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December 14, 2008

Filing Complaints

Dear Filers:

In the last issue of themail, we wrote about DC Fire Chief Dennis Rubin’s ordering fire recruits to serve as waiters at Councilmember Jim Graham’s birthday party last August and his Christmas party scheduled for this Monday afternoon. We wrote that we were going to file a complaint with the Office of Campaign Finance over how this violated the District’s Personnel Manual. We haven’t filed that complaint yet because we wanted to look into some contradictions and get all the facts straight before we filed.

For example, we found that Rubin actually assigned fire department personnel to act as servants at three, not two, Graham parties. The first was Graham’s Christmas party last year, December 17, 2007. Photographs of that party are posted on Graham’s web site,, and photographs of the August birthday party are at The second contradiction was that Councilmember Graham categorically told DC Examiner columnist Jonetta Rose Barras that Rubin had offered the cadets and recruits on his own, and that Graham never requested them (Jonetta Rose Barras, “Craziness in DC,” We wanted to locate the E-mails from Calvin Woodland, Graham’s Deputy Chief of Staff, making the request for the August birthday party and the E-mails from Myra Logan, Graham’s Special Assistant for Scheduling, making the request for this year’s Christmas party. The third contradiction is that the fire department claimed that the party servants were all volunteers, so we wanted to find the E-mails from Chief Rubin ordering his subordinates to assign the workers. We’re about ready to file with OCF now, but we still want to find out how these three parties were financed — Graham’s campaign finance and constituent services fund reported no payments for anything related to these parties and no contributions to pay for them. Perhaps Graham paid for the parties entirely out of his own pocket. If you believe that. . . .

How can DC Public Schools save money on special education? For decades, the city has spent a lot of money sending special education students to private schools because it can’t provide adequate and appropriate education in its own facilities. DCPS fights hard to save money by denying special education students these opportunities, but active and knowledgeable special education lawyers have frustrated the effort to economize on the backs of special education students. Now Attorney General Peter Nickles has taken a more drastic step; he is threatening lawyers for special education students, and letting them know that if they represent their clients too zealously the city will sue them. Bill Turque reported that Nickles filed a suit against attorney John A. Straus for pursuing a due process hearing for his client, Nickles generalized the threat, Turque noted: “Nickles said he intended to make more aggressive use of the law to discourage the high number of due-process filings against the District.” In the City Blog, Jason Cherkis has written a thoughtful and strong analysis of what has been wrong with the school system’s evaluations and hearings for many years, why parents must have lawyers to represent their childrens’ interests, and why Nickles’ war against the special education bar is an effort to deny parents and students their rights, It seems that the Attorney General’s effort to intimidate lawyers and to prevent them from representing their clients to the best of their ability is something that the DC Office of Bar Counsel should look into. Shouldn’t Nickles be disciplined, or at least admonished, for using his office to threaten lawyers and discourage them from representing the most vulnerable students in DC schools? Can any lawyers out there let me know if this is something the Bar Counsel can look into on its own, or does an attorney who is threatened by Nickles’ attempt to cripple the special education bar have to file a complaint first? Shouldn’t the federal Department of Education investigate Nickles’ threat as an attempt to deny legal rights to special education students?

Gary Imhoff and Dorothy Brizill and


Collaborative Planning For Student Success
Candi Peterson,

With support from Mayor Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee is moving onto Plan B, seeking federal emergency legislation to empower the city to bypass collective bargaining and expand nonunion charter schools. The alternative plan consists of a newly-devised teacher evaluation, abolition of teachers’ jobs, and the resurrection of a poorly enforced provision in the current contract allowing administrators to give teachers ninety school days to improve or face dismissal — all objectives of her stalled contract proposal. Parts of the proposed Plan B have already gone into effect. Teachers and administrators report that the city is requiring DC principals to place a quota of teachers on ninety-day plans. Teachers are monitored by their school administrator; if funds are available, a helping teacher is assigned during the evaluation period after which an administrator can recommend termination. This is the first time in years that principals are being told to observe teachers en masse and make decisions on teacher termination by December 5. Principals report being instructed to lie in their “teacher observations” about what is taking place during a structured lesson. One principal at Patterson elementary school resigned in opposition to these unethical practices.

What has been most disappointing for the quota of teachers placed on ninety-day plans is that the school system is still failing miserably to provide many of the promised outside interventions to assist in executing teacher improvement. There is still a lack of helping teachers from the central office and appropriate professional development; local school resources are wholly inadequate and come too little, too late, or never at all. “The Chancellor’s one-dimensional approach to school improvement, simply firing employees, is not working and has created an environment of advantage taking,” said Nathan A. Saunders, WTU General Vice President. The Chancellor’s top-down management style is creating a situation where many teachers — young and old — will be fired. Many of us do not believe that this approach will lead to better teaching. It seems encouraging to many DC teachers that American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten, who recently spoke before a group of union leaders and education policy makers, stated that no educational reform issues should be off the table as long as they are both good for students and fair to teachers. Among the recommendations made by Weingarten include the use of experienced teachers sharing their skills and mentoring teachers experiencing problems and peer review, utilizing some aspects of merit pay in which teachers could earn extra pay when their schools excel, and systemic support for teacher’s professional development and enhanced working conditions.

DC teachers will be working closely with the American Federation of Teachers to design workable solutions to support student instruction and successful teaching, and to provide economic security for its members. We are looking to engage interested parents and community members in a collaborative effort to improve our public schools. If interested, please E-mail your contact information to


They Make It . . .
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

. . . and you bake it. That’s the modus operandi of the new Homemade Pizza store that just opened in the Spring Valley Shopping Center. They make the pizza, you pick it up, take it home and bake it for about fifteen minutes. Place was very busy this Saturday afternoon with seven folks making pizzas and lots of customers waiting for their order. I’ve eaten pizzas in more than forty countries, including many in Italy. I’d rate the pizza from Homemade as one of the very best I’ve eaten. Great ingredients and marvelous crust. Not inexpensive but a real treat.


The Best Christmas Gifts Might Be Free
Phil Shapiro,

My parents taught me that not everything that is valuable costs money. This Christmas, look around to locate gifts that cost no money. My favorite no-cost gift this year is Google SketchUp, the playful and easy-to-use 3D drawing program. SketchUp works well on any Macintosh or Windows computer from about 2003 onwards. If you don’t own a computer that can run SketchUp, get yourself over to a friend who does have such a computer. And if you’d like to try using SketchUp with kids, there are no better books on the topic than those by DC-author Bonnie Roskes. I recently wrote a review of her books. See

The screencasts linked to in this book review tell far more about the books than the review itself. These screencasts may be downloaded and distributed for free via USB Flash drives, CD-ROM’s, etc. My parents were correct: The best things in life are free. Don’t you ever believe otherwise.


Fourteen Days and Counting
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Despite repeated calls by myself and neighbors to the Department of Public Works via the mayor’s line about the lack of pickup of recyclables since December 1 along Massachusetts Avenue in American University Park/Spring Valley all we have to show for it is a set of case numbers. We have enough case numbers to play the lottery for a year or more. In the meantime the recyclables continue to pile up, far overfilling the little blue recyclable cans. They did suck up the leaves I raked to the median, however. Hey, the DPW is batting 500.


Partying with Graham
Cat Taylor,

Graham’s abuse of young firemen by using them as personal party servants, and Chief Rubin’s willingness to let him have them, is a disgusting display of two politicians (yes, Rubin is a politician) who are self-serving and arrogantly pompous. Where does this behavior stop? Do Councilmembers Catania, Mendelson, and Barry have these kids scheduled next? How about Thomas, Wells, and the rest? I’d sure like them to serve at my next party. I pay taxes; how do I arrange that? If the other councilmembers are aware of what is going on they should put pressure on Graham to stop and to pay back the taxpayers with his own money for services rendered at last year’s holiday party and for his birthday party in August. He has a large constituent services fund, doesn’t he? When one DC agency uses the services of another DC agency. isn’t there a reimbursement for the time and costs? Of course there is, and Graham should not be the exception; he should be forced to pay for the salaries and benefits of every cadet, recruit, and officer who took time to “service him and his community!” This city is subject to the same economic woes as everyone else and for those two public officials to think it is okay to have taxpayer-paid public servants working as their taxpayer-paid private servants, is enough to warrant complete investigations of their actions. Where is the mayor? Where is the Washington Post? Too busy covering up for the city? Where is the Washington Times? They have dropped the ball on what used to be excellent coverage on city issues. Thank goodness for the DC Examiner and their steadfast pursuit of DC corruption such as this!

I heard Councilmember Graham say on WMAL that these cadets were “volunteers” and that he never asked for them to serve at his parties, but that the services were offered by Chief Rubin. Then today I read that Graham claimed the same thing in an interview with Jonetta Rose Barras in the DC Examiner. Mr. Graham, you should be ashamed of yourself for telling such bold-faced lies! I have heard from reliable sources that you did request the services of those young men and that the fire chief was only too happy to oblige, in fact honored. And I spoke to one of the “volunteers,” and they were not volunteers at all; the chief ordered them to go. This is a big deal! If it were not, it would not have been picked up by and Judicial Watch and dozens of other web sites, some local but some national. I hope they get to the bottom of this, and you and Chief Rubin are made to pay us back before he is fired and you are voted out!


Jim Graham
Nancy A. da Kay,

What’s new and different concerning the low life behavior of Jim Graham? The people of his Ward must like being treated in this manner, because they have chosen to reelect him as their Councilman for years. Based upon my lay opinion, Mr. Graham does not walk his talk; and, more importantly, he does not act, as a civil servant of the public, to protect and honor the dignity and value of the individuals within the community that has given him the privilege of leading and serving them and their interests. If you choose to sleep with a dog, you get fleas.


Fire Cadets Serving at Private Parties
Jennifer Ellingston,

I remember when Marion Barry was mayor, we often said that “to qualify for an appointment in Barry’s administration, you had to have a criminal record” (just not violent crime). I guess the moral integrity of our DC government is still the same. The difference now is that the wave of financial mismanagement and misuse has curved over and is rolling in to shore, washing all before it.


Write-In Votes Should Be Counted
Qawi Robinson,

Mr. Orvetti [themail, December 10] is correct. All votes should be counted; anything less is voter disenfranchisement. DC’s right to vote (23rd Constitutional Amendment) implies that your vote will be counted. Political party majorities aside, the DC Board of Elections and Ethics should not shortcut the process on the basis of cost or of what seems feasible. As a recent Democrat convert (thanks to the 2007 Ward 7 Special Election), I registered several protest votes over the years for candidates who had no chance at winning. Others have as well. Whether your candidate’s choice is “Mickey Mouse,” “Donald Duck,” or “Marion Barry,” your write-in selection should not be abridged or discarded. Undercounting or not counting write-ins by BOEE proved to be a problem in the September 2008 primary. Adding to that, even with Carol Schwartz’s failed attempt at reelection as a write-in candidate, every permutation of misspelling of her name should be counted too. If it takes two and half weeks to count the ANC results, the write in votes should be counted as well. It’s the least that can be done to certify the election results.


The InTowner December Issue
P.L. Wolfe,

This is to advise that the December 2008 on-line edition has been uploaded and may be accessed at Included are the lead stories, community news items and crime reports, editorials (including prior months’ archived), restaurant reviews (prior months’ also archived), and the text from the ever-popular “Scenes from the Past” feature (the accompanying images can be seen in the archived PDF version). The complete issue (along with prior issues back to January 2002) also is available in PDF file format directly from our home page at no charge simply by clicking the link in the Current and Back Issues Archive. Here you will be able to view the entire issue as it appears in print, including all photos and advertisements.

The next issue will publish on January 9 (the second Friday of the month, as always). The complete PDF version will be posted by the preceding night or early that Friday morning at the latest, following which the text of the lead stories, community news, and selected features will be uploaded shortly thereafter.

To read this month’s lead stories, simply click the link on the home page to the following headlines: 1) “Recent Church Re-Use and Raze Hearings Reveal Growing Public Disillusion With DC’s Historic Preservation Laws”; 2) “Once Scary Girard Street Block Now Shines; Rehabbed Playground Seen as Key.” We also call attention to a new on-line feature linked from our home page by clicking the button labeled “Special Online Content.” It is here that we will from time-to-time post articles or other matter of interest too lengthy for inclusion in the print edition. To inaugurate this feature we have posted an article by a longtime iron work expert who specializes in restoring historic staircases, titled “When Does My Cast Iron Staircase Need Attention? Always!”



From My Altitude (Desde mi altura), December 17
George Williams,

Antonio Guerrero, along with four other Cuban citizens, was imprisoned by the US government under allegations of conspiracy to espionage. Guerrero’s paintings are lyrical reflections of his longing and nostalgia for Cuba. Conceived in total isolation, the paintings consist of scenes drawn from memory — portraits of his lover, the prisoners’ mothers, Che Guevara, Fidel, familiar landscapes — all of which seem far removed from the daily struggle of prison life. In his quiet contemplation of the everyday and the ordinary, Guerrero’s naturalistic paintings speak volumes about his uncommon dignity, patience, and courage.

An exhibit showcasing the artwork and poetry of Guerrero will be held at Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 2nd Floor West Hall, 901 G Street, NW., Through January 2, 2009. A poetry reading and musical performance related to the exhibition will be held on December 17. For further information, please call 727-1183.


Historical Society of Washington, DC, December 20
Ed Bruske,

Saturday, December 20, 12:30-2:00 p.m., Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW. Free admission. Workshop: Everything You Need to Know to Celebrate Kwanzaa. In this workshop, you will learn the history of Kwanzaa and its creator; the purpose for celebrating Kwanzaa; and the items needed to celebrate Kwanzaa and to create a Kwanzaa altar. Visual artist Dietra Montague will guide you through this process. Dietra has designed and created altars for the Smithsonian Institution for over two decades. Ages ten to adults. or 383-1828.

Saturday, December 20, 2:30-3:30 p.m., Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW. Free admission. Sacred Music Series featuring Buddhist voices, SGI-USA New Century Chorus, “Songs in Appreciation of Humanity.” The music of the SGI-USA New Century Chorus reflects the underlying mission of its parent organization, the Soka Gakkai International, in creating value and promoting world peace. The musical presentations of the chorus demonstrate its commitment to respect and appreciation for humanity and all life. It is through the music that they seek to touch the hearts of humankind, highlighting peoples’ interconnectedness and shared humanity. The SGI-USA New Century Chorus is composed of members of the Soka Gakkai International in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. The SGA is a lay American Buddhist organization. The group has performed at DAR Constitution Hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, The Kennedy Center, the Hospital for Sick Children, and others. Mollene Fowlkes, the musical director, has written many of its selections. or 383-1828.



Fire Verizon and Make Money Doing It
Leo Alexander, Whittier Place, NW,

If you are interested in saving money on products that you already use, like your home phone service, local and long distance calling plans, cell phones, Internet provider, satellite TV, and home security service, then go to

For those of you who are interested in owning your own business, this could be the opportunity you have been waiting for . . . marketing the New 5 Linx Video Phone. Now you can literally see the person you’re talking to. If you would like to see a presentation of this video phone technology, call 276-0083 to reserve a seat and get the address of the meeting in the District of Columbia this Wednesday, December 17, at 7:00 p.m.


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