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March 24, 2010


Dear Spun:

In Sunday’s issue of themail, I wrote that the private grantmaker who paid for Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s hiring of public relations consultant Anita Dunn to promote her hadn’t been revealed, nor had Dunn’s fee. At Monday’s city council hearing on DCPS, Rhee revealed that the initial gift was $100,000, and that it came from Katherine Bradley, who with her husband David Bradley runs the CityBridge Foundation. David Bradley is the owner of The Atlantic. Their donation was funneled through the DC Public Education Fund (, which was set up to raise private funds to support the mayoral takeover of the school system. In fiscal year 2009, the DC Public Education Fund gave DCPS a reported total of at least $2,822,194.29 in “in-kind donations” of external consulting, materials, and staff to support central office initiatives and school-based projects (see the second quarter [] and fourth quarter [] reports of the DC Office of Partnerships and Grants). At the Monday hearing, Rhee also revealed that the $100,000 grant was just the first installment of what would be paid to Dunn, and that more donations were being sought to pay her.

Rhee is part of a small, close-knit group of big-city school superintendents who believe the schools are best run through unchecked, strongman control by city mayors. Most prominent among this group are Rhee, New York City’s superintendent Joel Klein, and Chicago’s Arne Duncan, now the US Secretary of Education. Last year, Rhee faced accusations of favoritism when Mayor Fenty’s sons got admission into an out-of-boundary public school. How that admission was arranged was never explained, and Rhee reacted with the offended dignity of Margaret Dumont confronted with the Marx Brothers when the press and public questioned the favoritism extended to Fenty. Now it’s Arne Duncan’s turn. The Chicago Tribute reported yesterday: “While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan. Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama. The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune” ( Duncan’s defenders are reacting with the same offended reaction of, “How dare you question us,” as Rhee did earlier. But what else should be expected? When politicians run a city’s school system with unchecked and unquestioned power, the same kind of corruption, cronyism, and favoritism that pervades the rest of the city’s government will pervade its schools.

Bring on the spin doctors.

By the way, isn’t this early spring wonderful?

Gary Imhoff


Do the Police Deserve the Credit for Decreasing Homicide Rates?
Jack McKay,

In themail, on January 3, I noted that Chief Lanier of the Metropolitan Police asserted that the MPD was responsible for the recent decline in DC homicides. “It’s huge, we’re making an impact,” she said (Washington Post, January 2, More recently, at a March 19 hearing of the Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, she said this: “The accomplishment that we’re most proud of is the dramatic drop in homicides. . . . Homicides decreased 23 percent in 2009, far outpacing the 10 percent decrease nationwide, and far outpacing the 8 percent drop for cities of a comparable size to Washington.”

Well, that’s nice, but is it reasonable for the MPD to take credit for the reduced homicide count? In fact, the decrease is nothing new. The homicide count having been dropping steadily since 1990, even as police chiefs came and went. Between 1990 and 2007, through the tenures of Chiefs Fred Thomas, Larry Soulsby, and Charles Ramsey, the annual homicide count dropped from 472 to 181, a phenomenal 62 percent decline. If good policing is responsible for this drop, then the change began twenty years ago, and seems to have been independent of whoever was in charge. Given this steady decades-long decline, it would be remarkable if the homicide count didn’t continue to drop during Chief Lanier’s term. In fact, the number of homicides increased in 2007 and 2008. The long-term decline resumed in 2009, and if 2009 looks good compared to 2008, it’s because 2008 was not a good year.

If police practices are responsible for the decreasing homicide count, either the long-term slide since 1990, or the drop during the past couple of years, then one might conclude that police work before 1990 must have been really bad, evidently failing to prevent hundreds of homicides that could have been prevented by better police work. Also, if good police work accounts for the recent drop in homicides, why is it that robberies in DC have continued to rise, reaching a twelve-year high in 2009? How can more effective police practices reduce homicides, but not robberies?

In fact, there’s a better explanation for the twenty-year decline in homicides, observed not just in DC, but across the nation. Seventy years ago, the amount of lead poured into the atmosphere by leaded gasoline began to increase, as automobiles became more common. Twenty-three years later, the violent crime rates in the US also began an increase, as children exposed to environmental lead reached their early-adulthood years. Forty years ago, the lead from gasoline began to decrease, as the country began its conversion to lead-free gasoline. Twenty-three years later, in 1993-1994, the violent-crime rate began a corresponding decline. What we’re seeing may have nothing to do with improved police practices, but may be due to the reduction of lead in the environment.


Star Lawrence,

[From themail, March 21, with reference to Chancellor Michelle Rhee] “She has hired Anita Dunn as a public relations consultant.”

True, or another joke? Glenn Beck, call your service.


T. Lassoc,

“Illicit” is properly applied to the DC public school system and best used to describe the present school administration and its leader — her appointment (and related processes) as well as her conduct during her tenure, which hopefully will end sooner rather than later, for the sake of DC school-aged children and the future of public education in the District of Columbia. Does the entire school system have to be destroyed before we get it?


Open Government Meetings Act
Dorothy Brizill,

In the last issue of themail, I wrote about the “Open Government Is Good Government Act of 2010,” Bill 18-716, introduced by Muriel Bowser, and said that “the bill takes a step backward and details a laundry list of exceptions and loopholes to the open meetings requirement that would render it ineffective, meaningless, and possibly worse than the current law.” But then I later wrote that, “Bowser’s bill is virtually identical to Bill 16-747, the District of Columbia Open Meetings Act of 2006, which former councilmembers Kathy Patterson and Vincent Orange introduced.” That led some people to wonder whether Bowser’s bill could really be as bad as I described, since Patterson is well known as a champion of open government.

The problem is that I shortened the story in the interest of brevity. Here’s how a modestly good bill became a bad one. Bill 16-747, the “DC Open Government Meetings Act of 2006,” was introduced on May 2, 2006, by Patterson and Orange, with eight cosponsors, Councilmembers Graham, Fenty, Mendelson, Gray, Ambrose, Kwame Brown, Catania, and Cropp. But when the Council’s Committee on Government Operations met on July 6, 2006, to mark up the bill, Vincent Orange moved an amendment in the form of a substitute bill, which was substantially weaker than the original, and that substitute bill was then further weakened by amendments from committee members. For example, the original bill stated that meetings of a “public body” where a quorum was present had to be open to the public, and defined a “public body” to include “any department, subordinate or independent agency, authority, council, task force, board, or commission of the District government established pursuant to statute, regulation, or order.” In the substitute bill, the definition of “public body” was narrowed and the phrase, “department, subordinate, or independent agency, authority. . .” was deleted.

The substitute bill also expanded exceptions to the open meetings requirement. In the substitute bill, a meeting of a public body is not required to be open when discussing “any proprietary or confidential information” or when “deliberating to make a decision in an adjudication action or proceeding by a public body exercising quasi-judicial functions.” The substitute bill also weakened the provision in the original bill regarding enforcement. Under the original bill, “if the [Superior] Court finds that one or more members of a public body knowingly and willfully participated in one or more closed meetings or portion(s) of meetings . . . The court may impose a civil fine of not more than $100 on each . . . member.” The substitute bill dropped the fine to $100. Moreover, the original Patterson-Orange bill had a provision that a “person who commits a knowing and willful violation of the open meetings bill “shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” This provision was dropped from the substitute bill.

The Bowser open meeting bill, Bill 18-716, is virtually identical to the weakened substitute bill Vincent Orange reported out of his committee in 2006. The only substantive changes are two new provisions, one mandating the development of a training manual for District employees and officeholders explaining the provisions and requirements of the bill, and another regarding the bill’s applicability to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.



DC Residents, Keep the Tax Dollars You Earn, March 27
Michelle Phipps-Evans,

Attend the taxpayer workshop on Saturday, March 27, at the Northwest One Neighborhood Library. Lots of DC taxpayers could be pocketing some of the money they pay in taxes. Now is the time to make sure you are taking advantage of all the measures that can help DC taxpayers save money. The Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking and the Northwest One Neighborhood Library are sponsoring a workshop on Saturday, March 27 on “Keep the Tax Dollars You Earn: Learn What You Need To Know Before Filing Your Taxes,” at Northwest One Neighborhood Library, 155 L Street, NW, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Information on free tax preparation, the Earned Income Tax Credit, new federal tax deductions, and tips on how to make filing your taxes easier. Plus, late-filers will be alerted as to what tax scams to avoid. Even if you are not using a tax preparer, you may know someone who is, and you can alert them to the scams that are perpetrated on unsuspecting taxpayers. The DC Public Library has resources that can help taxpayers. Come to Northwest One Neighborhood Library to learn about how the library can help you when you are preparing to file your taxes. The Northwest One Neighborhood Library is located at 155 L Street, NW, right off of New Jersey Avenue, NW, in the same building that houses the Walker-Jones Education Campus (1025 New Jersey Avenue, NW). Northwest One is located near the Union Station (Red) and Mt. Vernon Square/Convention Center (Green/Yellow) Metro stations, although it is a bit of a walk from both stations.


National Building Museum Events, March 30
Johanna Weber,

March 30, 10:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Homeschool Day. Individual students are invited to participate in interactive programs like City by Design that complement curricula in math, science, social studies, language arts, music, and art. Come explore the built environment by becoming city planners, designers, and engineers. $10 per child, per program. Prepaid registration required. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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