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June 16, 2013

Discouragement

Dear Encouragers:

Mary Brooks Beatty, below, writes about the discouragement of a civic activist who is beaten down by the feeling that, "I do not trust or respect my local government." Itís a story Iíve heard repeatedly from people who are involved in public affairs on a local level in the District of Columbia. Whether the story is, "Iím outta here," "Iím too tired to deal with it anymore," "Iím sick of it all," or, as one person wrote to themail several years ago, "Iíve moved thirty minutes and a world away" to the northern Virginia suburbs, the underlying complaint is the same. Dealing with the government here beats you down and drains you of your energy.

Whether itís the school mother who sends her child to a private school and who says that it feels like sheís retired from a full-time job of battling for her childís education, or the neighborhood activist who canít understand why the DC government is forever working against the interests of people who live in the city and who want to love it, the wave of discouragement sometimes feels overwhelming.

So cheer us all up. Tell us again about "the benefits of this vibrant and beautiful city" that Beatty refers to, because themail is supposed to be about the benefits, too.

Gary Imhoff
themail@dcwatch.com

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Ferreting Out Corruption
Dorothy Brizill, dorothy@dcwatch.com

In the wake of the recent scandals that have involved government employees and elected officials in the District, DC residents are asking, quite naturally how did we get to the point at which fraud and public corruption seems to be so pervasive. After all, the District, by and large, has an informed, educated, civically engaged electorate that follows the inner workings of the government closely. In addition, over the years, a body of law has been adopted regarding, for example, ethics, campaign finance, corruption, and the conduct of elections (e.g., the Board of Elections, the Office of Campaign Finance, the Office of the Inspector General, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, and the Office of the Ethics Counselor in the Office of the Attorney General) to ferret out waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption by public officials, government employees, and contractors.

So what happened? In the coming weeks and months, we need to focus on whether there has been a "broadscale system failure" in the investigatory and regulatory regime the District government has in place to prevent corruption. Why, for example, did the DC Board of Election (BOE) hold a show cause hearing just last week regarding multiple violations of the Districtís campaign finance laws (e.g., failing to report two hundred ten donations totaling $102,763 and failing to report fifty-three expenditures of $169,431) by the 2008 Committee to Re-Elect Kwame Brown? While the DC Office of Campaign Finance has asked the BOE to impose a fine of $53,400 (or $200 for each of the 267 violations), the Committeeís bank account has a balance of less than two hundred dollars, and District law doesnít allows the fine to be impose against the candidate, Kwame Brown, or the campaign committeeís treasurer, Che Brown. Are DCís corruption laws not only not being enforced? Are they essentially toothless in that they do not provide for any real punishment or consequences if they are violated?

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The Beat of a Different Drum
Mary Brooks Beatty, mbbeatty@aol.com

Iím writing to comment on Garyís "The Beat Goes On," themail, June 2, and "Competing with the Suburbs," themail, June 12. When I moved to DC in 1999, Anthony Williams had just been elected mayor and there was a sense that the city was moving in a new direction. Despite warnings about crime, poor city services, political corruption, high taxes, and poor schools, my husband and I chose to leave the suburbs of Northern Virginia and move to Capitol Hill.

As a result of community efforts over the last fourteen years, my northeast neighborhood turned from being a "hot spot" of criminal activity to looking and feeling very much like Mayberry. During those same years, nearby H Street, NE, went from burnt out, vacant buildings to one of the most vibrant entertainment areas in city. But despite the fact that our personal quality of life improved greatly over these years, we have made the choice to leave DC. By moving to a suburban community just outside Charleston, SC, we will reduce our property taxes by 75 percent and lower our cost of living significantly. The murder rate is almost nonexistent and violent crime overall is at about 2 percent of DCís. Our new city (Mt. Pleasant) has been nationally recognized as one of the best run, and it has an unemployment rate of 5 percent. These elements help define quality of life to me.

But these improvements are not the reason we have made the decision to move. No, the greatest contributor to our decision is the incessant corruption in our local DC government. By almost any standard, the corruption has reached new heights of disrespect to taxpayers. We know of members of the council stealing funds from city agencies intended to help youth, of the high life that was funded with tax dollars and of bribery for political favors. Just a few bad apples? I donít think so. In fact, thatís why the term "culture of corruption" is so often used to describe DC government.

I do not trust or respect my local government. That feeling, which might be best described as outrage, leads me to say good-bye to this place that I have loved for the last fourteen years. Itís not the draw of the suburbs that leads us to the decision to leave DC. I can put up with the negatives of city living for the benefits of this vibrant and beautiful city. But the steady beat of corruption in DC government has become too much for me. While I admire and applaud Gary, Dorothy, the local media, and hundreds of community activists who "fight the good fight" to expose and eradicate the corruption, I see little hope of reform. So for us, itís time for the beat of different drum.

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Planning for the Martin Luther King, Jr., Central Library
Robin Diener, robinsdiener@gmail.com

As you may know, the DC Library Renaissance Project has been calling for a citizens task force on the future of MLK since the central library debacle of 2006. My local ANC2B passed a resolution for citizens task force on MLK in 2008, but the library system responded that it was "premature." Suddenly, we now find one hundred million dollars in the capital budget for MLK for 2017-18. The task force is no longer premature! In February, my ANC re-sent its resolution, but it has been ignored.

We need a citizens task force to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to plan for the central library that we, as a city, want and need, now and for the future. Use this link -- http://www.districtdynamos.org/savemlk -- to send a note to DC Council Chair Mendelson, Library Chair Catania, and others, to ask that a Citizens Task Force be written into the Budget Support Act during the councilís final vote on Tuesday. There is already four million dollars for library planning in the budget, and a task force would be a fraction of that.

Just so you know, ideas that are being floated call for a smaller library (two levels), with no public parking, and additional privatized floors of offices built on top. Must we privatize part of MLK in order to modernize it? Public-public opportunities are being ignored. There is forty million dollars in the budget for a new DC Archives, without a location! The City Archives would pair perfectly with the mission of the central library -- and, in fact, the city of Vancouver recently decided to move its Archives onto its top two floors (of nine!). These kinds of questions are best decided by the library-going public. Thank you for weighing in. Please do not hesitate to call me at 431-9254 if you have question or concerns about this matter.

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Why the WTU Run-off Election Matters
Erich Martel, ehmartel at starpower dot net

In August 2011, after forty-two years in DCPS (Cardozo, Wilson, Phelps High Schools), I retired. I continue to speak out against administrative abuse and the misuse of student test results to excess and fire teachers and close schools, instead of using data to analyze student needs and then meet those needs. That is why I blew the whistle on grade changes, social promotion, and principalsí abuse of their supervisory authority. Liz Davis has challenged mismanagement many times.

Over the past decade, the Washington Teachers Union suffered setbacks to its integrity that weakened its ability to fully and honorably represent its members. More than two years of bitter contract negotiations with Michelle Rhee led to a public split in the union leadership, with most members frustrated over the lack of union unity and weakened due process rights that allowed the chancellor to use annual changes in schoolsí staffing model and changing budget definitions as a pretext to excess several hundred teachers each year. Despite being elected as a critic of the chancellorís arbitrary management, current WTU president Nathan Saunders has pursued policies that further weakened the union. For many teachers, consumed with endless hours of irrelevant, meetings, paperwork, and petty micromanagement with almost every activity from sign-in to departure a subject to arbitrary loss of IMPACT points, the silence of WTU President Saunders is equated with silence of the union. Thatís understandable, but dead wrong.

Every member should express his or her frustration by voting to take back the union for its members. The best response members can make to the daily shock and awe of arbitrary decisions is to present the chancellor and the mayor with the shock and awe of thousands of teachers voting for a change, for a leadership that comes from the classroom and is an advocate for both students and teachers.

Like elected local and national leaders, those holding office in the WTU make decisions in the name of all teachers. It negotiates a contract or "collective bargaining agreement" (CBA) with DCPS that defines your working conditions, which directly affect your effectiveness in the classroom. As your representative in all matters dealing with DCPS officials, the difference between an effective and an ineffective union can mean the difference between a supportive learning environment and an abusive one. Since the union is in many respects like your attorney, a decision to vote or to not vote is somewhat like the difference between selecting an attorney or accepting a court-appointed one.

Liz Davis is a teacher, a scholar, and an activist. Liz has taught for forty years in DCPS (Nathan Saunders for four and a half years). She is presently assigned to Phelps ACE High School, where she is the building representative. You can find her online. Almost every reference describes her work with students, her advocacy. You owe it to yourself to read some of the references. I can only give some highlights. As a teacher-consultant for the DC Area Writing Project, Liz introduced research and writing skills to her students (http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/1353) and to teachers across the city. She has also served as a teacher-advisor to the College Boardís National Commission on Writing.

Liz is a teacherís teacher, skilled at engaging students in knowledge and teaching them how to use it in practical advocacy of their rights and safety. As such, she personifies a concept that Chancellor Henderson would like to crush: the teacher who combines instructional competence with a fierce commitment to her studentsí and colleaguesí well-being and a refusal to bow and scrape before the misuse and abuse of authority. Retaliatory transfers have not quashed her determination to demand justice. In each of her schools, teachers voted to make her their building representative.

As a building representative at PR Harris Education Center in 1993, she led a successful challenge to reduce teachersí case loads and have duty-free lunch periods. When lead was discovered in the water fountains, she demanded and got bottled water. When students and teachers became ill from tar fumes from repair of the damaged roof during the school day, she taught students how to write their elected representatives and succeeded in having the repair work moved to non-school hours.

After being transferred to Sousa JHS and learning that it was designated for demolition, despite its landmark status as the school in the Supreme Courtís Bolling v. Sharpe decision (the DC companion case to Brown v. Board of Education), city officials responded to her studentsí letter writing campaign by moving Sousa to the head of the school modernization list. When school officials endangered students and teachers by starting modernization work while students were in the building, she successfully demanded that classes be moved to a swing space at Shadd until the work was completed. Her advocacy resulted in her transfer to Hart Middle School. After co-authoring a Washington Post op-ed analyzing the flaws in Chancellor Rheeís reform plan, she was invited to the central office to discuss it. When Hart MS was reconstituted and consolidated with PR Harris, Liz refused to interview for a position at Hart and requested a transfer to Phelps where she is currently teaching.

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DCPS Teachers Are Fed Up with Current Union Leadership
Elizabeth A. Davis, elizabeth.davis704@gmail.com

During the Saunders administration, fifteen schools are slated to close, and two were reconstituted. A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed between Saunders and the Chancellor that violates our contract. Itís June 2013 and teachers are still without a contract. Although the Washington Teachers Union pays 100 percent of Nathan Saundersí salary, teachers are wondering if Nathan Saunders working for teachers or the DCPS administration. While he continues to downplay the number of teachers that received excess notices, Jason Kamras, DCPS Chief of Human Capital, reported to the DC Council Committee of the Whole that with school closings and consolidations this year, "in the order of five to six hundred" teachers will be excessed and expected to find placement in sixty days.

While Saunders beats his chest about giving jobs back to nineteen excessed teachers, fifteen schools are slated to close and two reconstituted without as much as a whimper from him. While excessed teachers who are eligible for early retirement tally up their years of credible service, Saunders signs a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Chancellor Henderson that will give some of them severance pay instead of their hard-earned pension. President Saunders will have the privilege of deciding who will get the severance pay. After a year of waiting for a tentative agreement, as promised by President Saunders, DC teachers continue to wait for a contract. Teachers are speculating that the delay is due to added language extending the school day and year. If this is the case, Saunders knows that it will cost him votes if the contract is released before ballots from the run-off election are counted. It could possibly place President Saunders in the "excessí pool of teachers. But wait! Is he actually in the pool of certified teachers? If his teacher certification has expired, he could lose his job as a teacher as well as WTU president, since only certified teachers can hold elected offices in the WTU.

DC teachers are fed up with President Saunders for too many reasons. One could start with his silence on the school closings. The WTU seems to have no analysis that the closings are wrong. EMPOWER DC filed a lawsuit to stop the closings, but President Saunders failed to put the full force of the WTU behind it. For three years, teachers have raised concern about Saundersí failure to address such looming issues as the cheating scandal. The union should have called for a real investigation and pointed to the pressures on teachers and principals to game the system. It is a scandal. WTU needs to offer a serious critique of IMPACT. Fixation on rubrics hurts good teachers. Cheating makes teachersí baseline scores inaccurate. DCPS has one of the highest rates of teacher and principal turnover in the nation. Itís bad for the teaching and learning culture. Itís bad for kids. Professional development days are still largely a waste of time. Donít just negotiate days. Ensure the time is well used or available to teachers. The roller coaster of annual school budgets leads to excessing. Shifting central office costs to the schools has meant cuts to which the WTU should have objected.

The WTU needs to build a movement of parents and community groups who want better schools. Instead the WTU fashions itself like a lawyersí office making it much weaker than it needs to be. In essence, the WTU is not seen as champions of quality. Nathan Saunders continues to play to the stereotype of a union that blocks improvements. These are only a few of the reasons why Saunders received only seventeen votes more than his opponent, Elizabeth Davis. Davis is perceived by teachers as the only candidate who could restore internal democracy in the WTU. She believes that teachers need a more robust democratic process, dialogue at monthly union meetings, open board meetings, frequent hearings, task forces, and other ways to involve them in helping to shape WTU positions and administration decision-making in DCPS.

She has promised teachers that she and her team will build powerful alliances with parents and community organizations that would serve to build a community coalition for the schools to defend public education, engage on the content of reform by putting out white papers and engaging teachers in asserting what research says the content of reform should be, engage on issues of teaching and learning. The WTU needs to organize the teachersí voice on issues of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and work to cultivate a positive school climate in all schools. The most important role for WTU is to make schools respectful places to work and respectful places for parents to send their children. A learning culture has to replace the current climate of fear that has become the norm and organize for power because Davis understands that professional expertise and public respect that is our greatest source of power, not our ability to hire lawyers.

DC teachers are fed up with their current Union leadership and the diminishing capacity of the WTU. They are looking for leadership that will restructure the WTU for strength and restore respect to the teaching profession. If the buzz on the social media networks in DC is remotely accurate, teachers are looking closely at Elizabeth Davis.

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Opposition to Restaurants and Taverns Isnít Just White on Black
Richard Layman, rlaymandc@yahoo.com

With regard to Carolyn Steptoeís post [themail, June 12] in response to a Clinton Yates article in the Washington Post, which I thought was pretty facile, there are many examples of all races expressing opposition to restaurants and taverns. In the Shaw neighborhood, African-Americans "born in the US" opposed restaurant efforts by Ethiopians. In the Shaw neighborhood, the Shiloh Baptist Church opposed a liquor licenseís being granted to an Ethiopian restaurant, while a different black church opposed efforts by the now closed Vegetate restaurant to get a liquor license.

In the H Street neighborhood, African-Americans opposed restaurant-tavern efforts by a variety of people. And yes, "white people" led in criticizing certain fast food and night club activities by some black entrepreneurs, which the H Street CDC worked to make out as a racial issue. I could probably come up with a number of additional examples that eviscerate the white against black thesis expressed by Clinton Yates in his piece.

I think of this as being a result more of conflict inherent in "mixed use" development when commercial districts abut residential areas, but also because some residents move into these abutting districts expecting that commercial districts should have to modify their practices, not the other way around.

And note that there is litigation going on right now in Camden, New Jersey, where the city council passed legislation putting a curfew of 11:00 p.m. on businesses abutting residential areas, http://tinyurl.com/l4y3gro.

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CLASSIFIEDS ó EVENTS

The Future of Volunteerism on Community Service Organizations, June 25
Anne Renshaw, mlrddc@aol.com

Kweku Toure and Susie Taylor, Presidents of the Penn Branch Citizens Civic Association and Cleveland Park Citizens Association, respectively, will share their insights on "The Future of Volunteerism on Community Service Organizations" at the June 25 Assembly of the DC Federation of Citizens Associations, 6:45 p.m., at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church Hall, 2300 Cathedral Avenue, NW.

Mr. Toure and Ms. Taylor will describe their experiences heading two of Washingtonís energetic and outspoken citizens associations. These dedicated community leaders will detail what it takes to sustain grassroots, all volunteer neighborhood organizations in the age of Internet-driven activism. Audience participation will follow the guest presentations. Discussion on volunteerismís future is expected to cover such key issues as how volunteer-reliant organizations recruit and retain long-term helpers and whether residentsí attention to neighborhood issues, headlined at community meetings, has in fact morphed into more listserv-based action.

The Citizens Federationís Assembly is open to the public. All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church is located at 2300 Cathedral Avenue, NW, near Connecticut Avenue and the Woodley Park Metro (Red Line). The Church parking lot is off Woodley Place, behind the church. The entrance to the Church Hall is down the garden steps from the parking lot. The door will open at 6:30 p.m. Presentations by Mr. Toure and Ms. Taylor, to include audience Q&A, will begin at 7:15 p.m., following the annual election of the Citizens Federationís Executive Board. For further information, contact Anne Renshaw, President, DC Citizens Federation, milrddc@aol.com.

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