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May 13, 2009

Public Service

Dear Public Servants:

Last night, the DC Federation of Citizens Associations gave me an undeserved, or at least under deserved, “extraordinary public service” award. For that occasion I wrote brief remarks that I’ll repeat here.

“I don’t open a morning newspaper or turn on the evening television news — I wish I could stop that sentence right there, but let me start it again. I don’t open a newspaper or watch the news with an eager anticipation that I’ll find out something good that the DC city government will be doing for me. Instead, I approach the news dreading what I’ll find out the government will be doing to me, or my neighborhood, or the city as a whole. It will be pushing some developer’s plan to screw up another neighborhood, and it will be devoting millions or tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to fund those plans. It will be diverting public property to somebody’s private interests. It will be passing some bill to regulate our private lives so that we’ll live them in line with councilmembers’ personal preferences. That’s why news is so important; it’s citizens’ first line of defense. If we don’t know what they’re up to, we can’t defend ourselves against them.

“When Dorothy and I started in the mid-1990’s, we were looking for a better, more efficient way of distributing government information, and the Internet provided it. I had tried for a couple years to convince the DC government to start its own web site, and when it didn’t Dorothy and I started DCWatch to post city council bills, government reports, and so on. A few years later, opened, and a few years after that, with its large staff, it became a bigger repository of government documents than anything we could hope to maintain.

“We still post government documents that, for one reason or another, the DC government doesn’t want to become too public. But the more prominent mission of our web site became providing an outlet for citizen-generated news and opinion in our biweekly E-mail forum, That mission has become even more important now that almost all print news outlets are in financial trouble and are cutting back their local coverage; and now that local television news is mostly lifestyle reports, sports, and weather. How do we gather serious local political and community news, and how do we get it to the people?

“I think the second part of that question is already answered. The Internet is an inexpensive delivery method, almost free compared with printing or broadcasting, and it doesn’t have the space limitations of newspapers or the time limitations of television. In the future, news about serious subjects will be delivered by the Internet first, and papers and television stations will be supplements. But how will news be gathered for Internet news services? Big newspapers, with big advertising and subscription revenues, as well as big television stations with big advertising revenues, could afford big news gathering staffs, numerous reporters and several editors. But Internet sites have limited to no advertising revenue and limited to no chance of charging their readers subscription fees. (I’m very skeptical that newspapers’ dreams of walling off their web sites and charging fees to readers will lead to anything.)

“So who will support these large staffs of reporters and editors? I’m not sure that anyone will. Most travel agents have been replaced with travel booking web sites, and the few remaining travel agents handle only the most difficult itineraries. I suspect that in the future most newspapers will have only two or three reporters and editors devoted to gathering the local civic and political news that we are interested in, and the days when a newspaper like The Washington Post had fifty Metro reporters on staff are gone forever.

“If there are fewer professional reporters gathering and covering the news that we find necessary, who will replace them? We will. We, the people in this room and hundreds and thousands of people like us who are interested in the well-being of our city and the operations of our city government. We are already the sources for our local newspapers and broadcast stations. We try to convince reporters and their editors that they should cover the stories that are interesting and important to us. Occasionally, we succeed; more often we don’t. But in our local neighborhood listservs and in themail, we are able to act as reporters ourselves. We escape the filters of ‘news judgment’ that keeps a lot of important news out of our news outlets. We get to inform others directly, and in the end we all end up better informed.

“I thank you for this award, but I’m not the one who earned it. What you read in themail, the things you may have learned about from it, are the work of many people cooperating to invent another way of keeping each other in touch and informed. You deserve the credit. And if you don’t deserve the credit, if you haven’t contributed to themail yet, go home and write now. Send your messages about what’s going on in your neighborhood or in your area of interest to, and let the rest of us know about it.”

Gary Imhoff


Nomination, Take Two
Dorothy Brizill,

Last week (themail, May 6), I wrote that Omar Nour’s nomination to a seat on the DC Board of Elections and Ethics had been withdrawn by Mayor Fenty. That was accurate at the time, but it wasn’t complete. On April 30, the mayor did withdraw Nour’s original nomination, PR 18-118, which had been forwarded to the council on February 5. But on May 1, Fenty submitted a new nomination for Nour, PR 18-259, in order to restart the ninety-day time frame for the council’s approval of BOEE nominations. (Under the DC Code, if the council fails to approve a BOEE nominee within ninety days of the nomination’s being forwarded to the council, then the nomination is deemed disapproved.) That new nomination didn’t actually reach the council until sometime after May 6, and by yesterday, May 13, even the council’s Legislative Services Office wasn’t aware that it had been made and didn’t initially have a copy of it.

Councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of the Government Operations Committee, had scheduled a hearing on Nour’s original nomination for today, May 13. However, today’s hearing was removed from the council’s printed and online schedule because that nomination had been withdrawn, and was no longer before the council for consideration. Despite that, Councilmember Cheh decided to go ahead with today’s hearing as though it were a hearing on the new nomination. Because the original nomination had been withdrawn, the hearing had been withdrawn from the schedule, and the new nomination was kept quiet, only one of the scheduled witnesses, aside from Nour himself, actually appeared to testify. Nour presented his management of a telephone answering service company as a technology background that qualified him to resolve the BOEE’s problems, and he testified that he would advocate a significant staff restructuring of BOEE — showing that he shares the Fenty administration’s policy of blaming line staffers for management’s problems. Cheh did recess today’s hearing in order to give the public some advance notice of the confirmation hearing on the new nomination; it will resume on June 1.


Fun With DC Parking Tickets (continued)
Ralph Blessing,

Gabe Goldberg is not alone in getting shafted by overzealous DC parking enforcement ticket writers. Below is a message I had posted on themail a few months ago [December 31, 2008] describing the Orwellian experience that they had visited upon me last fall. Subsequently, about six months after my original appeal, I received a ludicrous letter from Adjudication Services claiming that I had not responded to the citation in a timely manner, even though I had done so not once but twice, initially appealing the citation itself and later in reaction to the bogus “statement of fact” mentioned below. I never received a response to my second appeal and, interestingly, I was not prevented from having my car inspected in the interim because of an outstanding ticket. But after six months they had worn me down; like Mr. Goldberg, I got tired of trying to use logic with an irrational bureaucracy and paid the frigging $25.

“I received the same B.S. explanation about special software as Paul Penniman did (Dec. 25 themail) when a recent mail appeal of mine was rejected by Adjudication Services. I was ticketed for ‘expired meter’ about 10 minutes after I had deposited 75 cents for 45 minutes worth of parking. I returned to the car a few minutes later and spotted the ticket even though there were still 22 minutes showing on the meter. In rejecting my appeal, DMV spouted out some boilerplate language claiming that I had cited a broken meter as the cause of my denying the violation; I hadn’t claimed that but did allude to the possibility of an overzealous, quota-seeking ticket writer. (Maybe that was my mistake.) I also suggested that if their “special software” does all it’s cranked up to do, they should be able to verify that the meter wasn’t expired when my ticket was written. In any case, I wrote a follow-up appeal pointing out the fallacy of their so-called Statement of Fact, but so far haven’t heard back.”


DC Neighborhood Libraries
Phil Shapiro,

Would you like to be more involved in your neighborhood library in DC? Some libraries are developing their own Wikipedia presences ( and some libraries have fan groups on Facebook. Search for Fans of (Your Neighborhood Library Name Here). And naturally, the Friends of the Library group is a very good way to be more involved in your local neighborhood library.


May InTowner Online
P.L. Wolff,

This is to advise that the May 2009 online 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.

Special Note: We have now introduced a new way for visitors to our web site to share their comments about our lead stories, the Scenes from the Past feature, and the Publisher’s Desk commentary simply by clicking the link at the bottom of each of those pages. The next issue will publish on June 12 (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) “18th and Columbia Road Plaza to Get Major Art Installed Next Winter — Finalist Selection Soon”; 2) “ABC Board Loosens Liquor Restrictions; Cuts Back Moratorium Renewal Period”; 3) “Mt. Vernon Triangle House Tour Features New Buildings.” See also, “Citizens Association Contested Election Leaves Leadership Uncertain Due to Tie,” posted in the Community News section.



Protest Fenty and His Developer Friends, May 14
Roger Newell,

City officials and developers are going to meet to celebrate the success of turning public buildings, including closed schools, over to for-profits firms! This Thursday, The DC Building Industry Association will present Mayor Adrian Fenty and other key officials with awards to honor their policies that favor rich developers but do little to serve the needs of low to moderate income District residents.

Join the People’s Property Campaign to confront Mayor Adrian Fenty and his cronies this Thursday! Thursday, May 14, 6:00 p.m., at Connecticut Avenue and T Street, NW. Award recipients will include Adrian Fenty, Mayor; Leila Edmonds, Director Department of Housing and Community Development; Neil Albert, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development, Harriet Tregoning, Director of the Office of Planning. Members of the DC Building Industry Association include Lowe Enterprises, joint recipient of nine acres of land located by the Fort Totten Metro, valued at $6 million, given away for only $500,000; The Argos Group, proposed recipient of two properties valued at $2 million, for only $260,000; Donatelli Development, the same company that received two parcels of land located on Georgia Avenue that are valued at over $1 million, for only $1; PN Hoffman, the recipient of sixteen acres of land on the SW Waterfront, for $1 a year for 99 years; and several more developers who are trying to turn DC public schools into condominiums.

Send Fenty and his developer friends the message that public property is not for sale; DC public schools are not for sale! RSVP to Empower DC, 234-9119;


Department of Parks and Recreation Events, May 16-18
John Stokes,

May 16, 23, 30, June 6, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Takoma Aquatic Center, 300 Van Buren Street, NW. Lifeguard Training Class, ages fifteen and up. Prepares the lifeguard candidate with the skills and knowledge necessary to respond to aquatics emergencies, including First Aid and CPR.

May 16, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, 1100 Michigan Avenue, NE. Kickoff for Turkey Thicket Obesity/Cardiovascular Health Initiative. Ages 21 and up. Ward 5 has the highest incidence of diabetes in the District. Over 12 percent of Ward 5 residents are known to have the disease, and as many as another 25 percent may be stricken and unaware. This kickoff is an individual introduction to the variety of physical activities designed to reduce the risk of diabetes and increase overall health awareness. For more information, contact Mark Williams, Site Manager, 576-9237.

May 16, 11:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Stead Recreation Center, 1625 P Street, NW. Sports day for ages thirteen and under. Youth will participate in basketball, soccer, golf, lacrosse, and rugby. The youth will also enjoy arts, crafts, and music. For more information, call Vincent E. Hill at 673-4465.

May 18, 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m., Kennedy Recreation Center, 1401 7th Street, NW. Mini-book Fair for Adults aged eighteen and up will include a variety of free books for giveaway. Books cover a variety of genres and are new and used. For more information, call Pamela Pugh, Site Manager, at 671-4794.


National Building Museum Events, May 16, 18
Jazmine Zick,

May 16, 2:00-4:00 p.m., Spring into Green. Explore the ideas in Green Community with fun, hands-on activities the whole family can enjoy! Experiment with the elements of land, energy, and water as you make your own water filtration system, build a green roof, and more. $10 per child, members; $15 per child, nonmembers. Ages six and up. All children must be accompanied by an adult.

May 18, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Smart Growth: Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being. Dr. Esther Sternberg, physician and author, discusses how our place in nature is of critical importance to our personal health and the environment. Book signing to follow. Free. No registration required.

May 18, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Spotlight on Design: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture. Adrian Smith, FAIA, RIBA, Gordon Gill, AIA, and Robert Forest, AIA, RIBA, OAA, LEED AP of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture present some of the firm’s sustainable projects, including the positive energy Masdar Headquarters. This program complements Green Community, which will be open prior to the lecture. $12 members; $12 students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


District to Hold Hearings on Aging Services, May 19, 27, June 5
Darlene Nowlin,

The Office on Aging will hold four public hearings to provide the public with an opportunity to express their views on the priority community needs for aging programs to be included in the proposed State Plan on Aging for 2010-2012. The District is required to submit a plan to the US Administration on Aging in order to receive federal funds under the Older Americans Act. Federal dollars fund crucial and essential services for District residents aged sixty and older.

May 19, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Ward 2 and 3, Guy Mason Recreation Center, 3600 Calvert Street, NW; May 27, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Wards 5 and 6, Greenleaf Recreation Center, 201 N Street, NW; June 5, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Wards 7 and 8, Washington Seniors Wellness Center, 3001 Alabama Avenue, SE.

Persons who are unable to attend the meetings will also have the opportunity to submit their comments through an online survey on the web site, A copy of the survey can also be obtained by calling the office, completed surveys may be returned by mail or in person. A draft of the proposed state plan will be available for review by Friday, May 22, on the web site, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, 901 G Street, NW, and at the Office on Aging Headquarters located at 441 Fourth Street, NW, Suite 900 South. A copy of the plan can also be requested by calling 727-8370.


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