City Desk

D.C. Council Riled Over TV Airing of Fire Truck Testimony

The fishy fire truck testimony delivered last Thursday by Peaceoholics co-founder Ronald Moten before the D.C. Council was plenty dramatic, but the drama apparently did not end with the pound of the gavel.

Since then, a classic council-executive scuffle has broken out over broadcasts of the proceeding on city cable, with allegations flying that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty himself has become personally involved.

Because Thursday's proceeding was considered a "public deposition" rather than a council hearing (it was supposed to be behind closed doors until Moten demanded otherwise), the councilmembers heading up the fire truck investigation—Mary Cheh and Phil Mendelson—determined that its contents should not be disseminated. That's in keeping with the usual council practice on depositions, which are kept under wraps, so other witnesses won't change their testimony to make their stories consistent (Never mind that LL and other reporters already did plenty of disseminating.)

On Thursday, Cheh tells LL, the order went out to the Office of Cable Television, and its director, Eric Richardson, not to air the Moten footage. In spite of this, the deposition was aired at 7 p.m. that night, leading Cheh to send her chief of staff, David Zvenyach, and D.C. Council general counsel Brian Flowers down to OCT headquarters to retrieve the tape.

They got a tape, Cheh says—but apparently, it wasn't the only tape. At 7 p.m. Friday, the deposition was aired again.

"Apparently it was a ruse," Cheh says of the tape handover.

Meanwhile, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray had called Richardson to further impress on him that the council did not want the proceeding aired.

Here's what Cheh says took place, according to various conversations with OCT last week: "We were told that the mayor had called and said that the tape should be shown at 7 p.m. this evening....We learned by a circuitous route...that Mr. Richardson was told that he was to air it and that not only that, if he gets any inquiries from the council, or the chairman, that he's supposed to direct them to the attorney general's office."

Why Fenty would insist on the broadcast of a proceeding implicating two top deputies and a controversial friend in a questionable giveaway of city property is completely beyond LL and other observers. But, in any case, the move has rekindled the council-mayor wars, and has raised real questions about how the separation of powers extends to the District's cable TV system. The system is run by OCT, a executive branch agency, but longstanding practice holds that Channel 16 belongs to the mayor and that Channel 13 belongs to the council.

The mayoral power move "bespeaks a view of the executive that he controls what of our hearings and our meetings goes up," Cheh says. "He's making a claim here that I think is beyond executive authority."

Today, Gray informed his colleagues that he'll be moving emergency legislation tomorrow that would ensure that Channel 13 "shall be under the exclusive control of the Council."

From a memo issued by Gray: "The failure to follow the direction of the Council in whether to broadcast or rebroadcast a deposition in an investigation constitutes a serious imposition on the authority to control Channel 13 and on the oversight and investigation function of the Council and would, therefore, be a serious intrusion on separation of powers. Executive branch control of the Council’s cable channel programming in this and other instances threatens the independence and autonomy of the Council to deliver it’s message to the public without the filter of the Executive branch."

LL is waiting for calls back from Fenty's office, Richardson, Gray, and Attorney General Peter Nickles. More to come.

UPDATE, 2:30 P.M.: Richardson called back, directing inquiries to Nickles.

UPDATE, 2:50 P.M.: Gray, in an interview, confirms he called Richardson on Thursday night, and that Richardson had indicated that he had been "directed to play" the tape. But Gray says that by conversation's end, he "thought we had an agreement" to keep the proceeding off air. He hasn't had any communications with Richardson or anyone else from the executive since.

Says Gray of the mayoral interference into Channel 13 affairs: "I've never seen anything like this before....It really is controlling information in a very unhealthy way."

UPDATE, 3:30 P.M.: BTW, watch it while you can [WMV video].

UPDATE, 8:10 P.M.: Nickles speaks! "I don't know on what basis after a public session, you can direct someone to keep it off the air," he says. "It is so absurd."

Nickles says he's not aware of Fenty directly ordering Richardson to play the recording.

As for the larger separation-of-powers issues: "It's an executive agency; it's staffed by members of the executive branch."

The council action gave Nickles, not exactly Mr. Transparency, a chance to lecture councilmembers on the subject: "Here's all this talk of transparency, and here, out of the blue, comes this give the council the right to effectively seal its proceedings form the public," he says. "I don't understand why you would even suggest that."

As for the legislation Gray plans to introduce, Nickles says, that might raise an issue with contracts the District has signed with its cable providers. Any council action would be prohibited from affecting the terms of those agreements.

"I think this is sort of the problem with this fire truck—that they're looking for this needle in a haystack, and they're not really being consistent or abiding by the law," Nickles says. "This is the latest unusual move."

Nickles, of course, in his own investigation, did not prove himself the most apt haystack-comber—he missed two big needles, named Sinclair Skinner and David Jannarone.

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  • Brandon Green

    What's wrong with more transparency?

  • Q

    WOW!!! Let the "urination" contest begin. Airing it a second time was genius. Moten's testimony undermines the entire investigation and gives EVERYONE (including Jannerone) access to what was said. This was a powerplay of epic proportions because in the "mayor's" alleged "the Council can't tell me what to air" strategy he has in fact made the Council out to be the non-disclosing entity of the DC Government. Now the Council looks as if they were trying to hide something. Genius!

    Skinner and Jannerone still need to answer for their misdealings, but still, this is comical!

  • Q

    P.S., LL, I take it that the 1000th LLW subscriber is definitely watching this. LOL! Congrats BTW! Maybe I'll join.

  • RT

    Why not broadcast this? I agree with Brandon Green. What is the council trying to hide from their constituents?

  • KCinDC

    Brandon and RT, it says right in the post: "That’s in keeping with the usual council practice on depositions, which are kept under wraps, so other witnesses won’t change their testimony to make their stories consistent." Now, the attempt to avoid that might not be effective, but your ignoring the explanation completely makes you seem a little like shills for Fenty/Skinner/Moten/whoever.

  • Mike DeBonis

    LL does find it silly that the council would try to stuff the genie back into the bottle here, but what's more alarming is that the mayor feels he can dictate which council proceedings may or may not be shown to the public.

  • Skipper

    I'm confused: If the Moten "deposition" was done in a public forum and with TV cameras recording the event, then how can the Council argue the contents of the "deposition" can't be discussed publicly?

    You can't have a public forum, and then argue that what was said at the public forum can't be repeated in public.

    If Cheh and Mendelson knew the proceedings were being videotaped, then they should have reasonably assumed the tapes would be broadcast on Channel 13.

    This puts Gray into a very odd position of arguing that it's the Mayor who's trying to control information, and yet it's the Council that doesn't want information to be released in an unedited, unfiltered format.

  • Skipper

    And Gray's argument is further undercut by the fact that the video of the Moten "deposition" is available online:

  • Downtown Rez

    "so other witnesses won’t change their testimony to make their stories consistent"
    These guys are free to talk to each other pretty much whenever they want. So that's not only ineffective, it's silly pretext.
    Much more likely is that both sides want to get their story out while impeding the other side from doing the same.

  • KCinDC

    Skipper, the council very well might have events videotaped that they don't then broadcast on Channel 13. I don't know whether that's happened before, but I wouldn't find it surprising or unreasonable.

    What is surprising is the mayor intervening in the council's decisions about what they air on their cable channel. Cheh and Mendelson might have reasonably assumed that the council has control of that channel, since as far as I'm aware the mayor has never previously overruled their decisions in that area.

    But I agree with LL about putting the genie back in the bottle.

  • J.A.M.

    The Council doesn't control programming on Channel 13. OCT determines their programming, although the Council may make certain requests from time to time, but ultimately OCT makes the final determination on programming. If OCT is an executive agency under the Mayor, then he has the right to get involved in the operation of OCT, including programming. If the Council doesn't like it, they need to make the Office of Cable Television an independent agency, like the Board of Election is.

  • Skipper

    I agree that it's a bit odd that the Mayor told Channel 13 when to run the video.

    BUT: it was videotaped. It's online. It was broadcast twice. Channel 13 and 16 are run by an executive agency.

    I think it's odd that the legislative branch is telling the executive branch to not broadcast on public TV what was videotaped by public TV cameras at a public meeting described by the Council as a public deposition.

    If Gray is going to push emergency legislation declaring that Channel 13 is under the exclusive control of the Council, what if the Mayor responds by ordering his agency - the Office of Cable TV - to stop filming and broadcasting Council proceedings and events?

    I imagine a basic legal question is how can an operation by an executive agency branch be subject to the control of the legislative branch?

  • Janice Green

    This is the best thing on TV since JR was shoot. Why not show this? Ronald Moten should have been a presenter at the BET Awards.

  • Q

    Everyone is saying the same thing here. The only problem is that once the government controls the media outlets, you can best believe propaganda will inserted and other freedoms will be compromised. But from the comments so far, I think we all can agree that:

    1) Cheh and Mendelson should have no expectation of confidentiality if they didn't get Moten to sign an NDA or tell him that the contents of this hearing are not to be disclosed.

    2) The mere fact that Moten was allowed to bring in "guests" betrays any sense of confidentiality and leads a reasonable person to conclude that it was an Open forum.

    3) Moten, in some theatrics and excitable responses had every expectation that the footage would be aired. An activist without an audience (and TV coverage) is like a swimmer without water.

    4) Cheh sending a representative down to OCT to retrieve the tape after the airing should've been a sign of things to come. I don't know if it is customary to duplicate footage in that fashion (seems highly unlikely, unless OCT has become miraculously efficient), but I'm sure there are OTHER copies, DVDs, etc. of it.

    5) Richardson or one of his staff members (probably the tech that aired the tape, will be terminated or transferred.

    Some would wonder if Skinner/Jannerone, etc. wanted a copy, they could've easily requested one from OCT. Not saying that couldn't happen, but the Mayor's office purpose and intent WAS TO AIR it. If they could've gotten away with a Moten testimony marathon, they would've.

    It seems kinda vindictive that the footage was leaked, but understand that undermining the Council's investigation and authority is clearly the purpose here. It makes the Council look incompetant, as in, they can't even manage their depositions correctly, etc. We already know that the AG concluded no wrongdoing, and the IG will likely come to the same conclusion although stiffer language, so anything to make the Council look inept would be beneficial -- either in testimony or by sheer technicality.

  • Daniel W. Johnson

    Absolutely Outstanding... Air it everyday if You think it might do some good. Look People; This is EXACTLY what the Constituents of The District will be facing with Statehood... Only on a Broader and Quite frankly more abusive manner as our Beloved Mayors Office Morphs into The Governors Office. The City Council as well as the Mayors Office Has been the biggest collections of Douche Bags since 1972.I think the City ought to be Run By Congress again. You say You want to Be heard and counted...Touchet' Then Stand Up and Shout "We aint goin be taken dis shit no Mo"

  • KCinDC

    Right, Daniel, because we've never been subjected to douchebaggery from Congress. Congress is well known as a douchebag-free zone.

    You know what we can do about mayors and council members we don't like, something we can't do with meddling members of Congress? We can vote them out, and we have done that in the past.

  • Tom

    Although the Council leaves us wanting more than not. Most depositions are taped and behind closed doors. They should have never allowed "guest". Now hopefully they learn the error of their ways.

  • Wrack

    Q, if Fenty fires Richardson over this, the proverbial poop will hit the proverbial fan. Can you imagine how obvious that move would be? The accusations of pettiness would immediately --


    Okay, fine, so Fenty isn't above that. Maybe you're right. But I hope not. Richardson is a decent person, unlike many of the Mayor's crony agency heads.

    FWIW, I agree with the general consensus: foolish of the Council to hold a "public deposition" and not expect it to be broadcast, but shady of the Mayor to ignore the Council's order. Ahhh, politics.

  • Truth Hurts

    Brilliant move by Fenty. If Gray wants Grand Jury secrecy rules to cover sworn testimony of witnesses before the city council, he should've applied for the US Attorney vacancy. Any witness the city council forces to testify has the absolute right to release his testimony to the public. Gray wanted to embarrass Fenty, yet it's Fenty who turned the tables on the council. Sad state of affairs, but Fenty wins this round.

  • daheyell_is_going_on_in_Ward4

    Fenty can be contrary for the sake of being contrary, even if it bites him in the ass, and especially if he wants to demonstrate that his authority supersedes all.

  • fedupcitizen

    First of all this may is so secretative and corupted his taking all his courses form the Kwame Kirkpatrick should of intimidation. Secondly I blame the council they gave him so much power the fool doesn't know when to stop. I can't wait until he has to go and defend himself how he has hurt all of the citizens and employees. Nichols is another corrupt crony, who can't seem to say whether he lives in VA or D.C.

  • fedupcitizen

    first of all this mayor is so secretative and corrupt he has been taking a course from the Kwame Kirkpatrick school of intimidation, and look what that got him. Secondly the council is also to blame they gave him to much power another boy king ie: george Bush and of course Nichols ie: Chaney lite is another corrupt crony, whom can't seem to tell the district residents if he lives in VA or D.C.

  • fedupcitizen

    Hey Truth hurts Fenty didn't turn the tables he is still is an idiot, small setback for Mr. Gray

  • Tom

    After reviewing the entire "deposition" I am 100% in the anti-Fenty camp. He has not been a positive influence on this city at all. Fenty has been about Fenty. I blame LL (maybe not you at the time Debonis) for hyping a man, who's claim to fame is not paying attention during his council term and playing with his Blackberry. Now look what we have, Mayor Williams looks like the best Mayor on Earth in retrospect

  • Truth Hurts

    fedup, I'm disappointed in Fenty, too. I had high hopes for him, and he's not delivering. But I never expected much of Gray or his fake, cynical "one city" campaign. Gray got what he asked for in this petty squabble, and that's the only reason I said Fenty's move was brilliant. I don't mean to imply that Fenty's blameless. He's making lots of boneheaded, arrogant moves. I never like Gray from the jump, that's all.

  • Terry Miller

    About a year ago, I heard that folks had attended a Council hearing in which Carol Schwartz berated a high ranking official from the Department of Human Resources over something or other. It sounded interesting so, I went to look for it on the "view past hearings" site on the Council web site. I could never find it. On that day, Carol had about six hearings, back to back, and you could see where that one would have fit it. Plus there were times when statements that apparently referred to the other hearing were bleeped out.

    I looked for days, just because I was curious. I could never find it, but I know it happened because people were there who reported back on it.

    Another thing I noticed is that hearings of Fenty supporters (Graham and Bowser) are telecast more frequently on channel 13.

  • candycane1

    My tax dollars pay for channel 13!!! Air it again and again until all of the citizens have had a chance to see it and the circus of a government we have.

  • Concernedaboutdc

    Moten should have insisted that this deposition be taken in private. The only thing that was demonstrated here was his inability to communicate effectively, inability to exercise self control and poor command of enunciation and the English language (unless the notorious ward 8 substitution of "v" for "th" is considered acceptable). Well, nevermind, he was educated in D.C. Public Schools, that is the norm.

    Spectacles like this is why I am so very grateful that I won't have to live in this city much longer. But I will have an opportunity to vote one last time. Fenty's association with people like this is troubling. His arrogance and childish powerplays with the council suggest to me that he has no business in executive public leadership.

    Vincent Gray is, at best, weak and ineffective.

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  • Q

    Concernedaboutdc you've crossed the line in terms of your DCPS reference. As a DCPS graduate I was taught the correct parts of speech, proper pronunciation, enunciation, and taught not to use colloquial tones in a formal setting. Mentioning DCPS in general and Ward 8 in particular does nothing for your argument of Moten's testimony and should be discarded altogether.

    In other words, "So don't go labeling DCPS grads English a'ight." (Please refrain from negatively generalizing and using improper stereotypes for those whom matriculated and graduated from the District of Columbia Public School system).

    BTW, where did you go to school?

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  • Kia from SE

    Mo will always put on a good show, whether he is fakin for the public, like he is always on call to "save kids" bs....You can never reach the peaceaholics on the phone!

    Why can't he get a passport??? Cause he owes money for Child support cause he doesn't take care of his own kids...
    He has alot of kids by alot of ghetto women, who must like thugs, why anyone would get involved with him I don't know!

    He has been lying and being dramatic and loud for a long time, it is only now in the public eye. The streets know what is up, he is defensive b/c he has things to hide like a prior for rape when he was a teen, his "down low" tastes, and all of the "business dealings" he has...of course all "legal" (yeah right) where his hands don't touch anything......

    You recommend he goes to the FBI, I can assure you he has already talked to the law, a snitch who was caught with alot of drugs and only did a few years in jail??????

    You do the math, a snitch who still talks to the police about all the kids he works with about what they are and arent' doing. He is a snitch! That dude is a joke, and most people know it already