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April 23, 2008

Shutting Out Citizens

Dear Shutouts:

Both Dorothy Brizill and Marc Borbely write below about the increasingly frequent and numerous ways in which the mayor, the city council, and city departments, agencies, and boards are attempting to cut off citizens’ access to basic governmental information and to reduce citizens’ opportunities to participate in or even comment on government actions. The charade of being “open and transparent,” while restricting information and access is particularly galling. When the DC Board of Elections and Ethics was asked by Councilmember Schwartz in its budget hearing yesterday why it needed a regulation that required citizens to sign up a week in advance and specify what they wanted to talk about if they wanted to speak at a Board meeting, the Board cynically replied that it was to “encourage public comment.”

If government officials are able to shut us out without our protest (and often without our knowledge), they will continue to shut us out, more often and in more ways. In his message, Marc suggests how to protest the effort to eliminate citizen input on the school system’s budget. If you want to comment on the new regulations proposed by the Board of Elections and Ethics (published in the DC Register of April 11, 2008,, under “Proposed Rulemaking”) you can send your comments (to arrive before the close of business on May 9) to Kenneth J. McGhie, General Counsel, DC Board of Elections and Ethics, 441 4th Street, NW, Suite 270N, Washington, DC 20001. I would recommend that you also send a copy of your comments to Councilmember Schwartz,

In response to my introduction to the April 20 issue of themail, Bill Potapchuk,, forwarded a correction that was published in the April 19 Washington Post: “Articles in the April 17 and 18 Metro sections incorrectly said that DC Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee plans to hire nonprofit organizations to help run 10 high schools. Rhee said she would hire nonprofits for some but not all of the 10 high schools.”

Gary Imhoff


Open and Transparent
Dorothy Brizill,

Even after more than twenty years as a civic activist, I try not to let my frustration with the District government turn me into a cynic. However, I have come to know that there are certain tripwires — a word, a phrase, or an action — that signal when the District government is being less than honest and forthright with its citizens. One such tripwire is when government officials tout how “open and transparent” they and the District government are.

Last Tuesday, April 15, the city council had an unscheduled legislative session. Although Chairman Vincent Gray had apparently decided during the previous week of April 6 to call an “additional” legislative session, the meeting was not listed on the council’s printed schedule, mailed April 11, and not listed on the online schedule on the council’s web site until very late on the evening of April 14, the day before the meeting. Although council rules require that councilmembers receiver twenty-four hours advance notice of any meeting, there is no requirement to notify the public in advance. When I raised this matter with Chairman Gray and noted that this council is increasingly holding committee and legislative meetings without notifying the public, he became defensive. He repeatedly chided me for bringing up the subject, and claimed that under his leadership the council is more “open and transparent” than it has ever been. Unfortunately for District citizens, Gray’s definition of ‘open and transparent” doesn’t extend to letting them know when the council will meet to consider or vote on matters that concern them.

Within the Fenty administration, the mayor also claims to have an “open and transparent” government. But try to get a government document, report, or basic information. More than three weeks ago, I contacted the public information officer at the DC Department of Health, LaShon Seastrunk, to get the resumes of two senior officials in the department. After a somewhat testy telephone conversation yesterday, I was told that my request for simple, basic information had to be reviewed by the City Administrator’s office and the mayor’s freedom of information officer. Later in the day, after three weeks had passed, Seastrunk indicated that a formal determination had been made that, “We are going to give you the biographical information you requested.”

Such false claims of being “open and transparent” also extend to the District’s boards and commissions, which conduct most of their business behind closed doors. Now some boards, such as the Board of Elections and Ethics, are trying to make public participation in their monthly meetings more difficult. In the April 11th edition of the DC Register, the BOEE has published a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend Section 102 of Volume 3 of the DC Municipal regulations regarding its meetings. After stating in Section 102.8 that, “The Board encourages comments on any issue under the jurisdiction of the Board at its regular meetings and will provide the public with a reasonable opportunity to appear before the Board and offer such comments,” it undermines that assurance with a proposed new regulation, Section 102.7, that provides that, “Any member of the public who wishes to comment regarding any agenda item or any issue under the jurisdiction of the Board must notify the Board of his or her request to do so no later than the close of business on the Monday before a Wednesday Board meeting in a writing which includes: (a) their name; (b) Their address; and (c) The specific matter they wish to bring before the Board.” It should be noted that the Board seldom has a meeting agenda until the morning of its Wednesday meeting, thus making it impossible, under the proposed new regulation, for a citizen to give adequate advance notice of an intent to comment on an agenda item.


Help Retain Transparency, Public Input in the DCPS Budget Process
Marc Borbely,

So far, since April 2, more than 425 people and organizations have signed an open letter to councilmembers (at,  urging them to reject the mayor’s “Public School Support Amendment Act of 2008.” The sole effects of the mayor’s proposed legislation would be 1) to eliminate the requirement that DCPS and the mayor hold school budget hearings; and 2) to eliminate the requirement that the mayor/Chancellor release a draft DCPS budget at least 30 days before submitting a budget to the council. The letter also asks the council to clarify that a DCPS budget must still describe proposed spending with the level of detail that had been required of the old Board of Education.

Lisa Raymond, vice president of the state Board of Education, wrote a terrific letter last week ( urging Councilmembers “to reach a compromise that balances the authority of the Chancellor with the rights of public school parents and other concerned residents to weigh in on this important process.” Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8B passed a strong resolution last week ( “in support of public input and transparency.” The Council will hold a hearing on Friday, and will vote May 13 and June 3.

If you believe that government decisions of major importance to all of us, such as setting the direction for and allocating funds among our public schools, will be better if they are made with the benefit of informed public input — if you believe that even the best politicians and administrators can benefit from allowing ordinary folks to be informed and to weigh in — please consider adding your name to the open letter, at


Chicken Little and the Washington Post
Jack McKay,

Doing its finest imitation of a small-town scandal sheet, the Post shouts that “Burglaries Have Surged 21 Percent,” and “burglaries [are] on the rise in the District” ( No doubt our suburban neighbors are convinced again that crime is “out of control” in the District.

But let’s take a closer look. The Post simply compared the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2007. It happens that District burglaries in the first quarter of 2007 dropped to the lowest value in the past four years, 24 percent below the average. Why? Who knows, maybe cold weather kept the burglars at home. But merely returning to normal levels, as they did, in the second quarter of 2007, would appear to be a “surge.” In fact, the burglary count for the first quarter of this year — the Post’s scary burglary “surge,” burglaries “on the rise” — is 6 percent below the four-year average. But the burglary rate “returning to average levels” doesn’t make for attention-grabbing headlines.


DCGOP Partners with DCVote
Paul D. Craney,

Today, the District of Columbia Republican Committee, Chairman Robert J. Kabel, DC Republican National Committeewoman Betsy W. Werronen, and DC Republican National Committeeman Anthony W. Parker agreed to serve as Coalition Partners with DC Vote.

“The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2007, sponsored by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Republican Congressman Tom Davis deserve full support by DC’s Republican Party and elected Party officials and I am proud to signal our support to DCVote for this overdue piece of Legislation,” stated Robert J. Kabel Chairman of the DC Republican Committee.

The DC Republican Committee is the first Republican State Party and Chairman Kabel, DC Republican National Committeewoman Werronen and DC Republican National Committeeman Parker are the first three Republican elected Party officials, to serve as Coalition Partners with DCVote.



National Building Museum Events
Jazmine Zick,

Saturday, April 26, 2:00-4:00 p.m. Playing with Perspective. Find the humor in your favorite building! Inspired by David Macaulay’s drawings, this program invites participants to create their own architectural tall tales while learning to look and draw from different perspectives. Free for members; $5 per family, nonmembers. Registration required. Ages 6 and up.

Tuesday, April 29, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Building for the 21st Century: Making the Business Case for Green Building. Gary Jay Saulson, director of corporate real estate for PNC Financial Services Group, discusses PNC’s efforts to create environmentally-friendly branch offices. Free. Registration not required. Building for the 21st Century is sponsored by the US Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Tuesday, April 29, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Spotlight on Design: Mario Botta. The buildings of Swiss architect Mario Botta emphasize craftsmanship and geometric order. Through an interpreter, he will discuss his more than thirty-year career designing buildings. $12 members; $12 students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


Historical Society of Washington, DC, Events, April 29-30
Karen Sallis,

Tuesday, April 29, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Lecture series: FIRE! A Poetic Overview of 1968. Curator Reuben Jackson will lead a reading and discussion of some of the 60s most arresting and influential poets whose voices reflected the civil and social unrest that would forever change the sociopolitical landscape of the United States. with the subject line Fire or call 383-1828.

Wednesday, April 30, 6:30-8:00 p.m. HSW Wednesday series. Thomas G. West is the author of the award-winning book, In the Mind’s Eye— Visual Thinkers, Gifted People with Dyslexia and Other Learning Difficulties, Computer Images and the Ironies of Creativity. Book signing to follow talk by author. with the subject line Mind’s Eye or call 383-1828.


Poor People’s Campaign Photographs, April 30
Laura Jones,

Laura Jones invites you to a evening to gather, enjoy, reflect, and view her photographs of the Poor People’s Campaign, 1968. Opening Wednesday, April 30, 6:00-9:00 p.m., at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, 1201 17th Street, NW. Nearest Metro: Farragut North. For more information, call the Sumner Museum, 442-6060; Laura Jones, 416-461-5667; or Jean Jones, 703-671-9199; or go to and The exhibition continues until July 11, Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.


Jr. Olympic Skills Competition, May 10
Vanessa Brooks,

Local youth between the ages of eight and thirteen have the opportunity to participate in the Jr. Olympic Skills Competition. This free grassroots youth participation program allows boys and girls, competing separately, the opportunity to showcase their athletic abilities in tennis. The program is designed to encourage youth participation in sport while promoting sportsmanship. Youth with disabilities are welcome to participate.

The tennis portion of the Jr. Olympic Skills Competition will be hosted by SET POINT, Inc., on May 10, at 10:00 a.m. at Turkey Thicket, 1100 Michigan Avenue, NE. Participants may register the day of the event. Please bring proof of age. Champions from local qualifying events will advance to one of the regional competitions across the country in hopes of advancing to the National Finals.

For more information, go to or contact your local qualifying event host: Vanessa Brooks, SET POINT, Inc., 581-0406,



ShipShape Organizing
Andrea Sexton,

If you’ve been using TV trays since 2001 because you can’t find the table and you hyperventilate when friends hint about visiting . . . if your file folders are bulging with bills, letters, and manuscripts and you can’t decide what to keep and what to junk, don’t despair. I will bring order to your chaos. No mess too embarrassing! Reasonable fees. Paperwork a specialty. Special rates for seniors and nonprofits. Call ShipShape at 240-606-4400 or E-mail for a free telephone consultation. Our service is private and confidential.



Quirky U Street History on eBay
Paul Williams,

On eBay this week are the large letters from the old Egber’s Liquor on the southeast corner of U and 12th Streets, NW. I’m guessing the letters date from the 1940s. (It is now the Ethiopian restaurant.)

In the early 90s, I salvaged the large, two-foot tin letters that spelled “Egber’s” before the building was demolished, and I repaired, repainted, and rearranged them to spell “Beer’s” for the wall of my old loft (I gave away the “G”). Well, the loft is no more, so its time to return these fun letters to a new U Street or DC loft! I think I could even find an old pic of the liquor store if the buyer is interested. Here is a link to the letter S, where you’ll find the other letters:

PS: due to the positive response, I’m glad to announce a $450 summer rate for a standard house history for historic homeowners in DC. We’ve recently done really interesting research in various neighborhoods that revealed quite surprising history! For more information, go to


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