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Posted at 9:26 AM ET, 02/23/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: Feb. 23, 2011

By Mike DeBonis

TODAY IS FEB. 23, 2011 -- DAY 53 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY -- Kwame Brown returns Navigator, apologizes for 'disruption' -- More highlights from the 'Kwamemobile' e-mails -- D.C. Council member asks for data on city vehicles -- D.C. politicos react to Kwame Brown's SUV issues

If you haven't heard, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown is giving his $1,963-per-month Lincoln Navigator back to the city, opting for now to drive the 2003 Navigator he already owns. So on to the next D.C. Council outrage: They're still bickering about tickets, Tim Craig reports today: "Concerned that [Brown] was not fairly distributing the tickets the council receives for the Verizon Center, several council members brought up the subject at a council retreat last week. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), for example, said that he needed tickets for Thursday's Lady Gaga concert. Since Brown became chairman, Graham and other members have said they have not been getting their share of free tickets to one of the two city boxes at the Verizon Center." So now the members of the city legislature are pondering ways to make the distribution of tickets, often handed out to constituents as goodwill gestures or political chits, more equitable. As for the equitability of that wildly out of whack city budget, do stay tuned.

AFTER THE JUMP -- Another Gray hire stays in the family -- Post editorial takes whacks at Gray, Brown -- all your special election needs, all in one place -- Gray wants taxi fare cap lifted -- WTU election might be over but infighting proceeds

*** MAIN COURSE ***

NAVIGATORS NO MORE -- WRC-TV's Tom Sherwood not only covers the climax of the Kwamemobile saga, but also breaks news by adding to the list of relatives of top mayoral staffers hired in the administration -- a son of Communications Director Linda Wharton-Boyd. Loose Lipser Alan Suderman follows up with a name, reporting that Milton Harrison Boyd is now working at Serve DC. Mayor Vincent Gray rejected nepotism charges in interviews with Sherwood and WTOP's Mark Segraves. In other Kwamemobile news: City Paper Editor Michael Schaffer has some alternate uses for the vehicle: "Precisely because the Navigator is so fully loaded, it can help young people learn a wide, wide variety of skills: Not just automotive maintenance, but video projection, and GPS mapping, not to mention the growing field of aluminum-wheel polishing." Suderman gets a hold of an e-mail Brown sent to a constituent, saying that he takes "full responsibility for the decisions that were made by either my transition team or council staff." More coverage from Examiner, WUSA-TV, WTTG-TV, WJLA-TV/TBD, DCist, WTOP, and the Wall Street Journal (yes, the Wall Street Journal).

WHAT THE ... ? -- The Post editorial board takes a good whack at Brown and Mayor Vincent Gray for their symbols of profligacy: "[B]oth took office in the District soberly warning of the need for fiscal restraint. Apparently, though, neither thinks this message applies to him. How else to explain decisions to acquire luxurious vehicles or bump up the salaries of top staff? These dubious expenditures by the city's highest elected officials raise questions about their judgment as well as their credibility in managing the city's money." As for Gray and his staff salaries: "Former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was generally seen as running a pretty efficient government, so it's curious that Mr. Gray sees the need to double, for example, the number of deputy mayors. ... Particularly troubling was the revelation of a $110,000 "special assistant" job given to a minor mayoral candidate [Sulaimon Brown] who was so lacking in credibility that he became something of a laughingstock during the campaign with his patented attacks on Mr. Fenty and effusive praise of Mr. Gray." As for Brown and his SUVs: "Since it is unclear whether the city will be able to get out of the lease, we would hope that Mr. Brown - whose annual $190,000 council salary is among the nation's highest - is prepared to make the city whole. ... Why is the chairman entitled to a government car when his counterpart in the vastly bigger and more populated Fairfax County seems to manage with her own vehicle? Do police really require a town car to do advance team work for the mayor?"

CHECK IT OUT -- Kudos to DCist contributor Martin Austermuhle, who has created four26dc.com -- a clearinghouse for all things related to the April 26 special election (the at-large council race, anyway). Martin explains why it matters: "It's obviously your business not to care about this, or any election. And while it's tough to say that the April 26 Special Election is truly any more important than, say, the November 2010 mayoral election, it's still pretty important given the circumstances. ... Everyone stands to be affected by what the D.C. Council decides this year. And it'll be making those decisions sooner rather than later."

TAXI FARE CAP TO BE LIFTED -- Interesting tidbit from yesterday's Council oversight hearing on the D.C. Taxicab Commission: Chairman Leon Swain Jr. let slip that Gray has asked the board to lift a $19 cap on cab fares supported by Fenty. Nikita Stewart writes at D.C. Wire: "Gray's instructions to adjust the city's rulemaking to lift the cap is in keeping with the D.C. Council's removal of the cap that was supposed to go into effect in October. [Fenty], however, circumvented the council and ordered that the cap remain in effect. ... Swain said in an interview that the rulemaking changes could take about 30 days. 'It is still in effect until we complete the process,' he said. ... The removal of the cap could result in an average of $2 to $5 more for drivers per trip, according to estimates." Problem: The board hasn't met since October.

FIRE CHIEF CRACKS DOWN ON OT -- Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe sat before Phil Mendelson for his confirmation hearing Tuesday; both Examiner and WTTG-TV cover the proceedings, highlighting Ellerbe's pledge to crack down on excessive overtime. Erica Redmond writes in the 'Zaminer: "Ellerbe, who began acting as fire chief at the start of January, said he tackled the department's overtime budget right away. ... Under restrictions now in place, no one in the department is able to receive $20,000 or more in overtime within a fiscal year. That's a big change from the previous system, which allowed some people to take home nearly $100,000 a year in overtime payments. In the past, the department has taken operational-level employees and moved them into administrative positions. However, Ellerbe is in the process of moving them back and hiring civilians to fill the administrative positions in order to cut back on overtime. 'We've put 38 of our operational people back to the position they're supposed to be at. We have cut out some of the support units that were operating based on overtime,' said Ellerbe."

WAL-MART UPDATE -- The loyal opposition to Wal-Mart's District entree is profiled in the Washington Times by Deborah Simmons: "They use sharp words -- 'war,' 'invasion' and 'destruction of this city' -- to describe the magnitude of the threat they say the company poses. The critics are especially vocal in Ward 4, where Wal-Mart wants to replace a long-vacant car dealership site with a store at Georgia and Missouri avenues Northwest. ... While some D.C. lawmakers who live in Ward 4 appear willing to work with Wal-Mart, some longtime residents and community organizers are dead-set against the retailer's stores anywhere inside city limits. One effort is called 'Wal-Mart Free DC'; another bills itself as 'Ward Four Thrives.' Both groups count local businesses, residents and union members among their ranks. These community organizers say they don't even want to consider working out a deal with the company. 'There is no compromise. This is a war,' said Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture, who once worked in the office of Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, Georgia Democrat." Also: DCist reiterates that District Wal-Marts won't offer guns. And Lydia DePillis reports at Housing Complex that the site near Poplar Point once eyed for a Wal-Mart is likely hold office buildings leased to federal tenants instead.

WTU STILL FIGHTING -- Death, taxes and WTU drama: Nathan Saunders and George Parker are still tussling inside the Washington Teachers' Union, this time over whether ousted president Parker is entitled to remain on leave from teaching, paid by the WTU, through the end of the school year. Bill Turque has the report in the Post: "The [WTU] traditionally reimburses the District for the salary and benefits of teachers who work full time for the union. But Parker's departure was uncommonly acrimonious. ... Now that Saunders is president, he is balking at having the union cover the cost of Parker's time off, even though the terms are set out in a written agreement [with DCPS] that requires the union to cover his salary through June. Parker, 60, a middle school math teacher before his election to the union presidency in 2005, said that his leave is 'legal and legitimate' and that he'll make a decision when it ends about his future. 'What Nathan is attempting to do is paint a picture that DCPS is paying me for not doing any work, which is not the issue,' he said. ... Saunders called the District's position 'absolutely preposterous,' especially in light of a the city's bleak financial condition. ... 'He's not in school teaching, he's not in the union office working,' Saunders said. 'DCPS is attempting to force WTU to pay for an individual who is not elected and not in service to WTU.'" Also: Bill reports that the Gray administration is looking to hold fiscal 2012 per-student schools funding to the current, trimmed-back $8,770 apiece. Charter facilities funding would drop by $200 per student, to $2,800.

END IN SIGHT? -- Jonetta Rose Barras laments the latest extension of the Council's Fenty parks probe: "Now, [special counsel Robert Trout]'s report is supposed to be ready March 11. Don't hold your breath. [Harry Thomas Jr.] said council members wanted to give people mentioned in the document an opportunity to review it. 'We saw what happened to [Marion Barry] when there was no opportunity for him to have input in the report [issued by special counsel Robert Bennett],' Thomas said. 'We learned from that lesson.' Thomas said [lawyer A. Scott Bolden] and his clients will read the draft in Trout's office. 'All I know is we're going into March with an investigation that concluded in December and there is still no report,' Bolden said. ... Whew! Instead of resolving an issue, the council has created a huge, never-ending mess."

THE IRONY OF RHEE -- Michael Tomasky on Michelle Rhee in the Guardian: "[S]he's lately thrown in whole hog with the right wing, advising tea party governors like Rick Scott of Florida, and undoubtedly cheering lustily for the jackboot to land on the throats of the teachers of Wisconsin. It's ironic, since it was post-blue-collar liberal journalists who by and large enabled her and made her a star.


*** SMALL PLATES ***

Gray addresses union cooperation on budget cutting: "They understood the situation and were perfectly willing to do their part." (WTOP)

Questions about school security firm (SecurityInfoWatch.com)

District's Gladys Kessler is latest federal judge to rule on health care overhaul (Legal Times, New York Times)

Union Station post office now officially named for Dorothy Height (D.C. Wire)

Metro crime spiked in 2010 (Examiner)

"Is the GLLU Ever Coming Back"? (The New Gay)

ABC chair tells council he won't go before ANCs any more to ask for triathlon approvals (G'town Dish)

"Weak management" at CFSA, says transition report (City Desk)

More coverage of DCFPI study on regional tax burdens (WJLA-TV, GGW)

Reader on higher Gray salaries: "You cannot tell me that in Washington you couldn't find 100 similarly or better qualified communications specialists who would do an exceptional job and be thrilled to get last year's salary to do it." (All Opinions Are Local)

Washington Hospital Center nurses will strike March 4 (Post Now)

DCPS alternative high school looks to sports to turn lives around (Post)

Help Michael Brown come up with a statehood-y street name (DCist)

Decision Friday on temporary release for "shotgun stalker" (Crime Scene)

Coverage of D.C.'s "temporary urbanism" (TheCityFix)

A shuttle for Rhode Island Avenue? (DCist)

Sekou Biddle hosts Friday open house (PDF)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray holds council breakfast, 9 a.m.; attends U.S. Conference of Mayors event at St. Regis, 10:45 a.m.; holds weekly press conference, 1 p.m.; announces "Nation's Football Classic," 4:30 p.m. -- oversight hearings on UDC, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500; on D.C. Housing Finance Agency, Department of Housing and Community Development and D.C. Housing Authority, 10 a.m. in JAWB 412 -- Mary Cheh holds hearing on applying open meetings law to ANCs, 1 p.m. in JAWB 120 -- "Social Safeway" hosts at-large candidates forum, 7 p.m. at 1855 Wisconsin Ave. NW

By Mike DeBonis  | February 23, 2011; 9:26 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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Next: Biddle wins endorsement of hotel workers union

Comments

Dear Mr. DeBonis:

Do you have any information on the doubling of the security force under Mr. Gray?

Or the proposed plans to build a state of the art gym in the Wilson Building?

can we compare the salaries under Mr. Fenty vs Mr. Gray?

thank you

Posted by: pdv1 | February 23, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Year after year we see politicians arguing over tickets. It is absolutely infuriating! Since we are in a budget crisis why don't they sell the tickets with proceeds going towards the debt?

Posted by: letsbereal2 | February 23, 2011 3:53 PM | Report abuse

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