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March 3, 2010

Personal Dramas, Institutional Changes

Dear Citizens:

The personal dramas of yesterday’s city council special legislative session — both the censure of Councilmember Marion Barry and the disapproval of the appointment of Vicky Beasley as People’s Counsel — overshadowed the even more dramatic institutional changes that they signaled.

The censure of Councilmember Barry garnered the votes of twelve councilmembers, with only Barry recusing himself from voting. But it was less noted that the censure was done in three steps, with three separate resolutions. First, PR 18-750, the “Censure of Councilmember Marion Barry and Enforcement Resolution of 2010,” did what the title implies, censure Barry and refer the matter to the US Attorney and the Office of Campaign Finance. Second, PR 18-751, the “Council Period 18 Committee Membership and Committee Jurisdictional Amendment Resolution of 2010,” reshuffled councilmembers’ membership in committees and relieved Barry of his committee chairmanship. Finally, PR 18-752, the “Council Period 18 Censure and Reprimand Policy Establishment and Designated Grant Amendment Resolution of 2010,” established censure and reprimand authority and procedures for the council and also strengthened rules for making earmarked grants.

This last resolution was the most important. In his speech defending himself on Tuesday, the strongest point that Barry made was not the recitation of his political history or the personal appeals to other councilmembers based on their long friendships. The strongest point he made was that his earmarks, his personal service contracts, were not that different from those for which other councilmembers were responsible. Barry’s argument gets strong support from “District’s Earmark Process Needs Improvement,” a report by the DC Auditor released on February 23 ( 3_2_10_001.pdf ). If the press and the public take this report seriously, and if the city council applies the principles of PR 18-752 to its findings, there could be a sea change in the government of DC.

Gary Imhoff


Office of the People’s Counsel at the Brink
Dorothy Brizill,

As Peter Tucker details below, at Tuesday’s legislative session the council unanimously adopted PR 18-579, the “People’s Council Vicky Beasley Confirmation Disapproval Resolution of 2009.” Last week, after the resolution was adopted by the council’s Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs and placed on Tuesday’s legislative agenda, citizens soon become alarmed because the term of the incumbent People’s Counsel, Betty Noel, was scheduled to expire on March 10. On Monday, at the press conference Council Chairman Gray held prior to the legislative session, Muriel Bowser, chair of the Committee on Public Services, announced that she would not support emergency legislation extending Noel’s term, and that Mayor Fenty intended to appoint someone to serve as an interim People’s Counsel to replace Noel. During the press conference, I challenged Bowser’s assumption that the mayor could make an interim appointment, because the District’s Charter specifies that the Public Service Commission and the People’s counsel are independent agencies. Since the People’s Counsel is not a department or agency under the executive authority of the mayor, the mayor cannot make an interim appointment to fill a vacancy. While the mayor nominates the members of the Public Service Commission and the People’s Counsel, the nominees can only assume their positions after they are confirmed by the council.

By Monday afternoon, citizens as well as most of the council became aware that a potential vacancy and crisis was looming at the Office of the People’s Counsel. Soon after the press conference, Bowser abandoned the notion of the mayor’s appointing an interim People’s Counsel. She shifted her focus onto having Noel’s deputy run the office of the People’s Counsel until a replacement was nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council. By Monday evening, however, Bowser’s proposal bit the dust when it was brought to her attention that statutorily the People’s Counsel must be a DC resident and a member of the DC Bar, and that Noel’s deputy was not a District resident. Adamant that she would not support emergency legislation extending Noel’s term, Bowser was out of alternate proposals.

Meanwhile, Mary Cheh (former chair of the council’s Public Service Committee), in consultation with Chairman Vincent Gray, drafted an emergency bill to extend Noel’s term indefinitely until a replacement is nominated and confirmed. At the breakfast meeting of the council on Tuesday morning, prior to the legislative session, Cheh made a formal presentation to her council colleagues detailing the dire consequences that would ensue if the position of People’s Counsel were vacant, and listing the options available to the council. She also detailed the emergency legislation her office had drafted. By the time the council voted on the emergency bill a few hours later on Tuesday afternoon, Cheh had secured the support of ten of her colleagues, who co-introduced and voted in support of the bill. (Councilmember Bowser voted against the bill, and Councilmember Barry was not present.)

Footnote: Betty Noel’s term as People’s Counsel expires on March 10. However, the emergency legislation the council passed on Tuesday requires the mayor’s signature, and DC law gives the mayor ten days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) to sign or veto the bill. If the mayor fails to sign the bill by Wednesday, the District government will be in dangerous uncharted territory regarding the Office of the People’s Counsel.


One for the People and the People’s Counsel, Zero for the Lobbyists
Peter Tucker,

On Tuesday, the city council voted 11-1, with only Councilmember Bowser dissenting, to disapprove the nomination of Vicky Beasley for Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC). The OPC is an unheralded but critically important position tasked with holding accountable DC’s utility companies (such as Pepco, Washington Gas, and Verizon). The current People’s Counsel, Betty Noel, is serving her unprecedented sixth three-year term. A January 23 hearing on the quality of service of DC’s utility companies made clear that Ms. Noel is a very competent and consumer oriented People’s Counsel who has overwhelming support throughout the city. Yet Mayor Adrian Fenty and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who chairs the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, want Betty Noel out. Badly.

In her place, the Fenty/Bowser/Pepco team nominated Vicky Beasley, an employee of the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs. According to Patton Boggs’ web site, “Ms. Beasley’s clients include telecommunications entities [and] quasi-governmental agencies.” These are the very types of companies the People’s Counsel is supposed to hold accountable, not work on behalf of. When I asked Ms. Beasley to name the “telecommunications entities” and “quasi-governmental agencies” she serves as clients, she declined to answer and referred me to the mayor’s office, which also declined to answer and referred me back to Ms. Beasley. And multiple inquiries to Councilmember Bowser’s office yielded neither an answer to which companies Ms. Beasley serves, nor any interest from her office in finding out this important information.

Despite her nomination’s being disapproved, the companies Ms. Beasley represents is not a moot point, as it speaks to the priorities of the Fenty administration: Having a People’s Counsel who is pleasing to the wealthy utility companies (and who may in fact work for them!) is more important than having someone in the position who is responsive to the needs of District residents and businesses. Until the January 23 hearing, I didn’t have a sense of just how rich these utility companies are. Among those who testified were Crystal Kim of Justice First (a grassroots organization that has been uncompromising in defending residents against Pepco and Washington Gas) and Scott Cardiff of Rising Tide (a grassroots environmental organization concerned with Pepco’s abysmal environmental record, which includes burning coal mined using the destructive practice of mountain top removal), both of whom raised the issue of Pepco Chairman Dennis Wraase’s compensation of more than $10 million a year. Not too shabby for someone working for a quasi-governmental agency that is given near-monopoly status by the government.

Pepco, Verizon, and Washington Gas are powerful players that have the ear of both the mayor and the chair of the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs. But with regards to the nomination of Ms. Beasley, these powerful utilities were defeated by an impressive coalition of concerned residents, ANC commissioners, civic organizations, the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO and the grassroots journalism of themail’s Dorothy Brizill. On the journalism front, Ms. Brizill has written no fewer than seven articles on the nomination of Vicky Beasley over the last four months. These articles have alerted readers to Ms. Beasley’s lack of experience (she has been nominated “even though she is not a litigator and the People’s Counsel is a litigating position”); the lack of transparency in the nomination process (“Mayor Fenty, without any public input, has nominated Vicky A. Beasley to replace Ms. Noel as People’s Counsel.”); the importance the utility companies have placed on getting rid of Betty Noel (The Office of People’s Counsel’s “record of accomplishment and presence in the community is unparalleled in the District government. It is no secret that the utility companies have made it a priority to block and prevent Ms. Noel from being reappointed. A Pepco official openly stated, ’I’m going to get her if it is the last thing I do.’”); as well as Ms. Beasley’s employment at Patton Boggs (“Beasley is currently a corporate attorney with the law firm of Patton Boggs and has no knowledge or expertise in administrative law, utility regulation, or consumer issues.”)

This exciting coalition of grassroots journalism and activism has not only prevented the nomination of Ms. Beasley, but has also forced the council to enact, several times, emergency legislation extending the tenure of Betty Noel, the latest legislation coming on Tuesday. The news on Tuesday, however, was not all good, as the People’s Counsel was unable to stop Pepco from having a $19.8 million price hike approved, despite Pepco’s dismal performance. It’s worth noting that Pepco was requesting a $44.5 million price hike and without the impressive grassroots efforts, they may well have received it.

It is also worth noting how far Mayor Fenty has fallen. While his arrogance remains unchecked, his power, thanks to grassroots activism and journalism, has been greatly diminished. Three years ago, Fenty took over control of the schools and closed dozens of public schools and was hailed as a hero by the Washington Post, despite the grassroots efforts opposing these authoritarian moves. Within the last two years, Fenty has closed Franklin Shelter a month before hypothermia season, fired all four hundred of the District’s public mental health professionals, and closed more than a dozen award winning childcare facilities, but he was no longer able to carry out these measures without grassroots groups damaging his reputation.

Within the last year, as shown by the Beasley nomination being withdrawn, citizen activism has reached new levels. As always, there remains the potential for huge injustices on the horizon (massive looming budget cuts to services for the most needy comes to mind), but there is also the potential to build on the strong and growing grassroots efforts underway.


All Eyes on the Council
Valencia Mohammed,

Thank you for the research about what the council should do to admonish a member when one has violated its “code of ethics.” As long as people were led to believe it was going to be a free-for-all to censor Barry, it seemed eminent that his so-called friends on the Council would reluctantly “do him in” to keep the spotlight off themselves. But as pointed out in your research, the code is toothless.

Most people are not surprised that the council does not have the power to punish one of its members. It lacks backbone and leadership. The body has become expert at “making noises” for photo-ops. But as many bloggers and residents have pointed out, what about the questionable behavior of other council members, including its chair, Vincent Gray? Although Bennett was instructed to analyze Barry’s alleged wrongdoings, residents would be best served if the earmarks by all councilmembers would get thorough investigations. It might result in stripping almost half the members of power.

I’ve waited for this day to come. It was inevitable. For more than a decade, when sitting councilmembers ran for reelection, they steered voter’s attention to the school board. “Our school system failed our students,” a councilmember might say to take the focus from his or her own weaknesses and wrongdoings. Now that the council successfully crushed its closest competitors, “all eyes are on the council.” It’s almost like putting it under a microscope. And some of them have the audacity to toy with the possibility of running for mayor? What goes around, comes back around. Now residents claim the council is weak, ineffective, and untrustworthy.


Censure in themail
Art Spitzer,

Our esteemed hosts say that “the council does not have the power to censure its members. . . . In order to hold a vote of censure, the council will first have to amend its rules of organization and procedure (Resolution 18-01) to give itself the right to censure a member, and that will require it to formulate general requirements and conditions for censure.”

I don’t see why that would be true. As I understand it, a censure by a legislative body is simply a formal expression of the body’s opinion. No legal consequence follows from a censure. Unless some provision in the relevant organic act (here the Charter) or in the body’s own rules prohibits a resolution of censure, it seems to me the body is free to express its opinion as it sees fit.

A quick Internet search suggests that the House of Representatives has no rules about censure, yet it censures members from time to time. The Senate rules say that the Select Committee on Ethics can recommend a censure for “. . . improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate,” which is not exactly the sort of “general requirements and conditions” that Gary and Dorothy seem to have in mind.


Confused Drivers or Confused Managers?
Bryce Suderow,

This afternoon (Wednesday) at 3:00 p.m. I was waiting for a southbound 90 or 92 bus at the corner of 8th and E Streets, NE. I saw something very peculiar. Two busses headed straight through 8th and H, which is supposed to be closed, and two others followed the designated route onto 8th via G Street.

I asked my driver why two busses had driven straight through 8th and were ignoring protocol. He said they must have been inexperienced or ignorant drivers. Whatever the cause, there still seems to be confusion about the route the 90 and 92 busses are supposed to follow.


School Reform Has Died at Anacostia
Marvin Tucker,

[An open letter to Chancellor Michelle Rhee] A sad day in the history of DC Public school system. The school reform that was imposed at Anacostia Senior High School has failed. It was the goal of the mayor to change how our students learn in the city of Washington, DC. You and your staff brought in Friendship Edison Charter School to change Anacostia. With the city’s financial crisis and the fact that the taxpayers of the city do not know where the funds came from to pay Friendship, a mystery has been created. I had asked Mr. Justin Cohen before he left DCPS, whether there was a contract and whether the contract had gone before the council of The District of Columbia; to date I still have no answer.

I would like to inform you of some of the concerns of the taxpayers and voters of the city that you might not be aware of: 1) why are the students are being put out of the school in the morning to walk the street all day? Homeowners in the area observe students standing in front of their homes. 2) It is also understood that there were 250 students who failed in the first advisory at Anacostia. Moreover, the second advisory, which just ended, sent a clear message that the reform had died; there were 753 students that had failing grades. 3) Mr. Lew’s office put in new lockers so that the students would not have to take their coats to class. Despite the fact that locks have been paid for by tax payers, the principal will not issue locks. Consequently, students’ property is being stolen from unsecured lockers. 4) Because of Friendship Edison and the mayor, the college fair tour that Councilmember Kwame Brown has sponsored over the years to help students get a chance to get into college has been damaged. Anacostia in past years would fill up a bus, but now they might not have one student going on the trip. I was also informed that the principal did not know what to do in regards to the information the councilmember’s office needs to help the students of Anacostia.

5) Your staff has been holding job fairs, such as the recent one at Shaw Jr. High School, to recruit new teachers. Why? 6) Anacostia might be the only school in DCPS that has four principals. And how much money are they making when some of those funds could provide resources for children? 7) Also, Friendship has left St. Johns out of the modernization project of Anacostia. St. Johns has been doing a great job with the students of DCPS and has been in the building for some years. A member of your staff told me back in November that they would be brought to the table, but to date St. Johns has not even been informed. 8) It was my understanding Anacostia is a DCPS public high school and not a charter school. 9) The Anacostia modernization program needs to be assessed — there are obvious problems. 10) For the welfare of our students while construction is going on, we cannot allow anyone that is not cleared by DCPS and FBI in the building. 11) The full community of Anacostia does not know about all the dangers of the upcoming work. 12) I would like to have a breakdown of the finances for the project. 13) I would like to know when the bid went out and how many companies placed a bid for the Anacostia project. 14) How much money has the city paid them to date, because Anacostia was slated under a previous capital campaign?

While there were problems at Anacostia, things are now dismal. In fact the school is going downhill. The students do not respect staff members in the building. And the number of students that are sent home goes up every day. I look forward to your help in his matter. You can give me a call at 609-5256.


Daytime Residential Street Sweeping Resumes March 22; Ticketing Begins March 29
Kevin B. Twine,

On Monday, March 22, daytime mechanical street sweeping will resume in scheduled residential neighborhoods where signs are posted indicating that this will take place. Now that the snow has melted, there’s now quite a bit of litter and debris in certain areas. Residents are again reminded to observe the street cleaning signs so our sweepers can resume cleaning residential streets. Alternate-side parking restrictions in these areas will go into effect as well. Parking tickets, which carry a $30 fine, will be issued, beginning March 29, to vehicles parked during street sweeping hours in areas posted with “No Parking/Street Cleaning” signs. Beginning March 29, parked cars also may be towed to allow the sweepers access to the curbside. Generally, parking is prohibited for two hours while sweeping is underway.

DPW street sweepers cover about four thousand lane miles monthly, removing litter and pollutants. The sweeper also emits a fine spray of water to help control dust. Street sweeping is suspended during winter as the sprayed water can freeze and become ice on the street. DPW also sweeps commercial corridors year-round. For more information about DPW’s street sweeping program, visit



Embassy of Ecuador: A Sultry Evening of Salsa Dancing and Ecuadorian Cuisine, March 5
Michael Karlan,

On Friday, March 5, join Professionals in the City at the Embassy of Ecuador. This cultural event includes an Ecuadorian dinner buffet, an open bar of red and white wine, a salsa performance and a beginners’ salsa dancing lesson, a diplomatic greeting, and more. Tickets are $60 and must be purchased in advance. This event is from 7:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at the Embassy of Ecuador, located at 2535 15th Street, NW. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit, E-mail, or call 686-5990.


National Building Museum Events, March 7-8
Johanna Weber,

March 7, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., A Day of Flying in the Great Hall. Model airplane workshop (9:00-11:00 a.m.): construct your own rubber-band-propelled model airplane with the DC Maxecuters then launch your plane in a test flight in the Great Hall. Cost per plane: $8 members, $14 nonmembers. Ages eight and up and Webelos Cub Scouts. Prepaid registration required. Flying in the Great Hall (11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.): watch as the DC Maxecuters fly their model airplanes in and across the Great Hall! Free drop-in demonstration program. All ages.

March 8, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Women of Architecture: Toshiko Mori. Toshiko Mori, FAIA, founder and principal of Toshiko Mori Architect, discusses her work, including the Darwin D. Martin House Visitors Center. The lecture begins with a fifteen-minute documentary “A Girl is a Fellow Here: 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright,” produced by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. $12, museum and National Museum of Women in the Arts members; $12 students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


What’s In Store for FY2011? A Forum on the DC Budget Outlook, March 8
Tina Marshall,

In just one month, Mayor Fenty will submit his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The District faces an enormous revenue shortfall as a result of the recession, leaving the city with difficult decisions over how to preserve important services. Join us at this forum to find out more about DC’s budget and economic woes, to hear about some of the possible ways to address the budget gap, and to learn about best how to advocate for the services important to you. Monday, March 8. Registration and coffee, 9:00 a.m.; program: 9:30-11:30 a.m.; Charles Sumner School, Great Hall, 1201 17th Street, NW.

Speakers include: Ed Lazere, Executive Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute; Eric Goulet, Budget Director, Council of the District of Columbia; Fitzroy Lee, Chief Economist, Office of the Chief Financial Officer; Dawn Slonneger, Chief of Staff, Office of the Honorable Vincent C. Gray; T.J. Sutcliffe, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, The Arc of the District of Columbia. The event is sponsored by The Arc of DC, The DC Fiscal Policy Institute, The Fair Budget Coalition, and Think Twice Before You Slice, a project of the Center for Nonprofit Advancement and the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington. Please RSVP to Tina Marshall at or 408-1080. These events are sponsored by the Fair Budget Coalition and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.


March 9 Forum on Greening
Ruth Caplan,

The Cleveland Park Citizens Association and the Cleveland Park Historical Society are sponsoring a “Forum on Greening Our Houses, Apartments, and Businesses in Cleveland Park’s Historic District.” The forum will take place Tuesday, March 9, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Cleveland Park Congregational Church, corner of 34th and Lowell Streets.

There will be an outstanding panel of policy and hands-on experts for the forum: Mary Cheh, Ward 3 councilmember; Tersh Boasberg, Chair, DC Historic Preservation Review Board; Brendan Meyer, sustainability expert with the DC Historic Preservation Office; Sandy Roskas, Vice-President for Sales at Astrum Solar, with experience doing solar installations in a DC historic district and a Cleveland Park resident; Tom Jester, Project Manager, Quinn Evans architectural firm responsible for the Eastern Market renovation, editor of “Twentieth-Century Building Materials: History and Conservation;” and incoming Chair of Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission.

The Forum will include questions for the panelists from the moderator followed by an opportunity for questions from the audience. As we dig out from the snowiest winter in our history and look at rising energy bills, this is an excellent opportunity to learn more about how we can weatherize our homes and businesses and explore the opportunities to use solar and geothermal in an historic district.


Lincoln Douglass Day Dinner, March 23
Paul Craney,

Please join the DC Republican Committee at our annual 2010 Lincoln Douglass Day dinner on Tuesday, March 23, at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. The special guest speaker will be Senator John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Republican Senate Policy Committee. The Washington Hebrew Congregation is located at 3935 Macomb Street, NW, off of Massachusetts Avenue. The reception and silent auction will start at 6:30 p.m. and the dinner will start at 7:30 p.m.

Individual dinner tickets cost $150 per person. Table sponsorships are available. If you would like to RSVP and attend the dinner, please contact us at 289-8005, E-mail us at:, or purchase tickets at


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