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April 7, 2010


Dear Gentle Readers:

It’s hard to decide what to write about, since so many important things have happened in the last few days. Judge Ellen Huvell issued her decision in Evans v. Fenty today, (Washington Post story on the decision,, slapping down DC Attorney General Peter Nickles’ attempt to end court oversight over the District government’s care of disabled citizens. On Monday, Judge Thomas F. Hogan issued his blistering decision in LaShawn A. v. Fenty, (Washington Post story on the decision,, demolishing Nickles’ parallel argument that the courts should end their oversight of the Child and Family Services Agency, and finding the mayor in contempt of court. On Tuesday, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Washington Teachers Union President George Parker announced that they had reached an agreement on a teachers’ contract for the next two years — an agreement in which teacher raises are largely funded by anti-teacher union foundations — but it will take a few days (or longer) to determine what pitfalls, if any, have been buried in that contract. In any case, the contract still has to be voted on by the union’s membership, get the fiscal approval of the Chief Financial Officer, and pass a council vote. Mayor Fenty submitted his next fiscal year budget to the city council and withdrew it the same day (see Dorothy’s message below). And the Office of Campaign Finance found that City Council Chairman Vincent Gray’s installation of a fence at his house was nothing but a normal business transaction.

The thread that holds most of these stories together is the willful refusal of the Fenty administration in general, and of Fenty, Nickles, and Rhee in particular, to work cooperatively with the other branches of DC government, with the workers in DC government, or with the citizens. That attitude was symbolized by Nickles’ argument in the LaShawn case that the court’s order to consult with the other parties in naming the director of Child and Family Services meant only that the mayor had sole authority to name the director and should inform the other parties after the decision had been made. Judge Hogan memorably scolded Nickles, and Post reporter Henri Cauvin pointed out Hogan’s words in the article cited above: “The contumacious posture of the District officials has become a troubling theme here. . . . Intransigence may be a nominal improvement from indifference, but it is still unacceptable in this context.” “Contumacious” has a dual meaning in this context. It’s more commonly used in law than in everyday English. Blackstone defines it as, “Willfully disobedient to the summons or order of a court.” But in regular English it means stubborn, obstinate, obdurate, disobedient, perverse, unyielding, and headstrong. I’m going to use it regularly in the future.

Gary Imhoff


The Public Doesn’t Need to Know
Dorothy Brizill,

On Thursday morning, April 1, Mayor Fenty, accompanied by Attorney General Peter Nickles, City Administrator Neil Albert, Chief Financial Officer Natwaar Gandhi, and Executive Office of the Mayor Budget Director Merav Bushlin, met with the city council to discuss his FY2011 budget, which he was forwarding to the council that day. Fenty’s two-hour meeting with the council was followed by a press conference on the steps of the Wilson Building. At both events, Fenty released a PowerPoint presentation and a four-page summary of the “highlights” of his $3.9 billion fiscal year 2011 proposed budget and financial plan. When queried by the council and the press for details, Fenty’s response to the claim that the multi-volume set of the budget books (and an accompanying CD) would be available and distributed Thursday afternoon. However, almost immediately after Fenty’s meeting with the council, it was widely known throughout the Wilson Building that the budget books were at the printers to be reprinted.

Apparently, prior to leaving for his vacation in Jamaica, Fenty had not finalized several key components of the budget, and certain controversial proposals had not been vetted with the mayor’s allies on the council (for example the proposed elimination of the Office of the Tenant Advocate). Upon Fenty’s return to DC from Jamaica and a Thursday morning posting on the Washington Post’s DCWire blog regarding the Office of the Tenant Advocate, the mayor and his political advisors had concerns about angering District renters just prior to the fall elections. As a result, the decision was made by the Fenty administration to reprint the mayor’s budget and rework some of the mayor’s initial proposals.

Since Thursday, I have made numerous telephone calls and frequent visits to the Wilson Building to secure a copy of the mayor’s budget. It wasn’t until late this afternoon that I learned that the Fenty administration had made the decision not to make copies of the budget books available to the general public or the press. Arguing budgetary constraints, the administration has severely limited the number of printed copies: thirty-seven copies were delivered to the council at noon on Monday, twenty-five copies to the Executive Office of the Mayor, three to the CFO’s office, ten to DC Public Libraries (which will take about two weeks to process and be shelved), and a copy to each department or agency director. Also on Wednesday, the CFO’s office would not indicate when the budget will be available on CD.

The decision not to print and distribute the budget violates Council Resolution 18-337 (adopted December 15, 2009), the Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Submission Requirements Resolution of 2009. The Council resolution mandates the “the Mayor shall submit to the Council, and make available to the public, not later than April 1, 2010, the proposed budget for the District government.” To compensate for the shortcomings of the Fenty administration, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer has posted the mayor’s budget on its web site, (click on “Annual operating budget and capital plan” on the home page.


Metro’s Slow Train Wreck
F. Lancaster,

After the real, active, train wrecks Metro inflicted on its passengers and employees over the last two years, we are now witnessing another train wreck in slow motion — the gradual collapse of Metro’s service and infrastructure. It has become routine to wait ten minutes or longer for trains at midday, and let’s not talk about trying to get home in the evening, or operations in the wake of a snowstorm. Were it not such a tragedy, the proposed additional cuts in service as fares continue to go up would be laughable for their penny-wise pound-foolishness, given Metro’s (i.e., taxpayers’) tens-of-billions of dollars capital investment in Metro infrastructure. In short, Metro is increasingly laid waste and idle by a continuation of two decades of incompetent leadership, management, and oversight.

It’s not hard to see evidence everywhere for the mounting dysfunction: a huge box built beneath ceiling tiles (yes, that simple) which fell off months ago at Farragut North imperils passenger safety by leaving only narrow passage near the track. No activity to repair has been detectable in weeks. At Van Ness Station, the long-standing system wide escalator maintenance fiasco reaches absurd dimensions, with Metro’s unionized in-house repair crews working at a snail’s pace, scheduling themselves more than two months to repair a twenty-tread flight, while passengers negotiate single file up and down past each other during rush hour. (Forget the repairs; we’ll live with an escalator that doesn’t escalate!) Does anyone doubt that contracting such work out would yield far greater efficiency and accountability at less cost? No need to go on; other readers can add to the list of woes. What do New York, Chicago, Montreal, London, Paris (and on and on), understand about running a railroad that Metro management just doesn’t get?


DC’s New Voting Machines
Bill O’Field,

The DC Board of Elections and Ethics today demonstrated the city’s new voting machines to be used in the upcoming September 14 Primary Election, which is only 160 days away from today. The machines were purchased from Election Systems and Software (ES&S),

The M100 paper ballot optical scan voting machine,, and the ivotetronic touch screen voting machine,, were on display during the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting. The ivotetronic is accessible for voters who are blind or who have low vision capabilities and mobility disabilities.

At the Board’s public meeting, ES&S representatives emphasized the voter-verifiable voter record as required by DC Law 18-103, the Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009. After the meeting, members of the public were invited to vote on the machines.


Connecticut Pedestrian Action Group
F. F. Patterson,

[Re: Connecticut Pedestrian Action Group, themail, April 4] I live one block off Connecticut. From what I see there would be no need for an action group if people would monitor themselves — crossing in the middle of the block with no regard to the signal light is standard operating procedure in this area.


Elderly Politicians Running
Valencia Mohammed,

I’ll be 59 years old in a couple of months. My remarks about an elderly politician running [themail, March 31] were not nasty but truthful. I formulated my own opinions about Vincent Gray’s running aside from the Post, who pushed him into believing he could win. It makes good ink and the Post needs more ads. Its goal, I truly believe, was for Gray to vacate the chairman’s seat to make way for Jack Evans. Soon Gray will fall from the headlines and more focus will be given to Evans’ race to the top. If Evans were to win it would be disastrous for most blacks. Evans is a perfect example of a politician who used the black elderly to get elected. But two elections ago, his focus changed when his constituency began to look more like him.

I’ll never forget how Evans sided with young gay rebels that stood outside Scripture Cathedral Church shouting obscenities to the congregation while services were in progress. The rebels and the congregation disagreed on a gay bar that was opening directly across the street from the church. The minister of the church repeatedly called Evans for support, thinking that the councilmember owed the congregation for turning out hundreds of votes in his favor. But Evans ignored the calls. Never mind the insulting remarks that were launched against the church by the gay protesters, Evans sided with the rebels, stating that his constituency changed and the new convention center made it possible for the bar to open. For me, that was a wake-up call for what Evans would be like as chair of the council.

But please don’t get me wrong. This does not mean that I would support Kwame Brown for chair either. He’s been cheesing off the elderly for years. That’s another subject at another time.


Leo Alexander
John Olinger,

[Re: themail, March 31] Is this the same Leo Alexander who flacked for Howard University Hospital and the National Capital Medical Center four years ago?

[Yes. — Gary Imhoff]


Improper Entry by Alien
Gary Imhoff,

In the last issue of themail, I inadvertently omitted a legal citation from a message from William Buchanan, The law he mentioned in his posting follows:

8 USC 1325, Improper entry by alien

(a) Improper time or place; avoidance of examination or inspection; misrepresentation and concealment of facts
Any alien who
(1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or
(2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or
(3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.

(b) Improper time or place; civil penalties
Any alien who is apprehended while entering (or attempting to enter) the United States at a time or place other than as designated by immigration officers shall be subject to a civil penalty of —
(1) at least $50 and not more than $250 for each such entry (or attempted entry); or
(2) twice the amount specified in paragraph (1) in the case of an alien who has been previously subject to a civil penalty under this subsection.
Civil penalties under this subsection are in addition to, and not in lieu of, any criminal or other civil penalties that may be imposed.


Real Property Tax Cap
Matt Forman,

Richard Urban (running for city councilman at large) stated in the last issue of themail [April 4] that recent legislation removed the 10 percent real property tax cap and replaced it with a 40 percent minimum. However, I don’t think the 10 percent cap was eliminated. The 40 percent rule provides that, notwithstanding the 10 percent cap, homeowners must be taxed on at least 40 percent of the assessed value of their homes. Apparently, the 40 percent rule was passed by the council as part of the mayor’s budget. I don’t know the reasoning behind it for sure, as the council apparently doesn’t publish legislative history on its web site (as it should), but I suspect the Chief Financial Officer proposed it because of certain anomalies or abuses resulting from the 10 percent cap. In particular, some properties, for whatever reason, were dramatically under-assessed at the time the cap went into place. Once the cap became law, it meant that such properties forever got the benefit of the erroneous underassessment, with some taxpayers paying ludicrously low amounts of tax for years. I would argue that the law already permitted the chief assessor to make upward corrections in such instances, but I guess that the CFO preferred instead to have a citywide 40 percent rule instead of looking at each property case-by-case. I would suggest to everyone that instead of worrying about the 40 percent rule, that they lobby their councilmembers to lower the cap to 5 percent.


Property Tax Increases
Vic Miller,

I am totally sympathetic to Richard Urban’s protest [themail, April 4] against the doubling of his property taxes, with one caveat. My property taxes and those of my neighbors in Adams Morgan doubled in the first three years of the decade of the 2000s, despite protests, and we have been paying at that level since 2003. By my count, I have paid an extra $30,000 over what my taxes would have been if the 2000 level had been continued.

This might not be a problem if services to city residents had kept pace, but at least in my neighborhood they shrank substantially. Many longtime homeowners and their families gave up and left. These taxes went to the many development projects of friends of our Finance Committee Chair and our two mayors.

I’m sorry for your shock, Mr. Urban, but you presumably have some catching up to do.


Property Tax More than Double for DC Residents
T. Lassoc,

Richard Urban [themail, April 4] is so right about the property tax increase on residential properties. If the council wants to collect more revenue through increased real property taxes, the council need look no further than the numerous vacant foreclosed properties in the District now owned by foreclosing lenders (mostly banks and mortgage companies), all of which are not being properly maintained or actively marketed. Such properties, except those qualifying for statutory exceptions, should be reclassified to Tax Class 3 as soon as possible following foreclosure. Tax Class 3 properties are taxed at a much higher tax rate than Class 1 or Class 2 properties. The Real Property Classification Clarification Emergency Act of 2002 created a Class 3 property tax rate for vacant commercial and residential properties in the District of Columbia. Vacant property is taxed at $10.00 per $100 of assessed value.

When the Trustees’ deed is recorded at DC Recorder of Deeds following a lender buy-back of a foreclosed property, the next step should be notice to the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the DC Office of Tax and Revenue for inspection and tax reclassification respectively. If automatic reclassification requires additional legislation, it needs to happen.

Take notice, DC council. The inventory of vacant foreclosed properties in the District is a veritable treasure trove. If the council and District would focus on these properties, such a policy move, along with a sense of urgency, might have an added benefit of encouraging lenders to consider options other than immediate foreclosure as the remedy of choice for mortgages in default. Everybody now knows that defaulting borrowers are not solely to blame for the foreclosure crisis. Wall Street, banks, and mortgage lenders all played fast and loose during the real estate boom of recent prior years. But the District, like so many other American cities and towns, finds itself with too many vacant, foreclosed properties which displace people and businesses, blight neighborhoods, depress property values of remaining property owners in such neighborhoods, and create havens for crime and targets for vandalism.

See the following DC government site for additional information regarding the Class 3 Tax Classification:,a,1330,Q,609710.asp and see The Nuisance Properties Abatement and Real Property Classification Emergency Amendment Act of 2006. Like Richard Urban said, “Contact your councilmember to demand an immediate legislative fix to this egregious hit on the small taxpayer while giving huge breaks to corporations”; and also demand that your councilmember look to Class 3 properties rather than the small taxpayer as a potential source for additional revenue.


Who Can (Afford) to Live in the District of Columbia?
William Haskett,

Who (of its present population) can afford to live in the District of Columbia? As I argued before the Committee on Finance and Revenue two years ago, tax policy is always social policy, with these questions as the most fundamental for government. The ways in which taxes, revenue, and demography often interact are illustrated in a front-page story in the NY Times, “Vibrant Cities find One Thing Missing: Children.” ( That article has a quote from the mother of a four-year-old, whose elementary school (along with four others this year, and more to come in the next ten years) is about to be closed: “Portland [Oregon] is a great city that attracts a lot of educated people. . . . But the real estate is becoming outrageously expensive. And then you get wealthy singles and wealthy retirees. What’s missing are kids. And that feels really sterile to me....”

What we require is a better theory/apprehension of what a tax on real property involves, including its relationship to income, and taking into account the element of time, in this economy and including the impact of the federal budgets, which have very significant effects on local expenditures, including Medicaid costs . There is no question that the 40 percent of the District’s population that owns real property becomes wealthier when the market for their goods goes up (as it becomes relatively poorer when that market goes down). But the central issue surely is the relationship between current actual income and the tax burden which comes with that increase in apparent wealth. If wealth goes up and income does not go up proportionately, then the payment of taxes on the increase in wealth becomes a literal burden. As the gap between the two increases (as it has done in the recent past) there is a forced relationship between continuing to become wealthier and being able to afford to maintain ownership.

At a certain point, the market-value exceeds the ability to pay, and the ownership must change, so that someone with income commensurate with the tax increase takes over, and the previous owner must move out — and away. This last, because the market does not discriminate: if an owner cannot afford to pay here, it is a reasonable bet that he/she cannot afford to buy in the same market, and so we add a social and geographic dislocation to the equation. One population replaces another. This effect arises from the discrete effects of the market (which, in the most general and honest of all instances, is not controlled by anyone, but simply is a resultant of house numbers and demand and income, which is determined for everyone by a network of social habits and the demand for labor of a certain kind.

Like Mr. Micawber but in another vein, we must think simultaneously (rather than discretely) about Income (which rises in some relationship to wages and, somewhat separately, to the value of all other assets, but not usually in relation to the house one lives in, and wealth (which has a different growth curve, and is (as in this instance) capable of growing or declining independently of income. To stay where you are (like the Queen, in Alice) your real income has to increase each year by as much as the compounded rate of growth of the PT assessment, or your standard of living must go down by the fraction of the assessment that you fail to keep to this pace. Note: this applies to renters too, since rents depend upon the compounded market value of the real estate and its assessment at its derived tax-rate. This must be true of all except the fortunate minority who occupy rent-controlled properties, regardless of income.

If we wish to maintain the present population of the District in its present form (rather than have it replaced inevitably only by those who can afford these compounded rates) we need to devise a workable relationship between government’s fiscal needs and opportunities, and its constituents’ needs for income at present, and the rewards promised by long-term ownership. If we tax the goose now, its owner may not survive to realize the golden eggs it is incubating. If we don’t manage to curb benefits on both sides of the simultaneous equations involved, we contribute to a replacement of the present population (ironically, the constituents of the present government) by another, which is simply better able to afford the costs of waiting for the millennium, when largely increased house prices can finally be realized by the then-owner.

If we wish to maintain the present population of the District pretty much in its present composition and distribution, it is likely to be necessary to: 1) find some way to limit the rate of increase of the current property tax in some way more effective than the present caps. 2) How far this can be done depends, of course, upon what we require of government. If we ask less of government, we can reduce its demands upon ourselves. i.e., we have to accept both the fiscal needs of government, and the income necessities of those who own and occupy property (which presently stands at 40 percent of the residents) in the District of Columbia at the moment. 3) This might mean that we need what is very hard to do — an overall audit of the tax base, including the repeated exercise of showing how many ways there have been found to reduce that base by preventing the District government from taxing:



Adele Logan Alexander at Woman’s National Democratic Club, April 15
Pat Bitondo,

Adele Logan Alexander is professor of History at George Washington University. She is the author of Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin. It is the remarkable story of William and Ida Hunt, the first African-American couple to have a complete career in the US diplomatic corps. Professor Alexander gracefully traces an extraordinary partnership with her skills and insights as a historian. At the same time, she presents a nuanced account of the complex impact of race in the early twentieth century world. She has been nominated by President Obama to serve on the National Council on the Humanities. Born and raised in New York City, she and her husband, Clifford Alexander, have two children and live in Washington, DC. Dr. Adele Alexander will be introduced by Maureen Bunyan, the lead co-anchor at WJLA News. The professor will be available for book signing after the program. At the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1536 New Hampshire Avenue, NW. April 15, bar opens at 11:30 a.m., lunch 12:15 p.m. Members $25, Nonmembers $30, Lecture Only (no lunch) $10. Make reservations at 232-7363 Reservations must be in by April 12.



Caterpillar Preschool
Joy Kauffman,

Looking for a French or Spanish Immersion Preschool? The Caterpillar Preschool is now enrolling for its 2010-2011 school year. We offer a play-based, full language immersion curriculum for 2.5 to 5 year olds. We are licensed under OSSE and our teachers are fully qualified. We also have small class sizes to facilitate each child’s individual learning experience. We are located in Tenleytown, northwest DC, at 3920 Alton Place, NW. For more information, E-mail or call 237-1799.


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