DeMorning DeBonis: July 12, 2010
TODAY IS JULY 12, 2010 -- 64 DAYS UNTIL PRIMARY DAY
On Friday morning, after a brief single-bidder auction, United Medical Center became sole property of the District government. In Saturday's Post, Lena Sun described the consequences: "The move plunges the District back into the business of owning a financially struggling hospital nearly a decade after city-run D.C. General Hospital was forced to close because of similar troubles. No cash changed hands Friday, but the proceeding reduces the estimated $55 million debt that the previous owner, Specialty Hospitals of America, owes the city. ... The city took immediate possession of the 184-bed hospital, formerly Greater Southeast Community Hospital, met its $2.2 million payroll and started the process of transferring Medicaid and Medicare numbers and various licenses." And make no mistake, this is a government-run hospital. All five of the board members named Friday by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty -- Chief Deputy Attorney General Eugene A. Adams, Department of Mental Health Director Stephen T. Baron, Chief Procurement Officer David P. Gragan, Office of Risk Management Interim Director Andrew T. "Chip" Richardson and Taxicab Commission chair Leon J. Swain Jr. -- are administration insiders with no special expertise in the hospital business.
AFTER THE JUMP -- Fenty faces trouble in Ward 4 -- Colby says voters shouldn't be held hostage by Rhee -- Michael Brown likes field trips -- where's the funding for the Gray education plan? -- PSC nominee's markup turns into council showdown
*** MAIN COURSE ***
NOW WHAT? -- Julius Hobson Jr., who chaired the board the ran D.C. General before its 2001 shuttering, says in a Post op-ed that the city has little hope of cleanly extracting itself from the hospital. "What the city could not previously sell during good economic times certainly won't sell in the middle of a recession. ... The D.C. government is re-creating at UMC what it dismantled at D.C. General, except under worse conditions." He proposes three options that "don't involve pouring money into UMC" -- (1) "create accountable-care organizations consisting of primary-care physicians, specialists and at least one hospital"; (b) "construct three or four urgent-care centers east of the Anacostia River" that "could become feeder systems for the remaining hospitals in the city"; or (c) build "a state-of-the-art 125-bed public hospital at a location easily accessible to far Southeast and Southwest residents." Any of the above, he writes, ""would be preferable to holding on to an old facility for the sake of having a hospital in Anacostia. City residents and patients deserve better." There's also Option 4: Strong-arming Johns Hopkins into running UMC as a condition of its takeover of Sibley hospital, as Steve Pearlstein suggested Friday.
MYSTERY BUYER? -- Ben Fischer reports in Washington Business Journal: "[Marion Barry], the only council member to oppose Councilman David Catania's, I-At Large, plan to create the city-appointed governing board, said Catania and [Peter Nickles] spurned an offer from a qualified private buyer, who wanted to buy the facility independently of the District, but would not name them. Nickles said he's aware of at least two private buyers, including the one Barry referred to, but neither has demonstrated the financial wherewithal to be able to run the hospital. Once the financial information is provided, Nickles said, he'd be happy to discuss the matter. 'I think it's fair to say that Marion Barry, who has not stepped foot in the hospital in this entire process, doesn't have any idea what's going on,' Nickles said."
WORRIES IN WARD 4 -- Fenty's increasingly uncertain position in his home ward is explored by colleague Nikita Stewart Monday. The moral of the story is that politics is very much personal -- as in the case of erstwhile Fenty backer Ethel Delaney Lee, who "sought a brief conversation, the kind of personal attentiveness the matriarch of modern Ward 4 politics had grown used to over the years from [Fenty]." But her phone calls and letters went unanswered, and though Fenty has tried to make amends, "he's too late. Delaney Lee said Fenty has lost her confidence and her vote." There's stories like that all over Fenty's "former epicenter of popularity" turned "battleground" in the Sept. 14 primary. "The ward's word-of-mouth work helped Fenty become mayor almost four years ago. This time, it's hurting him. Former Fenty supporters who back [Vincent Gray] recount personal insults and lament laid-off or transferred city employees. The mayor's supporters apologize for their candidate. To blunt the criticism and regain his footing, Fenty set up his campaign headquarters on Georgia Avenue. ... Supporters say Fenty might be a victim of his success as a council member and of what they called residents' unrealistic demands. Muriel Bowser (D), whom Fenty handpicked as his successor to the council after he was elected mayor, said many Ward 4 residents do not understand that his responsibilities have widened. ... 'It used to be that he would be in a living room if there were three people,' Bowser said in an interview July 3. 'I don't know if that's a fair expectation, when he has to run the city.' Fenty was 29 when he defeated longtime incumbent Charlene Drew Jarvis (D) in 2000 to represent Ward 4. At the time, Fenty accused Jarvis of losing touch with her constituents. Now some level that charge at him."
ON ELECTORAL BLACKMAIL -- Colby King roundly rejects the "no Fenty, no Michelle Rhee" electoral bargain, calling the move "cheesy" and "desperate." He writes: "[T]he case for Fenty should be stronger than 'to get her, you gotta take him.' ... The bottom line is that running for mayor with a firm grasp on Rhee's coattails is a sign of desperation. And it's futile: She can't pull Fenty back into office. Nor should she try. ... If this election is a referendum, it's on Adrian Fenty, not Michelle Rhee. His nervous and fearful supporters can't make it otherwise." And Colby, quite literally, puts Rhee in her place: "Rhee, I believe, will go down in history as one of our city's most consequential public school chiefs. True, her credentials as an educator and administrator hardly match those of her predecessor, Clifford Janey. And she lacks the savvy and grace of Floretta McKenzie or the leadership abilities of Vincent Reed. But Rhee has tackled the transformation of an urban school district with single-mindedness and energy unseen in these parts. ... Yet is she irreplaceable? No way. ... If Rhee has built on the academic groundwork Janey laid, as her supporters say, and put in place the building blocks of good teachers and administrators, then D.C. public schools' upward trajectory will continue with or without her."
MINDING THE MINI-MAYORS -- Jonetta Rose Barras in her Examiner column has more examples of council members acting like "mini-mayors" -- for instance, a Michael Brown-sponsored bill mandating more field trips for public school students. "Most residents aren't worried about an absence of field trips. They are more concerned about their children's ability to read and comprehend what they read; their ability to solve basic mathematical equations; and whether they can reason their way through life's challenges. ... Brown isn't fixated on the Sackler Gallery. What the at-large member is really salivating over is the mayoral suite." Jonetta floats this intriguing if impossible dream: "Many legislatures hold clearly defined legislative sessions -- sometimes spanning just 90 or 120 days. The city could follow suit. If there was an emergency, the chairman could call a special meeting. District legislators' days, and opportunities for mischief or silliness, should be numbered. Then, Brown could organize as many student field trips as his heart desires."
'SHOW US THE MONEY' -- The Post editorial board weighs in on the Vince Gray education plan: "Show us the money," reads the subhed. "Gray's platform on education has something to please everyone. There's funding equity for public charter schools, increased access to infant and toddler care, more guidance counselors, better middle schools, and more interesting high school programs. There's even a nod to the school reforms enacted under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. How Mr. Gray would accomplish his agenda is another matter. So ambitious is the list that it is hard to discern what are his priorities and, more significant, how he would pay for them. ... Most disappointing is the absence of any detail on what his proposals would cost or how -- other than a vague promise of savings in special education -- he would pay for them. It's easy to promise comprehensive pre-natal-to-toddler programs for families with special-needs children, more resources for charter schools or a doubling of school guidance counselors. Coming up with money, particularly in these tough fiscal times, is an entirely different matter."
MORE WORK NEEDS ON JUVIES -- Also, Monday, the editorial board lauds progress on juvenile justice, highlighting last week's court monitor report that "shows that, despite high-profile problems, the city is on the right track with its reforms. Indeed, the progress being made in a number of critical areas should prod city officials to resolve the lingering deficiencies that threaten to undermine the good work. ... [I]t would be a mistake for officials to view this glowing court report as reason not to address the department's management and systemic failures. If anything, it should spur them to redouble efforts to apprehend youths who abscond, to provide enough secure beds and to properly supervise youths released into the community. Failure to improve these efforts could undermine public support for reform."
MARKUP SHOWDOWN -- Short-notice hearing on Betty Ann Kane's Public Service Commission nomination prompts Wilson Building drama. Dorothy Brizill recounts the scene at the Thursday markup in themail: "In order to vote and conduct any business, Bowser's committee needed a quorum of three of the five members. But only two members of the committee, Bowser and [Jim Graham], agreed to attend the markup. The other three members -- [Mary Cheh], Barry, and Michael Brown -- refused to attend the meeting, not because of any personal objections to Kane, but because of widespread objections from citizens and utility rate payers that Bowser had failed to give citizens adequate notice of the confirmation hearing on Kane's nomination, and failed to give them an opportunity to testify. While Bowser continued to walk the halls of the Wilson Building throughout the afternoon in search of an additional committee member, Mary Cheh convened a scheduled 4:00 p.m. Meeting of her Committee on Government Operations and the Environment with the five members of her committee (Cheh, Catania, Kwame Brown, [Harry Thomas], and [Tommy Wells]) in attendance. However, shortly after the meeting began, David Catania indicated he wanted to make a statement. His remarks ... turned out to be a bitter, mean-spirited, and off-topic rant against Cheh for not attending Bowser's meeting and 'for refusing to make herself available to vote on a nominee to the Public Service Commission.' Catania, acting on Bowser's behalf, went on to chastise Cheh for 'failing to discharge her committee duties and obligations' as a member of Bower's committee. Even after Cheh's markup meeting was over, the drama continued. Catania and Kane, both angry and agitated, paced up and down the corridor outside Cheh's office for an extended period of time."
GOOD NEWS AT CCDC -- The Post's Stephanie Lee looks at early success at the young Community College of the District of Columbia, spun off last year from UDC: "Although education experts generally say that 11 months is not enough time to definitively assess an institution, a number of promising signs have emerged from the community college's first year. Rising enrollment is one: The number of students started at about 960 in the fall, then more than doubled to 2,335. Nearly three-fourths of the roughly 700 first-time freshmen stayed the full year, and campus officials say half have registered for fall classes. Already, 116 students have earned degrees from the institution, thanks to previously accumulated credits from UDC."
NICKLES NO-SHOW -- Council members convened Friday to have a look at the settlement with Banneker Ventures negotiated by Nickles, but the star witness wasn't there. Rather, Alan Suderman reports at City Desk, Nickles was in Maine, swimming away in water that was "a little cold ... about 60 degrees." Nikita writes at D.C. Wire that fact "hasn't stopped the council from digging into whether Nickles had the authority to enter into what appears to be an iron-clad settlement that would protect Banneker Ventures from being liable in the future. Council members are questioning staff of Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, who has directed his office to stop any payments until further notice. ... Today's questions: Does Fenty have the authority to give Nickles the green light to pay Banneker? Could the money be wired? If an investigation finds wrongdoing, will the city ever be able to recover any money? There are a lot of 'I don't knows.'"
HIGH STAKES -- The new DCPS testing regimen will be very much in line with that of suburban school districts, Leah Fabel reports in the Examiner. "The difference between DCPS and its suburban neighbors is the extent to which results of the tests will affect teachers evaluations. While results can be -- but are not necessarily -- a factor for suburban educators, they will be a critical piece of evaluations for DCPS teachers. Not only will test results be used, along with other factors, to help determine if a teacher keeps his or her job, they will also be used to determine sizable bonuses paid to the top instructors."
IMPOLITICKING -- A bill sponsored by Vince Gray would criminalize politicking by city employees, Tim Craig reports at D.C. Wire -- much as the federal Hatch Act already does. But there's a problem: CFO Nat Gandhi says it'll cost "about $100,000 in fiscal year 2011 and another $300,000 between fiscal years 2012 and 2014" to do the requisite police work. "Designed to replace the federal Hatch Act reach in local elections, the bill would make it illegal for city employees to use 'official authority' to 'influence or interfere with an election,' solicit or receive campaign contributions on government property, wear a political button, badge or t-shirt while on duty, distribute campaign literature at work, or transport campaign materials in a government vehicle. ... His bill was spurred by a belief among some council members that it is currently too hard for federal officials to prosecute city employees accused of violating the Hatch Act," which is enforced by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
FEAR THE CHICKEN -- Whatever happened to the "backyard chickens" bill? Not much, Kris Coronado reports in the Post Magazine. "Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells ... presented a bill that would let residents obtain a permit to keep fowl with the consent of 80 percent of the neighbors. Charles Allen, Wells's chief of staff, said the Health Committee, where the bill has languished, is working with the health department to develop an alternative proposal." Meanwhile, a "grass-roots group nicknamed 'Team Chicken' [is working] to collect signatures at D.C. farmers markets for a petition asking the city to allow residents to raise as many as five hens (roosters are noisy and don't lay eggs) without a permit. Team Chicken plans to present the petition to Health Committee Chairman David Catania this month."
HOT IN HERE -- Mary Cheh floats bill that would require utility companies to hold off on shutoffs during hot weather, much as they now do during cold weather, Freeman Klopott reports in Examiner: "Under Cheh's proposal, Washington Gas and PEPCO would not be allowed to shut off utilities within 24 hours of a National Weather Service temperature prediction of 95 degrees or more. If the hot weather prediction falls on a weekend, power and gas would have to remain on until at least the following Monday. If passed, the emergency heat wave regulations would only be in effect for the remainder of the unusually hot summer. ... The council has approved similar emergency legislation in previously hot summers. Councilmembers had an opportunity in 2008 to make the law permanent, but did not."
SUCH LANGUAGE! -- The Dish's Molly Redden reports from Gray's Friday night Georgetown fundraiser: "[A]mong many of the avid Gray supporters at the ornate reception hall of the City Tavern Club, there were bitter feelings about Fenty that were as strong as the feelings for the man of the hour. There can't be any doubt any more--this election seems more and more like a referendum on Fenty's (un)likableness. ... Jeff Miller, the chair of the Mount Vernon Triangle CID, went on an expletive-laced screed against Fenty. 'Gray is energetic, he shows strength of character,' Miller said. 'He's not going to close [expletive] M Street after a snowstorm for two days. He's not going to shut down downtown for hours on a weekend for a triathalon so a bunch of men can run around and swim.' ... For their part, the Georgetown-area locals at the event by and large were not there as supporters but listeners. They were there to hear Gray's message, they said, since Fenty's lackadaisical campaign has almost no message for Georgetown. Davis Kennedy of the Current Newspapers said that in Georgetown, 'I imagine that a month ago it was overwhelmingly for Fenty, and it's coming down from that now.' So naturally, he said, voters disappointed by Fenty are now curious to see what Gray is all about."
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Activists establish "tent city" on Shaw development site to protest Fenty affordable housing policies (Take Back the Land)
Nineteen-year-old fake bus driver takes passengers for a ride before crashing into a tree (Post)
Arrest made in Joshua Hopkins murder (Post)
DCPS teachers will get their retroactive raise checks on Sept. 10 (D.C. Schools Insider)
Council to dig into heat-wave power outages (WTOP)
West End library/fire house project employs "bewildering mix of financing mechanisms" (WBJ)
Do the ends achieved by Sousa MS principal Dwan Jordan justify his means? (Class Struggle)
"Temporarium" occupies former H Street library (Post)
Feds green-light purchase of new Metro rail cars (Post)
Man, 24, shot to death on Columbia Heights street (Post)
Federal judge to review D.C. special education reimbursement rates (D.C. Schools Insider)
More on the federal government's stormwater-fee holdout (Chesaspeake Bay Journal)
DCPS to Catania: We're handling truancy just fine, thankyouverymuch (Capital Land)
Are DCPS food deals "rebates" or "kickbacks"? (Better D.C. School Food)
Former Deputy Mayor Ed Reiskin, now a public official in San Francisco, has nice things to say about D.C.'s embrace of bike lanes (Streetsblog)
Peter Rosenstein defends the Gray education plan (Examiner)
Bidding on WASA wastewater impoundment tunnels moves forward (TunnelTalk)
DDOT: Help us water our trees! (Dr. Gridlock)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Hearings set on open-government bill, United Medical Center, and MPD's embrace of Secure Communities
July 12, 2010; 10:09 AM ET
Categories: Morning Mike , The District
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