Rock Creek Park wearing a shirt with the logo “Fleet Feet Sports.”

Mayor Adrian Fenty announced the city will unleash its latest marketing campaign, a two-million-dollar branding effort with the theme, “Create Your Own Power Trip,” run by Destination DC, which gets 75 percent of its funding from the Hotel Occupancy Tax. The mayor’s lack of better judgment in promoting his family’s business with taxpayer funded ads is unethical and in bad taste. He should remove himself from all the ads to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

To view a copy of the ad, go to To view Fleet First Sports, go to

[There’s very little chance that the use of taxpayer dollars to promote the Fenty family’s business was inadvertent. As a comment on one of the blogs that covered this controversy pointed out, this is no candid photo. Fenty and the other runner cast no shadows, so they are either vampires or they and Fenty’s advertising T-shirt have been Photoshopped into the park background. — Gary Imhoff]


“Safe Homes” Searches
Charles Cureton,

Although I live in Clarksville, TN, this attempt to strip the citizens of one of their basic rights as provided for by and in the Constitution of the United States, could have a far more reaching consequence than one could imagine. It sounds to me as though these two persons have either lost their mind, are not knowledgeable of the Constitution and the amendments, the positions they hold have gone to their heads, or they want to be little dictators. Either way, they sound as though they need some serious professional help, or need to be removed from office. This is not Cuba, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq or any other country that is controlled by a dictator/madman. If this is what they want to do, they need to go to some country where it is allowed. This is the United States of America, a free country, and the likes of these two people are not needed, or wanted, and will not be tolerated by the citizens.


Do the Right Thing at Tenley
Ron Lefrancois, American University Park, nicmich at verizon dot net

Lest your many readers fall for the overheated rhetoric of the anti-everything crowd, please note that many Tenleytown-AU Park residents favor redevelopment of the now-demolished Friendship-Tenley Library as a mixed use building. It is apparent to me that a combined Janney School-Tenley Library project is too much for the community to swallow. A few close-minded folks have committed themselves to derailing a commonsense, long range plan for the entire Janney-Tenley campus, so it’s time to move on.

When this started years ago, many of us saw a modern library with a few floors of apartments above. Perhaps affordable apartments for teachers, cops, firefighters, seniors, or even a few neighbors who are clawing their way out of poverty. Parking garage under the adjacent Janney soccer field. Instead, we’ve been subjected to semisecret “special committee” meetings, half-baked redevelopment plans (exhibit A is the $3 million flushed away on the earlier Tenley library “plan”), and a degree of close-mindedness that is just sad.

Let the Janney experts fight out the school expansion battles [with all that “free, budgeted” money — as if our kids won’t pay that bill — while commonsense, transit-oriented development happens on the corner of Wisconsin and Albemarle. If private development of apartments above a new library is too much to bear, let the library/apartment building be completely city-owned. I’ll be at the front of the line to volunteer time to make it a success. I’m in a hurry for a new library too, but I am not in a hurry for a wasteful single-use building on top of a Metro station. Scrap the current proposals and focus on a class-A dual-use building on a prominent corner in our neighborhood.



Friends of Cleveland Park Book Sale, April 12-13
Jill Bogard, Jill_bogard at

The Friends of the Cleveland Park Library invite you to its annual spring book sale this Saturday and Sunday, April 12-13, from noon to 4:00 p.m. both days. Choose from thousands of books in all subjects at great prices, many in brand new condition. All proceeds benefit the Library. Cleveland Park Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW, at Macomb Street. Take Red Line to Cleveland Park, walk south one long block to Macomb Street.


Historical Society DC Emancipation Day Events, April 16
Karen Sallis,

Wednesday, April 16, 12:30 p.m. Musical performance for DC Emancipation Day: Freedom Blues. Blues man extraordinaire Michael Baytop performs traditional African American spirituals and early blues from the pre-slavery and post-slavery era. with the subject line: DC Emancipation or call 383-1828.

Wednesday, April 16, 1 p.m. Reenactment of Frederick Douglass’ 1883 DC Emancipation Speech. Frederick Douglass IV, a direct descendant of the legendary abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass, will reenact the speech Douglass gave in recognition of the twenty-third DC Emancipation. with the subject line DC Emancipation or call 383-1828.


Upcoming Talk for Change Toastmasters Meeting, April 16
Corey Jenkins Schaut,

Please join us this Wednesday, April 16 at 6:45 p.m. for our next meeting of Talk for Change Toastmasters. We meet at the Teach for America offices, located at 1413 K Street, NW, on the 7th floor. At Talk for Change, we believe in the power of education. By following the Toastmasters curriculum, we have an opportunity to continue to develop and improve our leadership and speaking skills in a safe environment. Many of us our former teachers and alumni of Teach for America. Many of us are making a difference in our community through work in the nonprofit sector. And many of us just value the opportunity to keep learning. We welcome anyone to join our friendly, fun-loving group.

Are you curious what Talk for Change can do for you? We welcome you to join us at an upcoming meeting to see what we are all about. We meet on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. As your improved communication skills become obvious within the workplace, increased visibility, recognition and promotion will follow. Your improved presentation skills will win you the respect and admiration of your colleagues and employees — and make them wonder what you did to change! Leadership skills acquired through participation in Toastmasters will increase your management potential. You will acquire an increased ability to motivate and persuade, making you more effective as a supervisor or manager. You’ll have access to a wide range of educational materials, including books, CDs, DVDs and seminar programs, available at reduced cost through the Toastmasters International Supply Catalog.

We look forward to welcoming you as our newest member! If you have questions, feel free to send us an E-mail at


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