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 (http://www.dceducationfund.org),
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
and fourth quarter [http://tinyurl.com/yhl4268]
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” (http://tinyurl.com/yfhc284).
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?
Do the Police Deserve the Credit for
Decreasing Homicide Rates?
Jack McKay, email@example.com
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, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/31/AR2009123103039.html).
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
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
[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.
“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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS
DC Residents, Keep the Tax Dollars You Earn,
Michelle Phipps-Evans, email@example.com
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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 http://www.nbm.org.
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