Dead Man Walking Superintendent Clifford Janey's final days

School’s Out: Janey’s staff retreat played like a swan song.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford Janey has finally acknowledged something to his top staff that has been painfully obvious to D.C.’s political class: He won’t be around long enough to see how things work under the new mayor and council-led school system. News of his short-timer status was delivered indirectly during a management retreat April 30–May 1 at the Charles Summer School Museum and Archives. The No. 1 issue at the powwow wasn’t on the official agenda—the fact that Janey is not Mayor Adrian Fenty’s choice to lead the schools in the newfangled position of chancellor.

Janey’s spokesperson, John White, who attended the meeting, says Janey never addressed his future. What he did say is that “in the current atmosphere he would not be surprised if someone should look for a job,” says White. “When I say current situation, I am referring to the pending takeover by the mayor.”

Those loyal Janey soldiers who stay until the bitter end were informed that a very strong recommendation would be their reward, White says. According to White, Janey never implied he wouldn’t be around or dropped any hint about whether or not he’s polishing up his own résumé. Janey refused a request for an interview.

But talk about looking for jobs and handing out recommendations sounds a bit like a farewell to LL. One source familiar with the meeting referred to the two-day retreat as Janey’s DCPS eulogy. When attendees weren’t discussing job searches, they were focusing on “how leadership should deal with change,” says White. Janey should be an expert on change by now. He must have whiplash from the abruptness with which his reputation switched from savior of our children to whipping boy for the fast-acting Fenty administration. Janey has crafted some tough new standards for D.C. teachers and students, as well as an ambitious school modernization plan, though he likely won’t get the chance to see them in action.

The superintendent still has a handful of defenders, but you won’t find them in the corridors of power. When one councilmember was asked about Janey’s future, the words “awful” and “he’s gone” were uttered.

But former Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson thinks the superintendent is getting screwed after being told by city leaders that he would have ample time to show results. “One of the most interesting things the council did in the governance legislation is it gave this plan five years to show results,” says Patterson. “The current school board and Mr. Janey had half that time.”

And given recent events, time is running out on the charade that Janey is part of the Fenty education team.

The week before the schools management retreat, Fenty and Janey sat down with the city’s top financial muckety-mucks. They needed to talk about hiring a consulting firm to look into accounting problems with the school system’s internal controls of payroll, procurement, federal grants, and Medicaid services—irregularities that could threaten the District’s hard-earned clean bill of health on Wall Street. The John A. Wilson Building conclave was billed as another one of those “we’re all on the same page” exhibitions for the public.

After the big wigs all decided to give yet another contract to consulting firm KPMG in the hope that it can work out the budget and management mess at the schools, the leaders—including Janey—piled out of a third-floor conference room and huddled for the post-meeting press conference. Janey stood slightly back from the mayor and School Board President Robert Bobb. The superintendent received only one question—from LL—about what makes this attempt to correct the school system’s unending financial problems any different from the other audits and reports. “Because we are together,” Janey said, standing off to the side. “That’s what makes this different.”

Janey then exited stage left while the mayor and Bobb continued answering questions. LL followed Janey to the elevator and inquired whether the superintendent had been contacted by anyone in the Fenty administration about the school chancellor’s job. “Hey, they know my number,” said Janey. “And they know my number metaphorically, too.”

Two days later, Janey was a no-show at another high-profile Fenty school event—a press conference to outline the mayor’s school governance transition plan. A school source says Janey was invited to the event just one hour before it started. DCPS operations manager Abdulsalam Omer was the only high-level school official able to make it.

When Fenty recognized Omer at the press conference, he noted the school system was “ably represented by Dr. Omer.”

Gray Jabs Fenty

From the public view of things, Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray couldn’t be on better terms.

After the results of the May 1 special elections were tallied, Fenty joined Gray in congratulating Ward 7 victor Yvette Alexander under a big party tent. The mayor was wise enough not to get sucked into endorsing a candidate in Ward 7, Gray’s home, so everyone was all smiles.

But leading up to election night, relations between the city’s top two elected officials weren’t so cozy—particularly when it came to the mayor’s 2008 budget proposal. Fenty submitted a budget that Gray charged had a gaping $30 million dollar hole—a matter of dispute since the budget sent down by the mayor was certified as balanced by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

Since late March, Gray has been pressing the mayor to come up with specifics about how agencies will make enough cuts to cover the $30 million in new spending the mayor proposed to improve agencies’ contracting, procurement, and personnel services.

So on April 5, Gray fired off a letter asking for a few details. Fenty was slow to deliver.

What ensued was a war of letters. In response to his first letter, Gray got an assurance from Fenty that the council would get the details by April 13. Later that month, Gray wrote, “It is now April 25, 2007 and I have yet to receive the information I requested.”

Gray implored the mayor to get in touch with him immediately. “It is imperative that we receive the cuts needed to balance your budget today, so Committee chairpersons can know the specific impacts that your proposed cuts will have on the programs and services provided by the agencies they oversee.”

According to an administration source, Fenty delivered the requested information on the same day the letter was delivered.

The Fenty faithful see Gray’s missives as a piling-on exercise. At an April 24 hearing, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini had explained the delay in getting the requested information. He indicated that Gray would have everything he needed the following day. But Gray sent the letter anyway. He also copied it to all of his council colleagues—a time-honored way of making sure the press becomes aware that the mayor had failed to turn in his assignment on time.

Political Potpourri

• Finally—proof that payoffs for political favors can be beneficial for city residents. The formula for success just requires some re-gifting.

During the April 21 auction to benefit Eaton Elementary School, a basketball in a display case signed by Washington Wizards all-star Gilbert Arenas brought in $300 for the school. The ball, which is now in the hands of an unnamed Eaton parent, was donated by At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson.

He and eight other councilmembers received the encased balls as a gift from Wizards owner Abe Pollin. The sports mogul delivered the token of appreciation after the council voted in favor of a bill to raise taxes on tickets sold for Verizon Center events. The revenue from the new tax will be used to fund a planned $75 million upgrade to his downtown arena (Loose Lips, 4/13).

The Eaton auctioneer deserves a pat on the back for this one: The estimated market value of the ball, autograph, and display case is about $200.

• During his days on the D.C. Council, Harold Brazil sometimes used fashion changes to make statements on various legislative matters.

In 2002, Brazil shaved his trademark mustache to demonstrate the fiscal peril of pursuing income tax cuts. He wore a red Nationals baseball cap during key moments of the baseball stadium debate. After he left the council, a more relaxed Brazil sported a beard for a short time.

Now Brazil is showing off his straight-hair look. His usually curly tresses are low to his head and swept back—think Al Sharpton with a short haircut. LL noticed Brazil’s new ’do last Thursday, when the lobbyist was making his rounds at the John A. Wilson Building. (Unfortunately, LL was not toting a camera at the time.)

But Brazil must have been too busy to comment on this latest fashion statement. LL attempted to engage him in conversation on two occasions, but he refused to acknowledge LL’s existence. One council staffer who requested anonymity did ask Brazil about his hair. He told the inquiring staffer that “he just likes to change things up from time to time,” this source says.

• You wouldn’t be surprised that the public information officer for the D.C. Office of Property Management would be pumping up his boss. But PIO Bill Rice’s May 4 feel-good press release about the Eastern Market fire was a big pat on the back for his former boss.

Here’s how Rice kicks off the release: “As conceived by City Administrator Dan Tangherlini, the D.C. Office of Property Management (OPM) and the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities (CAH) have arranged for artists to paint the windows boarded-up in the aftermath of the tragic Eastern Market fire.”

D.C. political geeks will recall that prior to an ill-fated run for the Ward 3 council seat, Rice served as spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Transportation. His boss for most of that stint was Tangherlini. By the way, the city administrator isn’t the first person to ever think about painting boarded windows and doors.

So did Rice have some sort of flashback? Rice says “no.” He just knows who is running the show. “We all work for Dan in the same way we all work for the mayor,” says Rice. And besides, “It was, in fact, very much his idea.”

Got a tip for Loose Lips? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 332-2100, x 302, 24 hours a day.

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