DeMorning DeBonis: Feb. 24, 2011
TODAY IS FEB. 24, 2011 -- DAY 54 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
The press corps squeezed another day of SUV news out of Mayor Vincent C. Gray's news conference yesterday, after Attorney General Irvin Nathan announced that the leases for the pair of Lincoln Navigators sought for D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown can be "terminated for convenience." But Gray also addressed reports of his own questionable spending and hiring -- in particular the hiring of fringe mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown. City Paper's Alan Suderman runs down nicely why Brown's $110,000 a year job at the Department of Health Care Finance has city reporters so incredulous. Gray defended the hire, saying Brown "has the skills and abilities to do the job" but "will be supervised closely." Nikita Stewart adds at D.C. Wire: "Gray said Brown's help during the election was unsolicited. He said Brown 'sought this out himself.' ... He added later that the government is full of 'excepted service' positions. Wilson Building insiders refer to them as political hires. Gray explained that they are hired at will. 'And frankly, (excepted service) allows them to go out the door in the same manner,' he said." Aaaand, breaking this morning: Suderman reports that Brown was escorted out of his office this morning by police.
AFTER THE JUMP -- Gray says he'll appeal teacher reinstatements -- Gray keeps several Fenty appointees -- will there be a real debate on role of charter schools? -- were Gray transition heads conflicted? -- at-large showdown at Social Safeway -- bag tax works well, says enviros' study
*** MAIN COURSE ***
REINSTATEMENTS WILL BE CHALLENGED -- Gray announced at the new conference that city will appeal the reinstatement of 77 probationary teachers fired in 2008. Via Lisa Gartner in Examiner: "It is the opinion of the attorney general that the arbitrator erred in requiring the District to provide back pay to teachers who were justifiably found not to be effective teachers," Hizzoner said. So what does that mean? Attorney General Irvin Nathan explained that "school officials were locating the teachers to explain why they were terminated, as the ruling demands, but he said the city should only offer back wages to teachers found worthy of reinstatement. 'We will be ... giving them an opportunity to rebut or explain the circumstances, and then there will be a new determination as to whether they will be employed,' Nathan said. 'For when the decision is not to retain them, it doesn't seem appropriate to us that they will get payment from the District for the period of the arbitration which took over [two] years.'" Says WTU chief Nathan Saunders: "Contacting these individuals and giving them the opportunity to be fired all over again, I'm certain will not be attractive to them." Also WTTG-TV, WAMU-FM.
MORE FROM PRESSER -- Gray announced he's keeping three Fenty-appointed agency heads: Jesus Aguirre of the Department of Parks and Recreation; Steve Baron of the Department of Mental Health; and Christophe Tulou of the Department of the Environment. A couple other current or former city employees are getting promotions: Terese Lowery, a Gray council staffer, will head the Office of Women's Policy and Initiatives, and Ollie Harper Jr. will succeed Allen Lew at the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, where he was a deputy director. The only total newbie: James Staton Jr., who is now state purchasing officer for North Carolina, succeeds David Gragan at the Office of Contracting and Procurement. Also: The summer jobs program is now "Mayor Vincent C. Gray's One City Summer Youth Employment Program." A review at DCist: "Despite a press corps thirsty for blood (and accountability), Gray does well in these press conferences. He thinks well on his feet, and only once did he play the dreaded 'direct those questions to my communications team' card."
A REAL DEBATE ABOUT CHARTERS -- On the heels of news that Gray is looking to cut the charter schools' facilities allowance, Jonetta Rose Barras pens a lengthy and provocative argument in Washington City Paper that the charters' longstanding fight for budgetary "parity" with traditional public schools is ill-founded. And Jonetta's piece is also a larger exploration of whether charter proliferation has been a good thing for the city. "For the past two years, charter proponents have engaged in a myopic debate about whether the District government has or hasn't fairly allocated money to charters. Among the issues not discussed: Just who is actually benefiting from the system? Is it middle-class families adept at navigating the bureaucracy -- or poor people who desperately needed to escape badly performing traditional schools? Is there unfair competition, as DC Voice's [Jeff Smith] suggests when he recounts the laments of DCPS principals whose schools are in close proximity to charter programs? Should there be an agreement similar to free-trade accords, establishing geographic boundaries and other operational restrictions? Are charters realizing their intended mission, or have they become a minimally-regulated second-track system that mimics the mediocrity of DCPS? ... If charter proponents insist -- and often they do -- that everything is about the Benjamins, the prime concern should be whether taxpayers are, in fact, getting what they thought they were buying." Also check this Kaya Henderson quote: "These budgetary times will force us to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are operating inefficiently by running two separate systems. ... We will need to have the tough conversation around traditional and charter schools that we haven't had."
TRANSITION CONFLICTS? -- In Loose Lips this week, Suderman airs allegations of conflicts of interest among the heads of Gray's transportation transition team. Cell Bernardino, a former DPW director who is now a top executive with the Fort Lincoln New Town Corp., pressed City Administrator Neil Albert during the transition period on the status of an environmental assessment for the company's Ward 5 big-box development. And then there's Tom Downs, the former city administrator now an executive with the French transportation firm Veolia, who pressed for detailed information on streetcar and Circulator bus contracts -- which his company has previous bid on and might bid on again. Add to that the team's final report, which depicts a troubled agency seemingly fiscally mismanaged -- but comes from fellows who served a city government that was far less effective. Downs and Bernardino deny any conflicts and say their report "accurately depicts a troubled agency in need of reform." The other story here is how outspoken former transportation director Gabe Klein has become regarding the new administration. Says Klein: "What right do these guys have to judge anything that we've done? ... It's not really about accountability; it's about power and control, egos and ultimately money. And it's just sad that we're going back to that."
SOCIAL SAFEWAY DEBATE -- Some at-large council candidates gathered last night at Georgetown's new "Social Safeway" for a community forum, Judith Beermann of The Georgetown Dish offers a rundown: "[T]he verdict on Wednesday's debate was that the top five candidates are in a spirited contest with no obvious leader as yet," before focusing on certain parochial issues. Also: "One clear winner of the evening was Council member David Catania (At-large). All of the candidates said Catania is their 'favorite Councilmember,' with the exception of Vincent Orange, who named Jack Evans (Ward 2). [Bryan Weaver] also praised Tommy Wells (Ward 6)." For a more comprehensive look, check out the Twitter timeline posted at Martin Austermuhle's Four26DC.com, which collects observations from several tweeters at the event.
BAG TAX WORKS -- The Post's David Nakamura has details on the latest evaluation of the bag tax, from the pro-environment Alice Ferguson Foundation: "While shoppers have drastically cut their reliance on bags at District stores ... business owners have reported little harm to their bottom line and in some cases saved money because they are buying fewer bags. ... In a survey of 600 randomly chosen D.C. residents ... 75 percent said they are using fewer bags since the tax was enacted, while 21 percent said they have not changed their habits. An additional survey of 51 business owners found that 58 percent said they had seen no changes to their business, while 20 percent reported positive effects from the tax, including less litter around the store and savings on the number of bags they purchased to serve customers. Twelve percent of the business owners reported negative effects from the tax, although the report does not detail what they were."
*** SMALL PLATES ***
"Jim Graham's Lady Gaga dream remains alive" (D.C. Wire)
Jacque Patterson in profile (DCist)
Nathan on his predecessor: "Peter Nickles is a very talented, energetic lawyer who was dedicated to the best interests of the District. ... He provided a lot of good advice." (Washingtonian)
Council members take it easy on new deputy mayor for education (D.C. Schools Insider)
Still no action on combined reporting (DCFPI)
Michael Brown asks residents for alternate names for Pennsylvania Avenue (Post Now)
Police create "Most Violent People" list -- "and it has focused its attention on 39 members of two warring gangs in Ward 4" (Examiner)
Revisiting the 2008 murder that sparked Trinidad checkpoints (WTOP)
"Win a Date to Lady Gaga with Jim Graham!*" (Loose Lips)
Gray's economic development transition report "pushes archaic [car-centric] transportation approach" (GGW)
Breathalyzer whistleblower called to testify in DUI case (WTTG-TV)
DCPS high school principals struggle with "cruel choice" (WAMU-FM)
Post readers respond to Kwamemobile revelations (Post)
Bob McDonnell still not pushing Congress on Metro cuts (GGW)
More Valerie Strauss response to Michelle Rhee's op-eds! (Answer Sheet)
Pro and con on the Pill Bill (Informer)
Bus lines vacate CityCenter site (Housing Complex)
"What's behind the spike in D.C.'s armored-car robberies?" (City Paper)
Rhee, K.J. back in Washington (Sacramento Bee)
Gonna miss ya, TBD (Post)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Harriet Tregoning appears on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, noon on WAMU-FM, 88.5 -- Gray breaks ground on Georgetown street reconstruction, appears at Aspen Institute event, attends White House reception "celebrating Motown Sound," visits Ward 3 Dems meeting -- oversight hearings on Department on Disability Rights; DMPED, Department of Small and Local Business Development and Small and Local Business Opportunity Commission
| February 24, 2011; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Morning Mike, The District
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