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October 26, 2011

Managing Perceptions

Dear Perceptive Readers:

Councilmember Muriel Bowser’s Committee on Government Operations held a hearing today on the ten ethics bills that are before the council, and the councilmembers were anxious to determine the minimum that they could do, with the least enforcement behind it, to give their constituents the impression that they are going to take real and serious measures against corruption. Councilmembers will shirk from taking any measures that actually restrict their behavior, but they want to improve their constituents’ impressions of their behavior without actually having to change it.

For example, Councilmember Cheh, in her opening statement, expressed her opposition to term limits for councilmembers, her opposition to eliminating or limiting constituent service funds, and her opposition to requiring councilmembers to be full-time employees. (Councilmember Cheh is an employee of George Washington University, but she has never recused herself from deliberations or votes that concern that university — she said that only two instances of possible conflict of interest had occurred, and that she had sought counsel opinion, which was that she didn’t have to recuse herself. Similarly, Councilmember Jack Evans has only inconsistently recused himself from votes concerning the Marriott Corporation, a major client of his law firm, as John Hanrahan writes below). And Ms. Cheh is trying to position herself as a champion of clean and good government.

Cheh was not alone in having doubts about passing measures that would materially affect the behavior of councilmembers. Councilmember Evans, who led the council’s efforts a decade ago to overturn measures for term limits and limits for campaign donations that had been passed by voter initiatives, spoke against raising those issues against and also defended his own use of constituent services funds. Councilmember Catania, who ran for his first term promising that he would not run for more than two terms as a councilmember, spoke strongly against term limits as well as against requiring full-time service as a councilmember. Councilmembers Alexander and Bowser defended constituent services funds as being part of the “safety net” for the most needed residents of the District of Columbia, when only a small portion of those funds are actually spent to benefit the poor who have emergency needs that cannot be met by public or private social service agencies. The great majority of those funds are spent for councilmembers’ private or political purposes, and that’s what councilmembers are really defending.

Councilmember Orange said that he thought that the public would not be comfortable with a solution that created an ethics committee of the council through which the council would police itself. He was right. The council has shown that it is incapable of policing itself, and that it is the reason we are in the situation we are in today. But he didn’t go far enough. Judging from today’s hearing, it’s an open question whether the council is capable even of writing ethics legislation for itself.

Gary Imhoff


Legislation to End Predatory Pricing Practices in DC
Alma H. Gates,

Speculation continues on the outcome of the Retail Service Station Amendment Act of 2011. Bill 19-0299 seems to have sparked serious tension among councilmembers and has begun to redivide the city, in spite of the mayor’s efforts to create “One City.” Residents of the District deserve more from their elected leaders than biased decision making and votes cast in favor of campaign contributions.

One of the prominent players in this issue is former DC Councilmember and lobbyist John Ray, who represents the interests of Joe Mamo, owner of the Capital Petroleum Group. CPG earned about 778 million dollars in 2010, and owns 42 percent of the city’s gas stations. Ray has joined forces with Jesse Jackson and the law firm of Holland and Knight to defeat passage of Bill 19-0299. Councilmembers, Catania, Mendelson, M. Brown, Cheh, and Wells support Bill 19-0299, which would prohibit gasoline distributors from owning and operating retail service stations in the District of Columbia and would divorce station operators from the requirement they purchase petroleum from a single source distributor. Council Chair Kwame Brown and Councilmembers Orange, Evans, Bowser, Thomas, and Barry do not support the legislation. Councilmembers Jim Graham and Yvette Alexander are currently undecided.

The council has an opportunity to put an end to the predatory pricing practices that have sent District residents across state lines to purchase gasoline. Please send an E-mail to all councilmembers to let them know you are tired of having to drive to Maryland or Virginia to purchase lower-priced gas, favor keeping tax dollars in the District, oppose political outcomes based on financial incentives, and that you support the legislation proposed under Bill 19-0299.

Councilmembers’ address are:,,,,,,,,,,,


Jack Evans Still Violating Conflict of Interest Laws
John Hanrahan,

Chairman Brown, four-and-a-half more months have gone by since I last wrote you on June 12 about Councilmember Jack Evans’ continuing violation of District of Columbia conflict-of-interest reporting laws. I first wrote you about this matter almost one year ago and this is my fifth letter to you on this matter. I am getting more than a little fed up that you have not even bothered to respond to my last letter, and have apparently done nothing to get Mr. Evans to comply with the law since you responded in March that you would “look into this matter” (the only time you have responded to me). Needless to say, I have not heard from Mr. Evans, either.

The issue is simple and would take you about fifteen minutes to resolve if you are indeed serious about putting the council’s activities above reproach. Once again, here are the basic facts: Mr. Evans spearheaded the legislative drive to win approval of legislation providing $206 million in public financing for the Marriott convention center hotel. Then, right on the verge of passage of the legislation, Mr. Evans on five occasions in June and July 2009 suddenly recused himself from voting on the matter. The Examiner newspaper reported on July 1, 2009 that Mr. Evans “recused himself from the vote because his law firm, Patton Boggs, represents Marriott,”

Is it correct that Mr. Evans guided the public financing legislation to the one-yard line and then recused himself — as others carried the ball over the goal line — because the law firm with which he is affiliated represented a party that would benefit from the legislation? If it is correct that his law firm represented Marriott, why did Evans wait until the last minute to recuse himself? In any event, why does Mr. Evans refuse to comply with District laws and tell us citizens and voters exactly why he recused himself? Why, even as he expresses concern over various ethical issues that have afflicted the mayor and the council, does Mr. Evans himself refuse to comply with basic ethics laws that are already on the books? As an attorney, Mr. Evans of all people should recognize his obligation to exercise prudence when it comes to matters of conflict of interest or the appearance of same. He is not above the law, especially laws that specifically apply to top elected officials.

As I have written in previous correspondence, the law is clear: when a council member recuses himself or herself on a matter, DC laws — the District of Columbia Official Code (DC Code 1-1106.01), the DC Municipal Regulations (Sections 3303 and 3304), and the Council’s own Rule 202 — require that he explain in writing the nature of the conflict of interest (or appearance of a conflict) and the reasons for the recusal. These written statements must be submitted to the Council Chairman, the Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) and the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). As all three offices have told me in answer to FOIA requests that I submitted in mid-2010, Mr. Evans has not submitted a written explanation as required by law to any of those entities. Stripping the issue down to its basics: councilmember recuses himself. Law says council member must explain the reason for his recusal, in writing, to the Council Chairman and to the OCF and the BOEE. Councilmember fails to file required written explanations for his recusals. To this day, councilmember remains in violation of the law. Period.

And then, compounding his failure to disclose the reasons for his recusals, why did Mr. Evans un-recuse himself later, months after the final council vote, when the deal ran into a legal snag? When a council member recuses himself, the law makes it clear he is to stay recused — and not hop back into the matter at some future date when it starts to go south. But that is precisely what Mr. Evans did. Notwithstanding Mr. Evans’ recusals and his failure to file written statements explaining those recusals as required by law, Mr. Evans nonetheless continued to involve himself in the convention center hotel matter, even after the public financing legislation was passed.

Press accounts cited in my previous letters to you and others noted that Mr. Evans worked behind the scenes in 2009-2010 to untangle a thorny legal dispute involving Marriott and JBG Cos. — a dispute that was blocking completion of the convention hotel deal. News articles credited Evans with helping resolve the problem to clear the way for the convention center hotel deal to go forward. A recusal on a matter means “hands off,” but not “jump back in when you have to.” If, in fact, Patton Boggs represented Marriott, then Mr. Evans’ original recusals and his continuing efforts to overcome the legal obstacles facing Marriott constitute about as big an apparent conflict of interest I can think of. (See this article at

Chairman Brown, in the spirit of your stated desire for ethical reform, I call upon you to do your duty as chairman and require Mr. Evans to comply with the law’s requirements that he submit to you, the BOEE and the OCF a written explanation of the reasons for his recusals. This is an important matter of council ethics, public trust, and the public pocketbook that must be resolved now.


Elizabeth Noel: “Too Good to Serve”
Herbert Harris, Jr., Consumer Utility Board,

There are some well documented ways a nomination can be challenged and not survive the city council confirmation process. The residency requirement, unpaid taxes, criminal history, and lack of qualifications are the most common obstacles. Mayor Gray’s nomination of Elizabeth A. Noel, former Peoples’ Counsel, for the DC Public Service Commission (PSC) has created a new twist on nominee qualifications. Can a nominee have too much experience? Yes — if you are PEPCO. PEPCO thinks Ms. Noel’s experience before the regulatory body should disqualify her from serving on the Public Service Commission — she is “too good to serve.”

Mayor Gray should be applauded for the courage of this nomination, knowing it would draw the ire of the utility companies. PEPCO is the only utility company publicly challenging the nomination. Washington Gas and Verizon may have their own consternation, but they have not opposed the nomination publicly, but PEPCO has launched an aggressive media and lobbying campaign to derail the Noel nomination. In a letter to Mayor Gray and media reports in the Washington Post and Washington Business Journal, PEPCO is alleging that Ms. Noel’s thirty years of experience and vast knowledge of regulatory law “create an irreconcilable conflict of interest.” PEPCO also solicited an opinion from DC Attorney General Irv Nathan that would impose a lifetime ban on Ms. Noel from ever serving on the PSC. Why would PEPCO not want Ms. Noel serving on the PSC? The question is not her integrity, work ethic, or commitment to quality service for District consumers. The allegation by PEPCO is that Ms. Noel lacks the objectivity to evaluate issues before the PSC because of her tenure as the Peoples’ Counsel. This one-sided logic is insulating and epitomizes a new double standard that applies only to this nomination.

Over the years, PEPCO has stood silently and approved a host of lesser qualified and under qualified nominees being confirmed to the PSC. If we apply the logic of PEPCO’s argument about objectivity, current PSC Chairman and former city councilmember Betty Ann Kane should not have been confirmed because she served as lobbyist for telecommunications giant Sprint. No former US Attorney or highly qualified attorney could be appointed to a judgeship, if we applied the same logic to the legal community. As a member and Chairman of the DC Consumer Utility Board, I have witnessed firsthand the major utility cases and issues over the past decade. PEPCO’s opposition to Ms. Noel’s nomination centers on one issue — corporate profits. PEPCO repeatedly attempted to vilify Ms. Noel as Public Enemy No. 1 for being an obstacle between them and the consumers’ wallets. Courage and effectiveness will make you an arch enemy. In 2009, this was on full display when PEPCO orchestrated Ms. Noel’s removal as Peoples’ Counsel during the Fenty Administration.

Over the past two decades, PEPCO has received $282 million (over one quarter billion dollars), in rate increases from DC citizens. These increases didn’t result in improved system reliability or customer service. Customer service got worse, with longer and more frequent unexplained power outages. Institutional knowledge can’t be overcome by a new slick public relations campaign or repackaging old promises. Ms. Noel knows the how and why PEPCO has deteriorated into the lowest-rated utility company in USA. The real tragedy is that PEPCO can’t understand it is best for everyone when you have a strong consumer advocate and highly-qualified independent members on the Public Service Commission. Consumers pay far rates and receive quality service while the company earns a solid rate of return. Instead, PEPCO would prefer a cast of weak regulators that just rubber stamp their corporate prerogatives, translating into bigger profits.

This summer PEPCO submitted a new $42 million rate increase request to the PSC. This proposed increase comes in the aftermath of a poor performance this winter and a system failure this spring that displaced residents and shut down parts of northeast near Union Station including H Street, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the GSA, and CNN’s Washington Bureau. The glancing blow of Hurricane Irene again exposed the remaining weaknesses plaguing our system and power restoration after storms. The newly appointed member to the PSC will preside during the case on this pending rate increase.

Finally, this nomination is important because it will begin to rebuild the public trust in the Public Service Commission. In recent years, the PSC has been reactive or missing inaction at best on far too many issues. For example, the PSC did not hold a single public hearing on the power outages that plagued the region in the summer of 2010. Institutional trust is an integral part of the PSC’s ability to act in the public interest and effectively regulate these powerful utilities. The foundation for that institutional integrity is the individual qualifications and experience of each commissioner. Can he or she do the job? Elizabeth A. Noel is the right nomination, and we would be well served with her on the Public Service Commission.


Weekly Residential Street Sweeping Ends October 31; Leaf Collection begins November 7
Kevin B. Twine,

The DC Department of Public Works (DPW) will end weekly residential mechanical street cleaning for the season on Monday, October 31, and enforcement will end after then. “No Parking/Street Cleaning” restrictions will be lifted and motorists may park on posted, alternate-side, daytime sweeping routes without moving their cars on street-cleaning days. Residential street sweeping and parking restrictions will resume on March 1, weather permitting. Residential street sweeping is suspended for public safety concerns and to allow the employees to transition to leaf collection duties, which start November 7. The sweepers release a fine spray of water to control the dust as they sweep. When the temperature is at freezing or below, the spray can freeze and cause accidents to vehicles and pedestrians. Overnight sweeping along the District’s major roadways, e.g., Pennsylvania, Georgia, Constitution, and Independence Avenues, will continue all winter, as weather permits. Motorists should obey the street sweeping signs posted along these streets.

By suspending the street sweeping program, DPW personnel can focus on leaf collection, which begins November 7, as well as the upcoming snow removal season. The 2011-2012 leaf collection season begins November 7 and will run through January 14, 2012. Leaves will be removed from tree boxes at least twice. Loose leaves raked into the tree boxes or bagged leaves placed there will be collected and composted.

New brochures announcing the fall/winter leaf collection season were mailed to residents in October. The 2011-2012 leaf collection schedule also can be found by visiting, selecting “Education and Outreach” and then “Brochures and Fact Sheets.”



Halloween Tour of McMillan Sand Filtration Site, October 29
Parisa Norouzi,

This tour of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site will be free and open to the public. It will be a great opportunity to see a unique, historic site and to learn about its potential development. For questions, contact Gwen Southerland,, or John Salatti, and 986-2592.


“One City Insured”: The Health Insurance Exchange Public Meetings, November 9, 14, 17
Michelle Phipps-Evans,

The month of November is the District’s fifth annual Health Insurance Awareness Month. The DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) encourages residents to review their family health insurance needs to ensure they have the most ideal coverage to protect their family’s future. Also, during November, District government employees and Medicare beneficiaries enter the open enrollment season for the health care benefits, flexible spending accounts, or for other benefits offered by their agencies. Also, during this month, the mayor’s Health Reform Implementation Committee (HRIC) will like to invite members of the public to join the final three of the ward-based meetings in a community conversation on the future of health care in the District of Columbia. These meetings, which are open to the community, will be as follows:

Wednesday, November 9, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Watha T. Daniel-Shaw Public Library, 1630 7th Street, NW
Monday, November 14, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., University of the District of Columbia, Health and Natural Science Building 44, Room A03, 4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Enter on Van Ness Street.
Thursday, November 17, Reeves Center, 2000 14th Street, NW.

President Barack Obama signed the health care reform bill into law on March 23, 2010, and the HRIC has been working since then — to head up the effort to implement the law in the District. The HRIC is encouraging all District residents to attend its next meeting to discuss what health reform means for you: improved access to health care for DC residents now, help paying for health insurance for residents and small businesses, opportunities to help shape health care in the District.

For more information, residents should visit The HRIC needs as much input as possible to make sure that the District’s health insurance marketplace offers high quality insurance at a price you can afford. Or please contact HRIC staffer Dorinda White at 442-8992 or


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