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June 9, 2010


Dear Complainants:

Let’s review. Chancellor Michelle Rhee negotiated millions of dollars of grants from foundations that were given to the DC Public Schools on the condition that the leadership of DCPS not be changed — in other words, that she remain employed as schools chancellor (themail, April 28). Civic activist Robert Brannum, president of the DC Federation of Civic Associations, believed that it is self-dealing and a conflict of interest for a government official to negotiate grants from foundations to government that are conditional on her continued employment. He filed a complaint with the Office of Campaign Finance, seeking a ruling on the propriety of her actions, and the OCF found sufficient grounds in his complaint to open an investigation.

In response, the Washington Post published an over-the-top, shrill editorial that is nothing but a personal attack on Brannum for daring even to raise a question about Rhee who, it asserts, must not be questioned, The Post’s editorial board asserted that, “It’s hard to think that anyone could conclude that Ms. Rhee sought these monies to ensure her continued employ [sic] as schools chancellor.” Since the letters of agreement all make the donations conditional on her continued employment, it is hard to think that the editorial board really finds that hard to think. It is much more reasonable to believe that the Post is simply protecting one of its favorites from having to live up to the standards of conduct that it would apply to other public officials. The Post gives Rhee credit for soliciting these funds for DCPS, while at the same time pretending to believe that Rhee had nothing to do with them— with seeking them, with negotiating their terms, or with accepting them under those terms. The Post correctly notes that the foundations’ letters of agreement were not given directly to DCPS, but were in fact given to a nonprofit organization, the DC Public Education Fund, with the express purpose that it would funnel them to DCPS. The DC Public Education Fund was set up by Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee to advance their educational plans and interests and to raise money for their programs. The only purpose of the DC Public Education Fund’s involvement in the grants is to shield DCPS from the legal ramifications of accepting the grants directly and from the open public scrutiny that would ensue. The pretense that the Public Education Fund is independent of DCPS and Rhee, when it operates in their interests and at their direction, may be enough to provide a legal smokescreen to allow Rhee to deny self-dealing, but it is far from clear that that pretense is good enough to succeed. That is a question that can only be answered by the kind of thorough investigation that the Post seeks to discredit in advance.

The Post accuses Brannum of making “half-baked allegations,” and it prejudges the investigation at the end of its editorial by saying that, “it’s disheartening to see this kind of small-minded hounding of those who seek to better reward teachers who do a good job helping children learn. There would seem to be no better way to discourage public service than to turn the District into a place where no good turn goes unquestioned.” That’s bad enough, but in the past three years we’ve become used to the Post’s judgments about local politics being based purely on its being a cheerleader for the Fenty-Rhee-Nickles administration rather than a fair and disinterested observer. What’s worse is the Post’s actions since. After it denied Brannum the opportunity to reply to its editorial, Brannum sent the E-mail printed below. As a result, the Post published (online only, and not linked to from the editorial) the item at The online item purports to be by him, but in fact was drastically rewritten by someone at the newspaper. The paper has so little confidence in its judgment and reasoning that it has denied him an opportunity to reply in print and in his own words to an editorial that attacked him and his motives personally.


A reader sent the following correction, not for attribution: “About General Logan’s bid for the vice presidency. There was no presidential election in 1874. There was one in 1872 (Grant reelected), one in 1876 (Hayes won). I think you meant the election of 1884, when Logan ran with James G. Blaine.” This elicited the following from Elizabeth McIntire: “Sorry, I was counting from 1862; should have checked these posters. And you should never trust me again, Gary!” Thanks to both and, Elizabeth, of course I’ll trust someone who takes corrections with such good humor.”

Gary Imhoff


Post Declines to Print Editorial Reply
Robert Vinson Brannum,

On Tuesday, June 8, The Washington Post published an editorial (“School Daze,” reacting to my request for an investigation of DC Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Michelle Rhee. The editorial was critical of me for requesting a DC Office of Campaign Finance investigation of Chancellor Rhee for possible conflict of interest in the tentative contract agreement (later ratified) between DCPS and the Washington Teachers’ Union.

My request for an investigation was not motivated by politics, but rather by a public citizen’s desire to promote a principled public policy, which the Office of Campaign Finance determined to be credible. It was deemed a “cogent statement of facts alleged to constitute a violation,” with a “reasonable cause to believe that a violation has occurred.” Moreover, DC Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, previously praised by the editorial board and others in the media as impeccable, alluded in testimony before the council these private donor funding conditions were unacceptable and he could not certify the tentative agreement.

Most reputable newspaper editorial boards, after singling out someone for editorial rebuke, particularly a private citizen, would print a response. Not so with the new reform-minded editorial board of The Washington Post. The editorial board of The Washington Post not only declined to print an initial response from me, it also has declined to print a shortened rewrite. Rather than permitting me to express my thoughts in my own words, the editorial board offered to print its own shortened rewrite expressing my thoughts of its rebuke of me. I believe I should be able to speak for myself. Even Ms. Katharine Weymouth, Publisher; Mr. Andrew Alexander, Ombudsman; and Mr. Howard Kurtz, Media Critic, should find this refusal unacceptable. 

The Washington Post editorial board is an unabashed supporter of Chancellor Rhee and views any and all criticism of her as an attack on the deity. It rarely publishes letters or op-ed submissions critical of Chancellor Rhee’s initiatives or her leadership. To promote Chancellor Rhee’s reform agenda, marginal improvements of DCPS are heightened beyond rationality. To reference a point in my declined letter to the editor, the constant embellishment of Chancellor Rhee’s accomplishments will not make them true by repetition.

The editorial board of The Washington Post and other local news outlets find it newsworthy to report Office of Campaign Finance investigations into possible wrongdoing by members of the council of the District of Columbia and the DC Democratic State Committee. However, there seems to be a different standard for Chancellor Rhee. Given the limited coverage by other “local reputable news outlets,” the news media has exposed its own double standard and professional hypocrisy.

Although the editorial questioned the ripeness of my request for an investigation, I am grateful that Ms. Jo-Ann Armao, education editorial writer, and Mr. Bill Turque at least asked to read my request for an investigation of Chancellor Rhee submission before commenting and writing. This is something Mr. Michael DeBonis, newly hired blogger for The Washington Post and Ms. Jonetta Rose Barras, columnist for The Washington Examiner, and some “respectable journalists” obviously do not believe is necessary to meet the standards of truth or any other probable standards of journalism ethics. Evidently, the dousing of green slime is not just the childlike feature of the Nickelodeon channel. At the risk of bruising the reputation of Fox 5 News, I do commend its accurate reporting. Ms. Armao, Ms. Barras, and Mr. DeBonis, joined by a cabal of journalists, are so protective of Chancellor Rhee’s image to the point that they sacrifice principles of fairness and accurate reporting. In this matter, it is their credibility which stands at issue, not mine. Contrary to Ms. Armao, Ms. Barras, Mr. DeBonis, and other ill-informed journalists, Chancellor Rhee is not the only one in the District who cares about children and reforming District public education. Chancellor Rhee is not a “rock star” in public education reform, the “beacon of hope” for District children, or the “sweet honey of the rock” education leader. Chancellor Rhee is not an example of a “profile in courage.”

To criticize Chancellor Rhee is not to hinder high quality public education, to stop the reform of DCPS, or to sacrifice the future of District children. I, as well as others in the community, on the strengths of our beliefs to do what is right for all children, will fight for all District children. Ms. Armao, Ms. Barras, Mr. DeBonis, and other reporters, imply that because I, as well as others in the community, challenge Chancellor Rhee, we thus do not support high quality public education for children of the District of Columbia and do not want to reform DCPS; they misrepresent themselves as intelligent.


Civic Activism
Dorothy Brizill,

As someone who, over the past twenty years, has closely monitored the work of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics and the Office of Campaign Finance, and who has filed numerous complaints with both bodies, I could not let the current controversy concerning the complaint Robert Brannum filed with the OCF on June 2 regarding School Chancellor Michelle Rhee go by without comment. Bill Turque reported in Tuesday’s Washington Post, “The District’s Office of Campaign Finance will investigate a complaint, filed by an outspoken critic of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, alleging that Rhee violated the law by soliciting donations from private foundations that reserved the right to pull their funding if there was a change in the school system’s leadership. Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery, the office’s director, told Robert V. Brannum on Friday, in response to his complaint, that there was ‘reasonable cause to believe that a violation has occurred’ and that ‘a full investigation is warranted in this matter.’”

The media response has been troubling. Jonetta Rose Barras wrote in her June 7 column in The Examiner, titled “Slaying the Chancellor, Sacrificing the Children,”, that DC residents should “question the competence” of OCF for investigating Brannum’s complaint. She went on to write that “it’s all politics,” and to argue that Brannum’s complaint aims “to derail Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s reelection, including discrediting his education reform platform and sullying Rhee’s reputation.” JoAnn Armao, in her June 8 Washington Post editorial,, writes, “it’s disheartening to see this kind of small-minded hounding of those who seek to better reward teachers who do a good job helping children learn. There would seem to be no better way to discourage public service than to turn the District into a place where no good turn goes unquestioned.”

Under District law, a citizen has a right to file a complaint with the DC Office of Campaign Finance if and when they believe the District’s campaign finance and/or ethics laws have been violated. After an initial review and inquiry of the complaint, the OCF’s director and general counsel only then make the determination as to whether to launch a formal investigation. Under OCF’s process, frivolous or unfounded complaints do not result in a full investigation. In the past, I have filed complaints involving public officials with the OCF and, indeed, in the past the Washington Post has always welcomed “independent” investigations of public officials by the OCF (especially Marion Barry). I am truly concerned that, if the media chooses to ridicule citizens who file complaints, however motivated or justified those complaints may be, it may have a chilling effect on the willingness of citizens to come forward and report violations of the District’s campaign finance and ethics laws.


Everyone But Fenty
Ed Johnson,

I want to make an open confession to readers of themail. I am an open government policy wonk. In all honesty, I’ll pursue sunshine in places most sensible people would shy away from. Like the Wilson Building.

Because nothing satisfies a craving for transparency like a good FOIA request, I spent several years (yes, I admit it, years) pursuing the “National Capital Revitalization Corporation and Anacostia Waterfront Corporation Freedom of Information Amendment Act of 2006” and then the “NCRC and AWC Freedom of Information Amendment Act of 2007.” In 2006, the bill was introduced by Councilmembers Ambrose, Mendelson, Patterson, Catania, Schwartz, Graham, Brown, and Cropp. In 2007 it was reintroduced by Councilmembers Mendelson, Catania, Schwartz, Graham, Brown, Cheh, Gray, Wells, and Thomas. You know the saying, practice makes perfect. I literally carried that bill around the Wilson building for weeks, stalking councilmembers for their signature: I caught a couple coming off the dais after a hearing, and a few more in their offices. Eventually, versions of the bill brought forward by Mr. Brown passed as emergency and temporary legislation in 2007, on votes of 11-Yes, 2-Vacant.

As exciting as that was, I think what’s most notable (apart from my obsession) is who didn’t sign as a co-introducer. Although I didn’t manage to corner every councilmember in person, I contacted everyone’s office –- more than once, of course –- and met with a number of legislative aides n a series of meetings. I even sat in at-the-time Councilmember Fenty’s waiting room one day while a staffer took it to him to look over, but he declined to sign on. The moral to this story? In 2006, I actively campaigned for the opponents of some of the councilmembers who cosponsored or voted in favor of the final legislation; I guarantee it wasn’t my personal charm that won them over. While Comrade Lenin was of the opinion that, “A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel,” I came away with a more optimistic view. It’s entirely possible to hold opposite views on issues, like public-private partnerships, but still share common values on government’s role in ensuring transparency and accountability. It’s too bad not everyone acts the same way when they have the chance.


Aeolian Jackson,

Any new Freedom of Information Act legislation must include a provision to assign a confirmation number upon receipt of each FOIA request. Otherwise, there would be no way to judge the fidelity of the required annual FOIA report.

The annual report should show the category of each FOIA request, though that detail need not be in the summary report presented. At least the requester could determine whether his report is accurately included in the annual summary.

Some years ago I made several FOIA requests which were not addressed according to FOIA requirements, even after I lodged written objections. I could not identify my disappointing results in the glowing annual reports. I would not believe the annual FOIA report under the current FOIA reporting practices. GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).


Public Libraries as Business Incubators
Phil Shapiro,

Dozens of public libraries in other states have closed down in this current recession.. Our own libraries in DC haven’t suffered that fate yet, but they conceivably could. What can we do to support libraries — other than to yell louder for funding? (Yelling louder doesn’t work — believe me.) Here’s one idea I wrote about recently, at

In this Internet age, getting into the entrepreneurial groove is easier than early times. In the coming months I’m going to be distributing some of my own creative work via Amazon’s Createspace. ( Amazon let’s me focus on the creative aspects of my product and they take care of orders and distribution. Sure, they take a cut of sales, but I’m only too glad that they do. If the creative product I create has real value, tweets and blogs will get the word out about it.

Can we get our collective creative groove on at the library? I don’t know. Should we try? What would be the cost of not trying? Libraries are houses of ideas. Can ideas keep libraries aloft?


Help Tree DC
Harrison Miller, Deals For Deeds,

Help Green DC. Deals For Deeds has teamed up with Casey Trees Foundation. For every two hundred fifty people who sign up for free at, Deals for Deeds will plant a tree in the District! Please help spread the word, and remember it’s totally free to sign up.

The Plant a Tree in DC campaign will culminate with a tree planting ceremony in the fall. For more information, please visit


Ward 5 Has No Middle School
Raenelle Zapata,

The Ward 5 Council on Education invites you to sign the petition “Ask why Ward 5 is the only ward without a middle school,” on Click this link to view the petition:


Bryce A. Suderow,

[Re Codgers, themail, June 2] I don’t think it is so much about age as politics. Liberals have never met a tax they don’t get excited about. They make enough money to be able to pay taxes and still feel virtuous. Those of us who don’t make that much money — they consider us cretins.



Financial Town Hall Meeting, June 10
Michelle Phipps-Evans,

The DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) warmly invites you to a community town hall meeting focusing on financial services, policies, and programs. Meet DISB Commissioner Gennet Purcell, and ask her some of your burning financial questions, including those about health care reform and financial reform. Also on hand will be representatives from the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. You can find out about starting a free bank or credit union account through Bank on DC, the District’s newest financial initiative for the unbanked and underbanked. Also on hand will be members from the DC Department of the Environment and FEMA to discuss new floodplains in the District and flood insurance.

Be prepared to have a conversation on issues related to insurance and reform, investments and retirement, mortgages and foreclosures, and financial literacy and investor education resources in the District of Columbia. Federal and DC government officials will be prepared to provide up-to-date information on these topics and the ongoing financial reform affecting the nation.

The second in a series of city-wide events will be at Roosevelt S.T.A.Y. High School, 4301 13th Street, NW, on Thursday, June 10, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 442-7832 or visit DISB’s web site at Also, check Facebook and Twitter for updates.


Department of Parks and Recreation Events, June 13-14
John Stokes,

June 13, 3:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m., Volta Park, 3400 Volta Place, NW. Volta Park Day for all ages. Volta Park Day is a community day filled with vendors, activities to honor the beauty in the park. Refreshment will be served. For more information, call Shirley Debrow at 282-0379.

June 14-18, 3:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m., Trinidad Recreation Center, 1310 Childress Street, NE. Dynamite Basketball Session for ages thirteen through eighteen. The Dynamite Basketball Team will host basketball skills training sessions including tournament at the end of the week. For more information, call Anthony Higginbotham, Site Manager, 727-1293.


Washington Post Town Hall Meeting on Crime Coverage, June 15
George Williams;

The DC Public Library and The Washington Post are hosting a town hall meeting on how the newspaper covers crime June 15 at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library. Post Crime Editor Mike Semel, Local Editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, and staff writers Keith Alexander, Maria Glod, Paul Duggan, Tom Jackman and Josh White will talk about what makes the news and how they avoid being sensationalist. The discussion will begin at 6:00 p.m. A question and answer session will follow the discussion. The Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library is located at 901 G Street, NW, near the Metro Center and Gallery Place Metro stations. If you would like to attend, please E--mail


Universal Design Consumer Forum, June 17
Carol Page,

Join the free AARP DC Universal Design Consumer Forum, June 17, 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., to hear from Case Designs Executive VP Bill Millholland about a range of stylish ways — some inexpensive and easy, and some more complex — to update your home for safety and comfort. Following the program, which will be held at the Washington Center for Aging Services (2601 18th Street, NE), participants are invited to cross the lawn for an outdoor lunch on the grounds of the Andrus House, a home remodeled using universal design features in honor of AARP’s fiftieth Anniversary in 2008. Thanks to host Christian Communities Group Homes, participants who register in advance can also sign up to tour the interior of the Andrus House. Call 434-7707 or E-mail to register.



Handyman Company
Paul Z. Swerdlow,

My name is Paul, and I run a small firefighter owned and operated handyman and renovation company called Consider It Done Handyman Services. My business partner John and I are DC natives, and we are firefighters in Maryland. We have more than ten years of experience, and are starting this new venture. We can do everything from complete remodels to “honey-do” lists.

Please feel free to give me a call at 422-6336 or E-mail at to talk over your potential projects. We get the job done right, and walk through your options with you to find a safe, affordable, and durable solution to whatever problems you may be having with your home.


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