Power To The Peephole: Loose Lips Daily
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT—"Lucky Bar Patron Not So Lucky," "Howard's Bid To Move Hospital Worries Those Left Behind," "Bag Tax Funding Restored To River Clean Up"
Howdy. D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray was smart to televise the budget talks yesterday (and he's promised to continue to do so). These wonk fests suit him. The mayoral hopeful appeared at his deliberative best. You saw the anti-Fenty: detail oriented, fluent in acronyms, a man who will never make a snap judgment. If that bores you, well there were plenty dramatic moments provided by the other councilmembers. Gray let others drop a "God Damnit" (Evans) or Grahamstand (Graham) or crack a few jokes (Thomas Jr.). The D.C. Wire follows LL's lead item from yesterday and writes about this non-breaking new transparency after the day's talks ended. Now that's not winning the day! Tim Craig writes: "Last year, council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) allowed reporters into the room to document some — but not all — of the deliberations. Lobbyists and the public were still excluded, even though members were making major decisions on how to spend billions of dollars. Within the span of 48 hours, the council also agreed to raise the cigarette, sales and gas tax out of public view. But Gray, a Democratic candidate for mayor, has gone even further to let more sunshine into the budget negotiations this year. Responding to a formal request by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, and other advocates to open up the proceedings, Gray agreed to have them televised on the government access channel. Gray has been trying to make open government a key theme of his campaign against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who has come under criticism for being too secretive. If last year's budget talks are any indication, viewers will probably be able to see council members shout at each other and trade insults as they jockey over how to spend tax dollars. The negotiations, which could once again result in higher taxes for some residents, are expected to last through at least Friday. But, since the council is entering new territory for openness, it's possible that the negotiations could drag on for a while, with the added element of possible grandstanding for the cameras." The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute called the proceedings "must-see-TV"
But, NBC4's Tom Sherwood says the camera is no replacement for letting reporters in the room: "While the government camera picked up much of the conversation around the table, it wasn't the same as being there. You could see or hear the side conversations that go on among council members or between their staffs who line the room, but you couldn't see if someone passed notes or papers or other documents that were being discussed. In other words, seeing this work session from one camera angle is like seeing it through a peephole."
HUMAN SAFETY NET: DCist reports on yesterday morning's protest outside the Wilson Building. Organizers from the Fair Budget Coalition and Save Our Safety Net formed a "human safety net" around city hall in an effort to draw attention to the cuts to social services currently being debated on channel 13 (!). DCist's Sommer Mathis explains just how supportive the council is to the organizers' tax increase proposals: "A couple of different versions of the proposal are being debated by the Council — At-large member Michael A. Brown has proposed starting the first new tax bracket at $200,000, while Ward 1's Jim Graham has proposed $500,000. Both agree that an additional tax should be levied on those who make over $1 million. In addition to Brown and Graham, Ward 6's Tommy Wells, Ward 5's Harry Thomas, Jr., Ward 7's Yvette Alexander and Ward 8's Marion Barry have pledged their support for a new progressive tax as a means of avoiding deep cuts to social services in the cash-strapped 2011 budget." And yes, Barry did put on a "superhero" cape for his support.
AFTER THE JUMP: CDC misled District on drinking water, Fenty needs to worry about Ward 4 voters, Mendo goes after fire department overtime, charter schools are scared of the DCPS teacher's union contract, and much, much more!
DRINKING WATER: WaPo's Carol Leonnig reports that a House probe has found that the CDC misled District residents about the high levels of lead in our tap water: "A House investigative subcommittee concludes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made 'scientifically indefensible' claims in 2004 that high lead in the water was not causing noticeable harm to the health of city residents. As terrified District parents demanded explanations for the spike in lead in their water, the CDC hurriedly published its calming analysis, knowing that it relied on incomplete, misleading blood-test results that played down the potential health impact, the investigation found. The city utility says lead levels have been in the safe range in D.C. water since 2006, after a chemical change to reduce lead leaching. But the House report raises concerns about children in 9,100 residences throughout the city with partial lead-pipe replacements. Their parents may not know CDC research has found that children in such homes are four times as likely to have elevated lead in their blood." This is a must read. Key scare graph: "The committee did go back to the labs for the original test results for 2002-03 and learned that three times as many children had elevated lead levels as reported, 954 instead of 315. This means child lead poisoning was rising, not falling or staying the same, as the CDC had claimed." More coverage via WUSA.
CHARTER SCHOOLS FREAKING OUT: D.C. charter schools are perhaps the one entity not digging the proposed DCPS teacher's union contract. Why? Because the new teacher raises suddenly give public schools an advantage over charters in hiring. WaPo's Bill Turque writes: "The city's 57 publicly financed, independently operated charter schools, which educate 37 percent of the city's 75,000 public school students, have long been seen as competition to traditional public schools. But the contract has raised, for the first time in memory, the prospect of the tables turning. 'I do believe we will lose our best teachers,' said Donald Hense, founder and chief executive of the Friendship Public Charter School system, which serves about 4,000 students on six campuses and operates Anacostia High School under a contract with the District. John Goldman, chief operating officer for the William E. Doar Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, said that if ratified, the contract was a 'lose-lose' for charters. "We'll be forced to spend more money on teachers and less on other items, in order to get the same or a lesser product," he said. The city's top-performing charters usually pay slightly more than D.C. public schools, offering a premium for what is often a longer work day. Maintaining that edge would be challenging under the new public school pay scale, charter school officials say."
MENDO TAKES ON FIRE DEPT. OT: During a hearing yesterday, Councilmember Phil Mendelson slammed Fire Chief Rubin over an "orgy" of overtime pay in his department, NC8 reports. Key point: "Mendelson singled out the February snowstorms, in which the fire department spent more than $1 million on overtime for one day." The defense: "Mendelson, however, received a sharp retort from Fire and EMS Chief Denis Rubin. 'We have four or five significant fires, 25 buildings collapses — it's preposterous that you would take the good name of the members and use the term 'an overtime orgy,'' Rubin said." More back and forth: "Mendelson complained that the fire department's overtime bills continues to soar while the police and corrections departments' OT numbers have declined. He said the fire department is on track to overspend on overtime by $6 million, essentially double what was budgeted....Mendelson was also angry that Chief Rubin sent an e-mail to all members of the department Tuesday, warning them that overtime was threatened. Rubin gave the time and place of the hearing, but few firefighters showed to complain. Mendelson is so angry he sent the city's top accountant, Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi, a letter asking for a criminal probe of Rubin under the city's anti-deficiency law, which requires agencies to stay within their budgets." More coverage via The Examiner.
THE $400,000 DOG PARK: Talk about misplaced priorities. WTOP's Michelle Basch reports on a groundbreaking for a really lavish dog park in NW: "Mayor Adrian Fenty handed out dog treats to some of his furriest constituents Tuesday at the groundbreaking of the Newark Dog Park. The 11,000-square-foot park will be located off Wisconsin Avenue at 39th and Newark Streets in Northwest. 'Everywhere I go in the city, there are more people who want dog parks,' Fenty says. The District is spending more than $400,000 on the park, and residents raised another $25,000 to pay for amenities, such as park benches."
TROUBLE FOR FENTY IN WARD 4: WaPo columnist Robert McCartney counts up the campaign signs in Fenty's neighborhood and sees trouble for the incumbent mayor: "From modest brick rowhouses to affluent, landscaped ranch homes in Ward 4, Fenty's home district and the one he represented on the D.C. Council, the mayor's green placards are barely keeping up with the blue ones promoting his rival, council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D-At Large). On two wide-ranging visits this week to the ward, which is in the city's northern corner, I counted 121 yard signs for Fenty (D), versus 143 for Gray." The Green Machine needs to step it up!
METRO MYSTERY: The man found dead on the red line earlier this week has been identified. WaPo has the story: "Rickey Jay Van Houter left his Rockville home at 9:45 a.m. Monday as he did many weekdays, driving to the Twinbrook Metro station before boarding a Red Line train to his government contracting job as a computer programmer. He had been up late the night before on a deadline for work, his family said, but they noticed nothing unusual Sunday as he helped his wife water her flowers in the back yard and hung a new American flag from their front porch. But Van Houter, 52, never made it to work. About 7 p.m., his wife, Ilene, said she got a call on her cellphone. It was a Metro Transit Police detective. He was waiting at her home. Ilene Van Houter said that she didn't ask what it was about but that she knew something was terribly wrong. Her husband of 29 years had been found dead, slumped over in a Metro train seat, five hours after boarding. A train operator discovered him at 2:55 p.m., almost three hours after the train had been taken out of service and just before it left the Shady Grove rail yard for the evening rush."