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Posted at 12:55 PM ET, 02/21/2011

DeAfternoon DeBonis: Feb. 21, 2011

By Mike DeBonis

TODAY IS FEB. 21, 2011 -- DAY 51 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY -- D.C. planners have 'issues' with first Wal-Mart proposal

A happy President's Day to District government employees, who are today enjoying the first of four furlough days they will be taking this year thanks to tight budgetary circumstances. Speaking of tight budgets, city taxpayers might be forgiven for a breakfast-table spit take or two after reading Sunday's Post. There's my look at the luxury SUVs -- yes, plural -- procured for D.C. Chairman Kwame R. Brown, complete with moon roofs, DVD systems and aluminum wheels. (Brown's spokeswoman reported this morning that her boss is "looking into" returning his current vehicle.) And then there's Nikita Stewart's report that Mayor Vincent C. Gray has "hired more senior staffers than his predecessor and is paying his top managers tens of thousands more a year amid city employee furloughs and looming budget cuts." The most distressing nugget in Nikita's story -- at least to those who paid close attention to the mayoral race last year is this: "In the Department of Health Care Finance, new hires include ... special assistant Sulaimon Brown. ... Brown, who is being paid $110,000, was a minor mayoral candidate who would bash Fenty and praise Gray on the campaign trail." Yep, that Sulaimon Brown.

AFTER THE JUMP -- Ted Loza pleads to lesser felony counts -- Neil Albert gets a new gig -- Post editorial advocates for independent forensic science department -- figuring out how to fire bad teachers

*** MAIN COURSE ***

LOZA PLEADS -- Ted Loza, a John A. Wilson Building fixture until his arrest in September 2009, pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges Friday -- two felony counts of accepting gratuities, which, Loza's attorney was quick to point out, was not bribery, extortion or conspiracy. Loza may have taken money, he said, but the government couldn't prove that he did anything in return. Fair enough. But Loza faces eight to 14 months in prison under voluntary sentencing guidelines and possible deportation after that. Del Wilber's Post story on the plea notes that it closes "the highest-profile prosecution to emerge from a lengthy federal corruption investigation into how the city government oversees the taxi industry." Loza's old boss, Jim Graham, said he is "happy for Mr. Loza that this has come to an end. He can now put this behind him, find the right path, and once again work on the issues that he cares so much about." City Paper's Rend Smith notes that Loza's attorney, Pleasant Broadnax, said after the hearing that his client "always acted in the best interest of the citizens of the District of Columbia." Also WTTG-TV.

HOW TO FIRE TEACHERS -- In the wake of the recent teacher reinstatements, the Post editorial board wants to know from the American Federation of Teachers and the Washington Teachers' Union how they plan to keep bad teachers out of classrooms: "Clearly, in hindsight, the specific reasons [for firing the reinstated teachers] should have been spelled out because the thought of reemploying this group - which ran the gamut from teachers chronically AWOL to those neglectful, even abusive, of students - is frightening. We also don't think [AFT President Randi Weingarten] is wrong when she argues the need for teachers to have information about their performance, although we suspect the teacher who had been repeatedly warned about playing DVDs in class and his use of inappropriate language with students must have had some inkling things weren't going well. ... The critical question is what happens next. School officials seem leery of an appeal because of what they see as a propensity for the public employee relations board to find in favor of labor. Another avenue being explored is bringing back the teachers and then firing them, this time detailing the reasons. Here's another idea: Why don't [WTU President Nathan Saunders] and Ms. Weingarten - who both say they don't countenance poor teachers - try to work out an agreement with school officials to achieve that goal instead of refighting old battles about the long-gone Ms. Rhee?"

NEIL ALBERT'S NEW GIG -- Former City Administrator Neil Albert is joining powerhouse law firm Holland & Knight, Jonathan O'Connell reports at D.C. Wire, where Albert will "advise clients on 'a wide variety of issues including, obviously, real estate development,' he said, particularly transactions and public-private projects in the District and neighboring jurisdictions. 'It's a combination,' he said in an interview. 'To the extent that I can help advance projects, I will do that ... and then there are areas of opportunity that will open up with my coming on board, particularly in the area of projects that involve other municipalities.' Rod Woodson, a Holland & Knight partner who often represents companies doing business with the D.C. government, said he wasn't sure which clients Albert would be serving but that his reputation and experience working for the city made him an attractive hire. 'He was in my view the clear star of the Fenty administration,' Woodson said, 'and he is universally well-regarded in the business community.' ... Albert is not an attorney and does not plan to register as a lobbyist in the city, so he probably will not be testifying before the D.C. Council." Lydia DePillis has some context at Housing Complex.

INDEPENDENT THINKING -- A Post editorial lauds Phil Mendelson's proposal to create an independent forensic sciences department, citing the recent controversy over bad breathalyzers: "The embarrassment surrounding these cases underscores the importance of sound evidence and good management of forensic evidence. It's a powerful argument why the District's new crime lab should be operated independently from the police department. ... Mr. Mendelson is right to argue there are inherent weaknesses when police collect the evidence, analyze it and testify to its reliability. The push for an independent lab comes amid growing awareness about the need to inject more science into forensic science. Clearly, there are details, mainly budgetary, that will need to be worked out. The chief financial officer is working on a fiscal impact statement. But, encouragingly, officials say they won't be deterred in their aim to operate the new facility in the way that best serves justice."

ON VOUCHERS -- The Post's Valerie Strauss digs into the voucher debate: "U.S. legislators have some nerve telling the District government that Congress will probably cut funding for the city's public schools if D.C. officials don't revive a federal voucher program. The issue in this case isn't whether you support the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The issue is that such threats from federal lawmakers make a mockery out of thoughtful school reform and policymaking, not to mention the right of District residents to govern themselves."


*** SMALL PLATES ***

Excellent review of "The Bee Eater" -- "What Michelle Rhee's fans don't get about education reform" (Slate)

City politicos react to passage of House CR (WaTimes)

Politics behind Gray transportation transition report? (Transportation Nation)

Live from MPD annual awards (Crime Scene)

Did a city shelter worker pressure a homeless mother to leave town? (City Desk)

Columbia Heights murder victim in "wrong place at wrong time" -- Ron Moten warns of coming violence (Post)

Rumors of big cuts to police budget (City Desk)

In case you've ever wondered about the order of succession should the mayor not be able to lead (DCist)

The gender politics of the Pill Bill debate (TBD/Amanda Hess)

Metro escalator steps collapse (Dr. Gridlock)

More from new DMPED Victor Hoskins (D.C. Wire)

Michael Brown's almost-call for Wal-Mart hearings (Housing Complex)

Elderly couple sues over botched police raid (Examiner)

There's really no way to easily summarize this D.C. contracting story (WBJ)

Former Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak is a "Premier 100 IT Leader" (Computerworld)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Enjoy your furlough day, D.C. government employees

By Mike DeBonis  | February 21, 2011; 12:55 PM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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Next: DeMorning DeBonis: Feb. 22, 2011

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