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Posted at 11:22 AM ET, 12/17/2010

DeMorning DeBonis: Dec. 17, 2010

By Mike DeBonis

TODAY IS DEC. 17, 2010 -- 16 DAYS UNTIL INAUGURATION

The Post editorial page and D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. continue their back-and-forth today. Earlier this week, Thomas challenged a Monday piece questioning whether he had taken donations from a developer on whose projects he later took favorable votes. Today, an editorial reports that a Thomas-related organization (not the Team Thomas nonprofit that's already been scrutinized) bought an Audi SUV in 2008 worth nearly $60,000, which was later re-registered directly to Thomas. "These facts, which also have attracted the interest of the D.C. attorney general, do not constitute proof of wrongdoing by Mr. Thomas," the piece reads. "But his refusal thus far to shed light on these and other issues is troublesome and should, we hope, attract the interest of the office of campaign finance. ... It's quite possible that donations to Team Thomas funded good causes, that Mr. Thomas used his own money to purchase the car and that all transactions have been properly documented. That Mr. Thomas -- who once promised complete transparency about Team Thomas -- wants to keep the public in the dark on these issues is what is of concern."

AFTER THE JUMP -- Gray public safety nominees get early scrutiny -- Ellerbe has tax issue -- Nathan a surprise pick -- Wal-Mart backlash materializes -- Fenty opens DOES HQ

*** MAIN COURSE ***

MORE ON THOMAS -- "The second group is a domestic limited liability company organized by Mr. Thomas in 2004 with a stated purpose, according to its articles of organization, of "sales, development and manufacturing." The group is called HLT Team Thomas/SwingAway LLC, its address is Mr. Thomas's home and it also has been listed by Dunn & Bradstreet as doing business as HLT Development. When Mr. Thomas ran for the council in 2006, he listed his occupation on an election questionnaire as chief executive of HLT Team Thomas/SwingAway LLC; on Nov. 12, 2007, the corporate registration was revoked for not filing a two-year report due in 2007. Yet, in May 2008, HLT Development was listed as owner of a 2008 Audi Q7; a year later, in May, the registration of the vehicle, which Mr. Thomas was seen driving this week, was switched to him. Council members are required to list any outside income they receive, and cars, under certain circumstances, could be included. It's unclear if that would be the case with Mr. Thomas. The honoraria and outside income disclosure statements Mr. Thomas filed for 2007, 2008 and 2009 list no outside income of any kind. HLT Development also appears on records of the office of campaign finance detailing Mr. Thomas's political expenditures. In his 2006-07 campaign, the group received a total of $11,000 in five separate payments from the Harry Tommy Thomas Jr. Ward 5 Committee for catering/refreshments, loan repayment, campaign materials and consultant payment. On March 15, 2010, it received $2,500 from Thomas 2010 for computer expenses."

PUBLIC SAFETY -- Mayor-elect Vincent Gray made his public safety appointments yesterday. Cathy Lanier stays on as police chief; Kenneth Ellerbe returns to take over fire and EMS; Paul Quander, a former CSOSA director now running the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, becomes deputy mayor for public safety and justice; and Irvin Nathan is named attorney general. Tim Craig reports in The Post: "In making his choices, Gray (D) presented a racially balanced team that includes several veterans of local government, as well as a surprise choice in the naming of [Nathan] as attorney general. Nathan, former deputy attorney general at the U.S. Justice Department, serves as general counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives. Nathan, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tapped as general counsel in 2007, has limited experience in local government. But on Capitol Hill, Nathan has developed a reputation as a tough and aggressive lawyer who has also been able to juggle competing priorities in a politically sensitive post. Several D.C. Council members praised Gray's selections, predicting an easy confirmation process."

ELLERBE -- Freeman Klopott notes in the Examiner that Ellerbe "is likely to get the most scrutiny." WTOP's Mark Segraves reported that even though Ellerbe moved to Florida to take the chief's job there, he kept his home in D.C. -- and the homestead tax deduction worth about $400. And then there's the matter of his strange departure from FEMS. The Washington Times, which broke the story last year on Ellerbe's strange deal, describes his reaction: "Chief Ellerbe said at Thursday's news conference that the arrangement enabled him to acquire experience to broaden his skills. 'The personnel exchange agreement gave me the opportunity to be a fire chief, which is something I wouldn't have been able to do here. We already had a fire chief. And to acquire experience, personnel exchange agreements are initiated to give an employee an opportunity to broaden their skills.' Asked whether he took the job in Sarasota with the intention of returning to the District, Chief Ellerbe said: 'That was an option.' Chief Ellerbe seemed to dismiss the notion that the term of the personnel exchange agreement was slated to end on his 50th birthday, as the paperwork obtained by the Times indicated. 'I don't know if it was a coincidence or not, but the personnel exchange agreement was rescinded. I resigned,' he said." A Fire Chief Magazine blogger delivers a scathing review: "I understand that all's fair in love and politics, but this decision is wrong for a department that has shown great progress and promise with [Dennis Rubin] at the helm. ... The situation makes me wonder how much thought and vision goes into hiring a fire chief. Thankfully, it isn't that often that we get to watch a train wreck, but who will the real victims be?"

NATHAN -- Tim has early reviews of Nathan: "Stan Brand, a D.C. lawyer who specializes in political investigations, said Nathan 'doesn't have a strong personality' but is someone who is 'easy to get along with' because he 'doesn't have an abrasive personality.' 'It is an inspired choice,' Brand said. But some Gray friends and supporters were baffled by Nathan's nomination. They are privately questioning why he did not choose a minority or someone with more experience in local government. 'The job requires somebody who has a little bit more knowledge, history and background with the District,' said one Gray adviser, who asked not to be identified to speak freely about the matter. 'And many of us certainly expected a black or a Hispanic or an Asian would get the job.'" Alan Suderman notes at the Loose Lips blog: "Like Still Attorney General Peter Nickles, the man he'll be replacing (unless the D.C. Council says otherwise), Nathan is a short, white, old man." Also: "He was once scolded thusly by the famous U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan: 'You have insulted not only the city government, but everyone living in D.C.' Nathan was representing the rail company CSX, which apparently was upset that the D.C. Council didn't want hazardous freight running through town." And: "When shock jock Howard Stern and CBS went to court, Nathan represented CBS." Klopott adds that Nathan's "quiet demeanor stands in stark contrast to the outspoken nature of [Nickles]. 'I'll be different,' Nathan told the Washington Examiner. 'I'll be attorney general only, not counsel to the mayor. I see the residents as my clients and I will cooperate with the [D.C.] Council.' " Legal Times quotes Bob Bennett, who recommended Nathan to Gray: "I think the city is very fortunate to have somebody of his caliber and ethical standing to take on this job. ... I've known Irv for 25 years, at least, and he is an outstanding lawyer in every way." And, no, he isn't interested in running in 2014.

LANIER -- As for Lanier, needless to say, police union leader Kristopher Baumann is not pleased. He tells City Paper that the rank-and-file are "furious" at the pick. Tim writes that union officials were not consulted on the pick -- in contrast to Gray's usually collaborative style. Said Baumann, "He didn't come talk to us about it, and he damaged a relationship, maybe permanently." More coverage of the appointments from DCist, TBD, Patch. And watch Pat Collins bid Rubin a fond farewell.

PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS AT DUNBAR -- In the not-a-column today, I looked at how grand solutions to the problems at Dunbar High School have failed, past and present: "This week, we learned that Dunbar Senior High School will be razed as soon as 2013. That fall, if all goes as planned, students will attend a new, glassy, airy Dunbar next door. The Dunbar that now stands is anything but glassy and airy, and few will lament its demolition just 33 years after its opening. ... But in that building are lessons for politicians and planners and policymakers -- not only the ones who build schools, but also the ones who govern what goes on inside them. Then and now, the seemingly intractable problem of urban education cried out for a dramatic, simple solution. Forty years ago, they looked to a building to control what had become an uncontrollable learning environment, inhibiting student achievement. More recently, former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee looked to a private manager to take over the school and solve much the same problem. Neither saw great success on New Jersey Avenue NW." I talked to the architect of the soon-to-be-demolished Dunbar and he had some intriguing thoughts on what went wrong.

WAL-MART WARS -- The Post's Jonathan O'Connell covers the Wal-Mart backlash in D.C., such that it is: "A handful of residents of Brightwood, an Upper Northwest neighborhood that includes Georgia Avenue, wrote members of the D.C. Council this week to oppose a proposed Wal-Mart on Georgia Avenue. The group has also created a Web site, Ward Four Thrives, to spread the word. Thursday night, about 20 activists staged a protest at the home of a development executive planning the store, walking in circles on the snow-covered sidewalk chanting 'Keep D.C. Wal-Mart free.' ... Thomas P. McNutt, president of Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers ... said he was preparing a forceful response. "We are going to bring the fight to them," he said. ... Of the planned stores, in wards 4, 5, 6 and 7, the proposed Georgia Avenue Wal-Mart, in Ward 4, has drawn the most criticism. Unlike other spots, the site at Georgia and Missouri avenues, home of a former car dealership, is adjacent to several small businesses that could suffer. ... Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) [said] that she thought Foulger-Pratt's design for the proposed Wal-Mart was 'too suburban' and that she would like to see housing built there as well. ... But she said many critics who say they are worried about small businesses don't seem to rely on the [Georgia Avenue] corridor for basic goods. 'Every time, I ask them which one do you shop at?' she said. 'And they don't have an answer.' " Also: Bowser talked Wal-Mart on NewsTalk yesterday.


*** SMALL PLATES ***

Fenty unveils new DOES headquarters at Minnesota and Benning in Ward 7 (DCmud)

Random bag searches by Metro police could start as soon as today (The Post)

Kaya Henderson says she'll "review" union IMPACT concerns; says Nathan Saunders, "The trend in the U.S. is less job security. I'm moving in the opposite direction." (WaTimes)

Cause of death to be announced soon in DC9 death (City Desk)

Jack Evans: Tax hikes are "never for me" (DCist)

Longtime Metro board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington resigned yesterday (Examiner, GGW)

Breathalyzer cases will be litigated, surprise surprise (WTTG-TV)

Assistant police chief says he'll pay back bonus if he's not eligible (the Examiner)

Did higher-ups know about fire fraud? (WTTG-TV)

AdMo hotel tax break: pro and con (Housing Complex)

Bring in outsiders to crack the Robert Wone case, Harry Jaffe says (the Examiner)

Bathroom nondiscrimination policy aimed at transgender users is rarely enforced (Blade)

Hey Vince -- Keep you name off the signs, eh? (GGW)

DCPS budget cuts could mean parent, community advice gets ignored (D.C. Schools Insider)

DDOT seeks new manager for Anacostia Waterfront Corp. portfolio (WBJ)

It's official: Union Station post office now named for Dorothy Height; Norton attended bill-signing (Politic365)

Welcome @jackevans_ward2! (Twitter)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray announces more appointments, noon at Reeves Center -- I talk new appointments, 10:30 a.m. on TBD NewsTalk

By Mike DeBonis  | December 17, 2010; 11:22 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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Next: Gray expected to keep Tregoning, Howland, Babers; promote Majett

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