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November 22, 2009

Damage Control

Dear Controllers:

For several Thanksgivings when I was young, my mother and one of her sisters cooked a joint Thanksgiving day dinner for their extended family. What this meant in practice was too much food, because each sister insisted on making her preferred recipe for traditional dishes. My mother thought dressing had to include raisins, pecans, and pork sausage; my aunt thought it should have oysters. My aunt thought any dinner had to include a green salad; my mother thought Thanksgiving called for a Waldorf salad instead. My mother believed there was no substitute for real butter; my aunt preferred margarine. There were similar disagreements about nearly every course: potatoes or sweet potatoes, green bean casserole or roasted Brussels sprouts, pumpkin pie or pecan pie. What this taught me was that family harmony was an overrated virtue. Family disagreements could result in a much richer feast. That’s what makes themail tasty, too. You don’t have to agree with me or each other about everything; you can be wrong and still be a member in good standing of themail’s family.

Michelle Rhee did damage control for her fiancee, Kevin Johnson, when she was a board member of the charter school he founded in Sacramento and he was accused of improper sexual behavior with a student, according to a congressional staff report issued Friday ( The story was broken in the Washington market by Byron York in the Washington Examiner (, with detailed follow-up stories by David Lipscomb in the Washington Times (, Mike DeBonis in CityDesk (, and Bill Turque in DC Wire ( Rhee’s only response so far has been through a DCPS spokeswoman, who essentially dismissed the story as old news. It’s not old news to me, and I assume it’s not an old story to most people in Washington. It’s a serious allegation, against both Rhee and Johnson, that deserves a real response. Parenthetically, it’s also a big enough story that it should have appeared by now in the print edition of the Washington Post, and not just on its web site — unless the Post is deliberately intending to position its web site as the primary news source, and downgrade the importance of the newspaper itself.

I’ve received more complaints about messages that were sent to themail but not published. I’ve never received these messages, and it’s a mystery what’s happening to them. No, they’re not in my E-mail trash folder. I never check the trash folder because I get over ten thousand trash E-mails a day (that’s neither a typographical error nor an exaggeration), but I’ve searched it for the names of the senders of the errant E-mails, and I haven’t found them. Let me repeat what I wrote before: E-mail isn’t perfect, so if your message to themail isn’t printed, and I haven’t written you to explain why, send it again.

Gary Imhoff


The Peoples’ Counsel Belongs to the Consumers
Dorothy Brizill,

As I noted in the last issue of themail, on Friday the Council Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs held a confirmation hearing on Vicky Beasley’s nomination to be the Peoples’ Counsel. Despite the short public notice (less than 48 hours), more than thirty witnesses testified. Testifying in support of Beasley were her colleagues at the law form of Patton Boggs, fellow Columbia University Law School alumni, a member of her church, and representatives of nonprofit organizations with whom she has worked. Surprisingly, few of those who testified on Beasley’s behalf were DC residents, and few of them had any knowledge of the work of the Peoples’ Counsel. Opposing Beasley, on the other hand, were the DC Consumer Utility Board, the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, the Tenant Action Network, Brian Lederer (a former Peoples’ Counsel himself), and several ANC commissioners and civic leaders.

In his written testimony, Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, noted: “In addition to Ms. Beasley’s being unqualified for the position, we want to go on record opposing the process by which Mayor Fenty has opted to select the nominee. Every mayor since the Honorable Walter E. Washington has consulted with community stakeholders and with the Consumer Utility Board (CUB) prior to making any recommendations concerning the nomination and the filling of this office. Unfortunately, Mayor Fenty has not seen fit to follow this tradition. This flawed and insular process followed by Mayor Fenty has resulted in the forwarding of a name of an individual who is unqualified for this position. The Peoples’ Counsel belongs to the consumers and not to the Mayor.”


Committee Mark-Up of Peoples’ Counsel Nomination, November 24
Herbert Harris, Jr., Chairman, Consumer Utility Board,

On Tuesday, November 24, at 2:00 p.m., the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs will hold a mark-up session on the nomination of Vicky Beasley for the Office of People’s Counsel. This nomination is on the fast track because Mayor Fenty withheld the nomination intentionally to create an emergency, forcing the city council to approve the nomination. Mayor Fenty wants to replace the best consumer advocate in the United States with a nominee with no litigation or regulatory experience during a time when Pepco is requesting a $51 million dollar rate increase. The Consumer Utility Board is drawing the line on this nomination. Join us!

We need friends, neighbors, civic leaders, and ANC commissioners to call and E-mail the members of the committee and encourage them to vote no against this nomination. A no vote is a vote for the work of the Office of the Peoples’ Counsel. The goal is to flood the Committee members with five thousand E-mails or calls from DC consumers before the mark-up session. Please forward this to community listservs, friends, and neighbors. I also encourage you to reach out to contacts in the media. I will make myself available for any media inquiries. The members of the Committee on Public Service and Consumer Affairs are Chairperson Muriel Bowser, Ward 4,, 724-8052; Councilmember Mary Cheh, Ward 3,, 724-8062; Councilmember Michael Brown, At Large,, 724-8105; Councilmember Jim Graham, Ward 1,, 724-8181; Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., Ward 5,, 724-8028.

We must let the city council and Mayor Fenty know that the Office of the People’s Counsel belongs to the people. We must protect the work of the Office of the People’s Counsel to ensure consumers have a strong independent advocate. Please blind copy me on any E-mails. Thank you for all your support.


Squalor and Squander in DC This Thanksgiving?
David J. Mallof, Dupont Circle,

[An open letter to Chief Financial Officer Dr. Natwar Gandhi] At this Thanksgiving time, it was striking to see the big photograph in today’s Washington Post business section of dozens of poor and homeless huddled in line at a meal wagon at what appears to be vacant lot at 5th and K Streets, NW (, photograph 18). The stark poverty in the immediate shadow of gleaming new condos and a new Safeway sign hovering overhead was poignant enough. But this was just a few blocks away from the Verizon Center which just recently received a $50 million near-secret gift of public funding turned my stomach.

In late December 2007, the Verizon Center management received a cool fifty million dollars in public grant funding to improve its private property. That’s about one hundred dollars from every man, woman, and child walking the streets in DC, and even more when you calculate the gift based on a per household or per taxpaying household basis. As required by the granting DC law, in order for your combined public bond financing and precious special luxury excise taxation scheme to happen for purely private profit, an official Project Plan had to have been approved first by the mayor before closing. I helped make certain that that clause was included by the Council in approving the deal. Over the last twenty-two months, your Office of the Chief Financial Officer has repeatedly refused to disclose the approved plan on how public money would be spent. At this point, I don’t think the required plan ever was seen or approved by the mayor. Please advise on this point, sir. The latest, second Freedom of Information appeal denial offered by the DC government includes the unbelievable excuse that the government signed a nondisclosure agreement with Verizon management, and also that for competitive reasons the use of the money cannot be disclosed. Did you authorize that deal point? How on Earth can municipal public money ever be given for secret, undisclosed purposes, and what real competition does Verizon Center face? I believe this is the possible face of governance evil in our home town, actively at work.

In light of the fact that the required Approved Project Plan was likely never submitted and approved, you must notify the mayor and the council that the deal was never legally consummated. It is thereby annulled, and is thus void in toto. The $50 million must be returned so that it can be appropriated for myriad other public, social uses. If I am wrong, then the approved plan (with authorizing signature or signatures, please) must be disclosed as soon as possible by your office, and the use of public funds to date revealed. Or do we live in an evil Land of Oz, where poor and homeless at Thanksgiving seek a crumb and a pittance, yet other elites reap tens of millions of public funds for undisclosed purposes, as a gift. While we’re at it, please notify the councilmembers they must return the free skybox tickets they received as a cynical quid pro quo just before your office closed the deal. DC already had an elite skybox. Accepting the second one just before the cool $50 million was dumped by your OCFO onto center court is effectively blood money at this historic Thanksgiving.


Mary Beatty, ANC6A Commissioner,

There’s a case of NIMBY going on in Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A that is pretty astounding. At last month’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting, impassioned arguments were made by commissioners to “vigorously” stand up to the foe. A community member declared that she had been working for four years to prevent this adversary from coming into her neighborhood. A legal defense was even mounted to prevent disturbance to this Lincoln Park neighborhood. What was the source of all this concern? A halfway house? A new liquor store? A homeless shelter?

No. The adversaries are three and four-year-olds! ANC 6A took a 4-2-1 vote last week to reinstate its longstanding opposition to the siting of a charter preschool to be located among residences in a gentrified neighborhood in the Capitol Hill area. While almost all commissioners stated that they are in favor of charter schools, four of these voted to oppose the school. Why? Because of its location amidst expensive homes. One cited the hardship to residents of setting aside a couple of restricted parking spaces for about two hours a day to drop off and pick up children. There were findings presented that declared that traffic congestion and blockage would occur if the school is successful in locating in the neighborhood. (Aren’t findings normally based on facts, not conjecture?) Back to the point, these commissioners say that their opposition is based on parking and traffic problems for this single block of residents. But is it really? This gentrified neighborhood seems very determined to keep these children out of their neighborhood. And since they seem to believe that the majority of the children will be delivered by car, they must believe that are coming from outside the neighborhood, maybe from an ungentrified area.

I am one of two commissioners who voted against the resolution. For many years, I went along with the notion that the neighborhood concerns of traffic, noise, etc., were valid. But seeing how schools in similar neighborhoods manage these issues and exist in harmony, I spoke and voted against it this time. I voted against it because I believe in providing options for parents, because I believe that a little inconvenience for a few residents does not outweigh the potential benefits to students, and because I don’t believe that the neighborhood has anything to fear from preschoolers, even if they don’t live in the neighborhood.


Collyers in Our Midst
Janet Taylor,

“A Collyer in Our Midst” was a post this summer [Ed Barron, themail, July 1]. I have always had issues with this house as I had relative die in a house fire because of too much “stuff.”. I have vacillated about whether or not to call the city because I knew that this house was a disaster waiting to happen. My neighbors cautioned me not to get involved. I regret not calling that in. The house is going to be leveled due to the fire and from what I have been told, there was so much stuff, it was only a matter of time.

Lets all be aware of the Collyers and the hoarders in our midst. It could be the next house fire.


You Are the World’s Greatest Cynic
Wallace Gordon Dickson, Ward One,

I read themail all the time and find myself in disagreement with you on some issues, but this one takes the cake! I have never read a more cynical piece of commentary than your first paragraph on government regulations!

You demonize all regulations, when it seems obvious that one of the reasons we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is so that regulations can be formulated and enacted to make this a more livable community for all of us. Why can’t you just quibble with the specific regulation that is being proposed, which is now being debated, I hope civilly, by those who care to appear before the legislative body considering it. Why is it necessary to indict all government regulations, some of which are necessary and well reasoned? You seem to find it aggrandizing to lump all government actions into one big evil indictment — which I contend weakens your central argument against this one bill of Mary Cheh’s (which may well be ill-considered, but is not final yet until all voices are heard).



Department of Parks and Recreation Events, November 25-26
John Stokes,

November 25, 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., DC Center for Therapeutic Recreation Center, 3030 G Street, SE.

“No Turkey for Thanksgiving” Play for all ages. TR Players will perform a short skit, “No Turkey for Thanksgiving.” For more information, call Rita Robinson, Recreation Therapist, at 698-1794.

November 25, 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Ferebee Hope Recreation Center, 3999 8th Street, SE. Thanksgiving Basket Giveaway for all ages. Supreme Teens will put together Thanksgiving Baskets for needy families. For more information, call Greg Poag at 645-3917.

November 25, 5:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Rosedale Recreation Center at the old Gibbs Elementary School, 500 19th Street, NE. Thanksgiving Dinner for all ages. Children of all ages will enjoy a Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the Rosedale staff. Brian Williams, Site Manager, 213-5649.

November 25, 5:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m., Palisades Community Center, 5200 Sherrier Place, NW. Young Ladies on the Rise: Thanksgiving Poem Day and Potluck for ages six through eighteen. Young Ladies on the Rise participants will create Thanksgiving Poems to share at potluck. For more information, call Paula Nolan at 282-2186.

November 26, 7:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., Ft. Davis Recreation Center, 1400 41st Street, SE. Ft. Davis Teen Club, 11th Annual Feed the Homeless for ages thirteen through eighteen. Teens and parents will feed the homeless in the city. For more information, call 645-9212.


National Building Museum Events, December 1
Johanna Weber,

December 1, 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Book of the Month: Snowflake Bentley. Join us in the Building Zone for a reading of Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley and learn how to make your very own symmetrical snowflake. Readings at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Free; drop-in program. Recommended for ages 3 to 5.

December 1, 3:00-5:00 p.m., Smart Growth: 2009 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. The EPA presents the 2009 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, which recognizes communities using principles of smart growth to create better places. The ceremony includes a panel discussion with experts from each community. Free; registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

December 1, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Spotlight on Design: David Jameson. Hear David Jameson, FAIA, an Alexandria, Virginia, based architect, discuss his exploration of proportion, volume, light, and material in projects including the BlackWhite House, Jigsaw Residence, and Hooper’s Island House. $12 for members, $12 for students, $20 for nonmembers. Prepaid registration required; walk-in registration based on availability. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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