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November 10, 2010


Dear Eyewitnesses:

Michelle Rhee has now not only quit but also officially departed. What has she been or will she be paid as a severance package? Attorney General Peter Nickles said in the past that it was foolish even to ask, when what he meant was that it was foolish to expect an answer. Can we get an answer now? Or will we have to wait until after January 2? The Budget Support Act stipulates that no bonuses will be paid to District government employees. Does that include Rhee, or will she get a bonus anyway?

While I’m asking, what’s going to happen to the $14,000 Italian bicycle that was given to Mayor Fenty and that, according to law, belongs to the city? What’s going to happen to Fenty’s smart car?


Who do you distrust? The death of Ali Ahmed Mohammed at DC9, the U Street nightclub, raises a question that we can answer only by consulting our prejudices, since we know so few facts. We know that Mohammed broke DC9’s front window, that he was chased down by four employees and one owner of the nightclub, and that he died; those are the only facts about which there is agreement. Chief Cathy Lanier tells us that Mohammed was savagely beaten to death, and that this was a case of unjustified vigilante justice; she is apparently relying on two witnesses, whom we do not know and whose actual testimony we have not heard. The coroner’s office says that Mohammed’s body does not show any evidence of having been beaten, and the actual cause of his death is uncertain. Councilmembers Jim Graham and Marion Barry say that the five DC9 employees and owner must be prosecuted for murder because the Ethiopian community demands it, regardless of what the evidence shows. We don’t even know whether those who are demanding criminal prosecutions for Mohammed’s death are representative of the Ethiopian community. Do you believe the coroner’s office is preventing an injustice or incompetent and covering up a murder? Do you believe the police chief is campaigning for justice or covering up for and refusing to admit an initial mistaken report? Do you believe Councilmembers Graham and Barry know more than we do about the case, enough to justify their taking sides on this issue, or that they are playing to the crowd and the cameras? Who do you distrust most?


Thank you for your numerous replies about unreliable Comcast service. You’ve identified several problems with television and computer outages, both separately and together, but there doesn’t seem to be a pattern to them. Has anyone reported them to Comcast or the Office of Cable Television and received any kind of explanation?

Gary Imhoff


Negative Ramifications of H Street, NE, Construction
Bachir Diop,, Anwar Saleem,, Pamela Johnson,

Businesses along the H Street NE corridor are being strangled from four years of disruptive street and roadwork for the streetcar project. Customers’ access has been limited due to the steady opening and closing of pavements on H Street, NE, along with blockades and barricades, parking restrictions, and the clutter of heavy duty construction equipments. The reduced customer base has caused revenue loss while property assessments and taxes have risen more than 200 percent. In addition to the untenable predicament imposed by DC government on H Street small businesses, which are operating in an bleak economic environment, DC’s Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) has rendered a coup de grace by auctioning 27 H Street, NE, properties at its September 20 tax sale.

The government of the District of Columbia’s practice of promptly auctioning H Street NE properties with outstanding tax liens that are as little as $178.16 is predatory, especially when neither the mayor nor the city council has implemented any supportive measures to assist businesses and property owners during the imposed construction chaos. Although the government of the District of Columbia has generously given ten- to twenty-year tax abatements to wealthy developers — such as Donatelli and Klein, the Neighborhood Development Corporation, and Jeff Blum and David Franco — distressed businesses along the H Street, NE, corridor were only approved for a limited tax deferment that ended on September 15. This haphazard tax legislation introduced by Councilmember Tommy Wells did not address the negative impact that the construction has and continues to have on H Street, NE, small businesses. The deferred and current property taxes became due in full in September, while construction and its myriad of nefast consequences continue to plague small businesses along the H Street, NE, corridor. The limited tax deferment for small businesses on H Street, NE, only delayed the pain and, in many cases, expedited the auctioning of H Street, NE, real properties at OTR’s tax sale. Well-established businesses that have invested in the revitalization of H Street, NE, are now being threatened with foreclosure by OTR.

For the last two years businesses along H Street, NE, corridor have expressed to Wells’ office their need for urgent relief, but there hasn’t been any substantial or sustainable assistance. Wells’ office told H Street, NE, property owners that OTR denied the recent request for an additional tax deferment. Those owners were also informed by Councilmember Graham’s office that the city council recently passed legislation in the amount of three million dollars for the Streetscape Survival Fund. The Fund is to provide support in FY11 for small businesses affected by construction for a streetscape improvement project. According to the legislation, the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) is responsible for managing the Fund. But DDOT Director Gabe Klein disagrees. Klein on Sept. 28 responded to an E-mail request regarding the Streetscape Survival Fund by saying, “I am not aware of any finalized rules in place for the disbursal of these funds, or that DDOT would be the agency deciding who would receive funds as this is not our expertise; we work in transportation and infrastructure. We have suggested that the council look to DMPED, OTR or [an]other agency with a mission aligned with the Streetscape Survival Funds’ purpose.” [Finished online at]

There seems to be a disconnect or miscommunication amongst DC agencies and the city council regarding the disbursement of funds for the Streetscape Survival Fund. H Street, NE, small businesses can’t afford to idly wait for DDOT to decide whether the Streetscape Survival Fund is within its purview while businesses are closing and buildings are being auctioned to the highest bidder via OTR’s tax sales. H Street, NE, businesses and property owners need the district government to provide retroactive tax relief immediately and to place a moratorium on property tax sales during the construction phase of the Streetcar Project.

Several requests for assistance have been sent to the mayor and city council and, to date, there has not been a positive response. If actions are not taken to remedy this inequity holistically by providing immediate tax relief and retroactively canceling the property tax sales before court foreclosures take effect, the district government will have effectively accelerated the gentrification process of the H Street, NE, corridor and the closing of many small businesses that are the economic engines of this city.


When Will DC Election Results Be Certified?
Jeff Norman,

This should be a relatively simple question. I went to the web page of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) and, starting with the home page, I clicked on every category that might contain information that would answer my question, and I was unable to find it. I don’t want someone to just tell me the answer. We have a system of written laws, especially with respect to things like the conduct of elections. The certification date for elections should not be simply what someone verbally tells you; it should be in writing; and it should be in a place on the BOEE web site that is easy to find. This is important because, until certification takes place, the election results are not official.

After lots of hunting, I was able to discover that Title 3, Section 813.1, of the DC Municipal Regulations says that the BOEE shall certify the results of each election and Section 813.2 says that the BOEE shall publish the results; but neither section says what is the maximum number of days after the election when that certification or publication must take place. After more hunting, I discovered that the BOEE issued an Emergency Rulemaking on September 1, Notice ID 509170, that amended Title 3, Chapter 3-8, Section 808.3 of the Municipal Regulations, stating that all absentee ballots must be tabulated seventeen days after a General Election (which would be November 19 in the case of the November 2 General Election).

I will make an educated guess that the tabulation of absentee ballots is the last step in the election process before certification. I don’t know whether tabulation and certification can take place on the same day. November 19 is a Friday. So, at the latest, certification should be no later than the following Monday, Nov. 22. It is true that none of the races for major offices in the 2010 DC General Election were close; but some of the ANC races were close; and absentee ballots could change the results published by the BOEE on November 2. Why was it necessary for me to do all this research? Shouldn’t the BOEE simply state in a place that’s easy to find on its web site that all the elections will be certified by no later than November 22 or whatever date is correct? I wouldn’t even mind if the BOEE qualified that statement by saying that the certification of some elections could de delayed if there were a protest or a demand for a recount, which, if memory serves me right, occurs in a relatively small number of cases.


Prudence Begins at Home with the DC Council’s Leadership
Dave Mallof,

Councilmember Jack Evans posted a Washington Post blog last week that also ran in the Sunday paper entitled: “DC Can’t Tax Its Way to a Balanced Budget.” See Sadly, Mr. Evans truly is DC’s Fiscal Public Enemy Number One, though since March of this year he has tried to recast himself as a voice of prudence and providence. He has bled DC’s public coffers for many years with repeated one-off special access tax abatements and tax incentives that don’t fit any rational program, and called one short-noticed hearing after another. He never articulates a policy program that the deal du jour fits into before the giveaways commence. He is noticeably impatient on the dais to simply say yes to every special exemption and fiscal candy. The only financial strategy in play is one for bolstering his reelection and political action committee fundraising, money that the Washington Post has reported in the past that he’s likely spent for himself, with little to no oversight,

Mr. Evans implies that holding only $611 million in reserves is a precarious, even unlucky financial amount for DC, yet, sadly, he single-handedly burdened the District’s already bloated and teetering balance sheet in 2005 with an over-the-top, excessive $611 million in new debt to pay for an $800 million stadium, a deal in which we gave the keys away to one billionaire family. DC now has little to nothing to say on how the taxpayer-funded facility is used other than for eighty baseball days a year, since the family has veto power over any special event proposal that might produce ancillary revenue for DC or that might touch the infield in any way. Great deal; very prudent indeed! But we do have recurring added financial obligations forevermore to “keep up with the Jones” of other stadiums via a special clause that requires we DC taxpayers, spend even more unilaterally for upgrades in the future when the family notifies the DC government that upgrades are needed. (You may ask, by the way, where the other $200 million came from to fund the stadium. Well, it was kited and hidden from view in various operating and other capital accounts by DC’s untruthful Chief Financial Officer. That two hundred million dollars could have been spent on other social programs during a rainy day, like increasing Metro capital or operating subsidies for everyone, etc.) All told, Mr. Evans’ stadium — which was structured so that it cannot ever be sold or auctioned back to private ownership to clean up the DC public balance sheet — cost residents over one thousand three hundred dollars per person, or almost a cool three thousand dollars per DC household.

And his financial oversight vis-a-vis his DC Council Finance and Revenue Committee is nearly nonexistent. Ask his office to direct you to the appropriate video archive on council’s web site of any council oversight hearing he has conducted in the last four to five years where any rigorous discussion has occurred about DC’s financial controls and budget prudence that he now espouses. With the exception of some verbal pablum ginned up after fifty million dollars million was stolen and walked out the door in the Office of Tax and Revenue, an area under his oversight, you will not find a public record of rigor in financial oversight from Mr. Evans. [Finished online at]

If Mr. Evans is serious, he needs to work full time in job as a councilmember. Currently and for at least the last five years, he has drawn a cool $240,000.00 per year doing God knows what for God knows whom as a member of a big-time local law firm. That is over a million dollars in side income accepted over the last handful of years. That also equates to twenty thousand dollars per month of salary, or about a thousand dollars per working day per month, assuming there are about twenty on average per month. Doing what and for whom? At a lawyer’s billable rack rate of say five hundred dollars per hour, that’s a minimum for two hours per day every day he’s spending not dedicated a hundred percent to the people of DC.

Finally, words don’t work if the example indicates otherwise. Mr. Evans also earns over $125,000.00 per year in his council salary, on top of the $240,000.00 from Patton Boggs. (For those readers now in total amazement, that’s over $365,000.00 per year every year in income as a local public official — almost as much a President Obama’s four hundred thousand dollars. Good job, Mr. Evans. And all that cash excludes undisclosed added DC-paid health benefits and likely quite fat DC-paid retirement benefits? Does any average citizen know what those added cookies total for current and former councilmembers?)

I am sorry to say Mr. Evans feigns public fiscal sincerity wanting to cut everyone else’s paycheck, but the council accepted automatic pay raises in 2008 and, I believe, in 2009 (but due to a brief public outcry perhaps not in 2010). And again this year the Council probably is on track to continue to receive another automatic COLA increase in 2011. The US recession officially began in December 2007 and the capital markets, already deflating since mid-2007, finally imploded visibly for all to see in March of 2008 with Bear Stearns’ collapse — and later in September 2008 with Lehman Brothers and all other hell breaking loose. But the DC council kept right on accepting automatic pay increases that were approved interestingly when the Wilson Building administration was changing in December 2007!

Before continuing his “prudence” spin, Mr. Evans needs to stop taking the unseemly $240,000.00 right now, begin working full time for the financial health of the People of DC, focus on prudence 24x7, and rescind his pay Council increase for this year along with the rest of the sitting Council. He can return any other DC pay increases since December 2007 too.


Broadening the Urban Traffic Tightrope
Len Sullivan,

Thanks, Gary, for trying to stimulate discussion of DC’s ambivalence about urban traffic. Too bad only one reader responded.. Compared to reforming public education and balancing urban budgets, managing urban traffic is far more amenable to available physical, technical, and marketplace solutions. Mainly, it requires a bold, creative, forward-planning transportation department with: a) an urge to lead other cities in resolving a growing national — and international — problem; b) a tin ear for sophomoric attempts to pit livability versus drive-ability, urbanites versus suburbanites, rights versus privileges, or variety versus effectiveness; c) an acceptance that solutions require 3-D rather than monoplane planning; and d) the sense to involve the surrounding jurisdictions as well as the federal government.

NARPAC has addressed many of the related issues over prior years. We have parsed incoming vehicular traffic by volume, time of day, and vehicle type, as well as Metro rail and bus use. We have proposed “urban decks” (Kennedy Center, Capitol intestates), “promenades” (South Capitol Street, Whitehurst Freeway), elevated sections of major roadways (New York Avenue), and elevated sidewalks and cross walks (K Street, Georgia Avenue) to separate component flows and/or improve property tax revenues. We opined that “smart curbs” could get stopped taxis, buses, delivery trucks, and maintenance vans out of moving traffic lanes, and that tax incentives could encourage residential off-street parking. We sketched up multilevel, high-density “smart” parking garages that charged by the “greenness” and residency of the parkers. We suggested license-plate-imbedded RFIDs (e.g., E-Z Pass tags) to identify and track vehicle usage and truck transit/dwell times in order to automate — and individualize — user charges, fees, and fines.

NARPAC has pushed for wider use of versatile buses and against inflexible, street-bound trolleys; for expansion of commuter rail; but primarily for the continuous upgrading, expansion, and extension of Metro both downtown, Georgetown, and East of the Anacostia. We have recommended relaxing building height restrictions outside the so-called (and sacred?) “topographic bowl” to limit “downtown” congestion and symbolism. We pressed unsuccessfully for a meaningful long-range transportation plan. Willing readers can use the web site “search” feature on NARPAC’s home page at to scan these still-relevant, albeit virtually ignored, proposals. There is no reason why vehicular use within DC should not pay for itself in city revenues, while satisfying the other valid mobility needs of residents, tourists, commuters, businesses, government officials, et al., for the foreseeable future, and providing models for other major urban areas at home and abroad. It’s all about modern engineering, not mythology and sophistry.


Gene Weingarten, Best and Worst
Phil Shapiro,

Gene Weingarten, the Pulitzer-winning reporter, thinks its funny that his Twitter avatar is represented by excreta. The Washington Post thinks it’s hilarious, too. (See Can we get three cheers from the Pulitzer Committee?


Estate Tax in DC
John Capozzi,

William Haskett wrote [themail, November 7], “But isn’t it clear that the twin facts of death and the local District’s estate tax will take a significant bite out of the amount that will reach any inheritor of such property?” I want to address this concern about the DC Estate Tax. On a federal level, less than about 2 percent of all Americans have assets exceeding the exclusion limit for the estate tax. That means that over 98 percent of all Americans can pass along 100 percent of their estate tax-free.

Of the 2 percent remaining, many have done estate planning that allows them to pass along all or almost all of their assets to their heirs, tax-free. The bite that I think that William is referring to is that a very few taxpayers, obviously among the most wealthy of our citizens, will have to pay a percentage of tax when they pass.

Worrying about fair tax policies for the 99 percent of DC residents is more important than solving the problems of those who are in the wealthiest 1 percent of DC residents. Someone needs to pay taxes if we want to continue to live in the greatest country in the world. Having the wealthiest 1 percent pay some taxes after they have passed away is fair.



Far Northeast Community Livability Workshop, November 13
Samuel Jordan,

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is inviting residents to participate in a community workshop on transportation improvements for far northeast DC on Saturday, November 13, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Kelly Miller Middle School, 301 49th and Brooks Streets, NE, to discuss the progress of the Far Northeast Livability Study.

This community workshop is the second to be held in the area and will provide a comprehensive review of the more than sixty concerns raised by the community to date. DDOT will detail which streets the study plans to focus on moving forward, and to discuss the preliminary recommendations for those streets. Feedback from the community will help in finalizing the study.

DDOT studies and future information on the larger Livability Program may be found at Click on the “Livability Program” icon.


Smart Growth: Planning for Rising Tides, November 16
Johanna Weber,

Sea level rise from global warming, if ignored, will have a profound impact on the built environment in the San Francisco Bay Area. Brad McCrea, the Bay Design Analyst at the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, explores the issue and describes the options for maintaining the region’s quality of life, environmental health, and economy. Free. Preregistration required. Walk in registration based on availability. November 16, 12:30-1:30 p.m., at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


Adopted: For the Life of Me, November 22
Linda Clausen,

November is National Adoption Month. You are invited to view a new movie, Adopted: For the Life of Me, sponsored by Chevy Chase Library, the American Adoption Congress, and Concerned United Birthparents. The movie is by Jean Strauss, the author of Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents.

Jean Strauss has chosen several paths in her life, most recently as a legislative activist and documentary filmmaker. With her new feature documentary, she’s combined her two passions into a film that’s going to touch the hearts of a lot of people. Adopted: For the Life of Me, follows Dave, a fifty-two year old adoptee, as he embarks on a journey to find his birthmother. His saga, with its unexpected and moving epiphany, illuminates the impact secrets can have over an entire lifetime. Visit the film’s web site at

The movie will be shown on Monday, November 22, at 6:30 p.m., at Chevy Chase Library, 5625 Connecticut Avenue, NW. If you have any questions, or wish to sign up to attend, E-mail


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