City Desk

Riding The Fence: Loose Lips Daily

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT—"Photos: DMV, the Line Dance," "Smith, Weaver Gang Up On Graham at Ward One Council Debate," "Medical Examiner: Robert Wone 'Should Have Responded' to Stab Wounds"

Howdy. Last week, LL linked to a war between Councilmember Phil Mendelson and the Fire Department over alleged overtime abuses. LL is still wondering just how the fire department racked up $1 million in overtime in one day. LL is also wondering why there are some reporters in town who were pissed off that D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray televised the budget meetings. Yes, reporters weren't allowed in the room. But so what? It was broadcast live on TV. And it was must-see TV. Just sayin'.

Now that "Lost" is over, it's time to we turn our attentions to Vincent Gray's $12,600 Fence. WaPo's Ann Marimow updates us all on the issue in which neither Gray nor Mayor Fenty come off looking that great: "The owner, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, put up the fence two years ago without a permit. The man who oversees the committee that will decide this week whether the fence stays or goes is his chief rival, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. How the fence became part of the public debate in the mayoral campaign involves the District's current and former attorneys general, the mayor's self-appointed lieutenant, two city agencies, the Office of Campaign Finance — and a measuring tape. To Gray, the five-month ordeal illustrates petty politics and a slow-moving city bureaucracy he says he wants to change. Gray, who hired the city's former top lawyer, Robert J. Spagnoletti, in the case, blames the mayor's allies for tipping off the media to his home improvements and wonders whether he has gotten the runaround from government agencies. 'I'd like to think it's not deliberate, but it's hard not to think that,' Gray said of how his case has been handled. 'It's not very efficient, and as mayor I'm going to take care of it.' To Fenty loyalists, the fence represents a troubling example of his rival not playing by the rules and of cronyism. Attorney General Peter Nickles is keeping close tabs on the fence, trying to ensure, he said, that the chairman's case is handled like that of any other resident. 'It's awfully easy to minimize this matter by saying, 'This is just a fence permit,'' Nickles said. 'What's important in terms of public confidence is that public officials are treated the same as ordinary citizens.'"

AFTER THE JUMP—More budget debate, Jonetta fears the return of the financial control board (!), graffiti makeovers, Graham campaign hires a city contractor to hang signs, and much more!

BUDGET DEBATE: D.C. Wire's Nikita Stewart reports that District CFO Natwar Gandhi isn't pleased that the D.C. Council has balked at Mayor Fenty's proposed hikes in fees for traffic tickets, etc: "In his 2006 campaign, Fenty (D) promised that he would not propose new taxes, leaving council members to create and approve higher sales, cigarette and gas taxes, and leaving them with the blame. But in a letter delivered Thursday night to Fenty and Gray, Gandhi explained that the implementation and collection of the fees and fines, which would apply to fiscal 2010, would be delayed by one month if the council requires the mayor to impose the levies by rulemaking. If the council votes on the mayor's proposal, collections would begin by July 1 and would raise about $7 million in revenue, Gandhi said in the letter. If the mayor imposes the fees, collections would not begin until August 1 and would generate about $4.7 million. 'I felt it necessary to bring this to your attention,' Gandhi wrote."

The Examiner's Jonetta Rose Barras joins Gandhi in being disappointed with the D.C. Council over its approach to the budget mess. In today's column, she rails against Councilmember Mary Cheh's soda tax (more nanny-state BS), and the council's failure to approve Fenty's fee hikes. [Not sure you can be for secret-ish fee hikes and be against a soda tax). Unfortunately, Barras goes waaaaay overboard with her theory that a) if the council does not balance the budget, the financial control board will come back; b) the council secretly wants congress to appoint a financial control board just to make Fenty look bad. This is ridiculous!

Barras writes: "Some legislators would love to finger Fenty for the control board's return. What better way to push him out of office? But the adage 'the mayor proposes and the council disposes' is more than rhetoric. By law, the budget is the sole province of the legislative branch. Ultimately, the council will close the budget gap — even if does so irresponsibly, as it is poised to do..." Are all Examiner columnists supposed to be this nutty? Seriously, Barras is a long-time city reporter. LL has nothing but respect for Barras. But, damn, this is loony tunes.

If you read the latest from The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, you'll want to charge Barras with criminal neglect. Her rants look only more bizarre. The DCFPI reports that "8,400 households had their electricity shut off in 2009, an increase of 43 percent since 2007. Homelessness among families with children jumped by 37 percent between 2008 and 2010." And: "Two of five DC households with children said that they had difficulty affording enough food in 2009. More residents are turning to school lunches, and the number of food stamp recipients has grown 30 percent since the start of 2008. Demand for emergency food assistance has jumped, too. The Capital Area Food Bank reports that 88,400 people in the DC region now receive emergency food assistance each week from a food pantry, or soup kitchen– 19,000 more than four years ago. Some soup kitchens, like SOME, have seen a 20 percent increase in visitors in recent years." The DCFPI notes that the first vote on the budget is this Wednesday.

CAMPAIGN SIGN CONTROVERSY: D.C. Wire's Mike DeBonis reports that Councilmember Jim Graham was grilled  for hiring a city contractor to hang campaign signs: "At a debate in Kalorama on Thursday night, challenger Jeff Smith questioned Graham on why he hired electrical contractor M.C. Dean to hang campaign signs in its bucket-equipped vans.... Graham said he'd hired the firm, and Chuck Thies, his campaign strategist, explained that M.C. Dean is 'being paid to do this work just like anyone else who could be hired to do something.' But Smith's point was that M.C. Dean isn't just anyone else. The company holds the contract to maintain and repair city traffic signals — one of the most lucrative contracts in city government. Last year's contract was worth $9.3 million to the company. It was approved by the Department of Transportation, which Graham oversees as chairman of the council's public works committee. Since 1999, according to city billing records, M.C. Dean has done more than $130 million in business with the District — the vast majority of it via the transportation department." More details from Graham's Camp: "Thies said this afternoon that M.C. Dean finished its work yesterday and has invoiced the Graham campaign for $7,680. The company is not treating any portion of the sign-hanging work as an in-kind contribution, he says, but will make a $500 donation to the campaign."

RECESSION HITS STUDENTS: Suburban school districts are facing a rise in the number of low-income students, reports the Examiner's Leah Fabel: "In Montgomery County, nearly 30 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches — a school system's measure of family wealth. That's up from 27 percent in 2008-09, and barely 4 percent in the early 1970s, according to district data. 'Younger households have moved in,' said Bruce Crispell, demographer for Montgomery schools. 'And for years we've drawn more immigrant families to the county,' he said, indicating that immigrant groups have much higher poverty rates than the general population. In Fairfax County, the 5,000-student growth in eligibility for free or reduced price lunches outpaced total enrollment growth by more than 3,000 students. 'It's happening all over the county,' said Fairfax School Board President Kathy Smith. 'Even in wealthier areas with very low percentages, sometimes that percentage is doubling ... it's happening to families you wouldn't necessarily expect.'"

ANTI-VIOLENCE MOTORCADE ROLLS THROUGH SOUTHEAST: WTOP reports: A motorcade roared through the streets of Southeast D.C. Saturday morning to raise awareness of gun violence in the city and around the nation. Community members rallied around the families of victims slain in a series of drive-by shootings that began on March 22 and ended with a drive-by shooting on the night of March 30, which killed four people and left another five wounded. The procession made stops at the sites of each murder. The message of the event clear, according to Dino Fredericks, the uncle of William Jones III, one of the victims. 'Stop killing each other. These are children, constantly dying for no reason,' Fredericks said, 'There's a lot of heartache out here. It's a waste of life.'" More coverage via NC8.

BIKE SHARING: D.C. and Arlington are set to expand a bike sharing program. The AP reports: "Officials said Friday that Arlington will create 15 bike-sharing stations in Pentagon City and Crystal City. Washington will update 10 existing stations and add 90 more. About 1,100 bicycles will be available by this fall. They can be picked up or dropped off on either side of the Potomac River. The installation will cost DC about $6 million. Arlington will pay about $850,000. Both jurisdictions expect to recoup the expense through membership sales, advertising and sponsorships. Memberships cost $5 a day, $30 a month or $80 a year."

MURAL PROGRAM: Via the AP, DPW started up its mural program to tackle vandalism: "The D.C. Department of Public Works has opened the third year of MuralsDC. Officials say the program aims to replace graffiti with murals, helping revitalize neighborhoods and teaching youth about aerosol painting. The department says commercial sites tagged with graffiti could be eligible for a free mural, if they are privately owned and highly visible from the street. Property owners and residents contribute ideas for the artwork. DPW spokeswoman Nancee Lyons says the program has succeeded in deterring graffiti at the same sites. Lyons says her goal is to identify walls by May 31. She says officials would like artists to finish painting by August."

CREDIT CARD THEFT: A NW Cheesecake Factory has been stealing more than just your soul. Employees swiped your credit card number.

MAYOR'S SCHEDULE: No public events.

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  • downtown rez

    To Gray, the five-month ordeal illustrates petty politics and a slow-moving city bureaucracy he says he wants to change
    Gray, the one who trumpets is willingness to consult and deliberate and reach consensus about everything wants to change slow moving city bureaucracy?
    Good one. That's very funny.

  • Jason Cherkis

    Yeah, that was pretty bad. Equally bad was Nickles' quote about his consideration of the public's confidence in elected officials.