Shutting Out Citizens
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,
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In response to my introduction to the April 20 issue of themail, Bill
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.”
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, borbely@FixOurSchools.net
So far, since April 2, more than 425 people and organizations have
signed an open letter to councilmembers (at http://DemocracyInEducation.net),
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
Lisa Raymond, vice president of the state Board of Education, wrote a
terrific letter last week (http://tinyurl.com/6kwxnv)
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
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 http://DemocracyInEducation.net.
Chicken Little and the Washington
Jack McKay, email@example.com
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” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/19/AR2008041901985.html).
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS
National Building Museum Events
Jazmine Zick, email@example.com
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
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 http://www.nbm.org.
Historical Society of Washington, DC, Events,
Karen Sallis, firstname.lastname@example.org
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. RSVP@historydc.org
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. RSVP@historydc.org
with the subject line Mind’s Eye or call 383-1828.
Poor People’s Campaign Photographs, April 30
Laura Jones, email@example.com
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 http://www.poorpeoplescampaign.us
The exhibition continues until July 11, Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-7:00
Jr. Olympic Skills Competition, May 10
Vanessa Brooks, firstname.lastname@example.org
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 http://www.jrolympicskills.com
or contact your local qualifying event host: Vanessa Brooks, SET POINT,
Inc., 581-0406, email@example.com.
CLASSIFIEDS — SERVICES
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
for a free telephone consultation. Our service is private and
CLASSIFIEDS — FOR SALE
Quirky U Street History on eBay
Paul Williams, email@example.com
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: http://tinyurl.com/4w7juk.
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 WashingtonHistory.com.
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