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Posted at 9:59 AM ET, 02/28/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: Feb. 28, 2011

By Mike DeBonis

TODAY IS FEB. 28, 2011 -- DAY 57 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY -- D.C. summer jobs program filling up quickly -- Potential Wal-Mart landlord accused of hosting massage parlor -- Patrick Mara is indeed a Republican, says Web site

After the District government's no-good, very bad week, some D.C. Council members are moving to restore some confidence. Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) is looking to examine the "relatively robust salaries" being paid to Mayor Vincent Gray's top staffers. She's also calling for a 10 percent council pay cut. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) announced on the WAMU-FM Politics Hour Friday that he would introduce legislation with Sekou Biddle (D-At Large) to require council approval for all vehicle purchases and sales. And this morning, Tommy Wells issued a preliminary report concluding that there are big problems with how the city handles its auto fleet. Among the findings: "The Chairman of the Council inappropriately requested the city provide a Lincoln Navigator SUV, [an illicitly gas-guzzling SUV,] and the Executive appears to have violated DC law by providing it." Undermining this confidence-building effort are comments like these, from Marion Barry, in response to allegations of cronyism at the Department of Health Care Finance: "To the victor goes the spoils. Mayor Fenty lost and Mayor Gray won. ... I am sick and tired of the news people talking about cronyism and favorites. Who's [Gray] supposed to hire? His enemies?"

AFTER THE JUMP -- Post editorial board takes Gray to task on hiring -- Colby King calls council a bunch of children -- Tom Sherwood says Gray is going off the rails -- furloughs lead to missed 911 calls, union says -- Henderson says she's ready to close high schools -- council foiled Secure Communities compromise

*** MAIN COURSE ***

REACTION I -- The Post editorial board, writing off the hiring and firing of Sulaimon Brown, harshly criticizes Gray for his "bad start" on hiring: "On Wednesday, Sulaimon Brown was judged by [Gray] qualified for a $110,000-a-year city position. 'We believe he has the requisite skills to do the job,' Mr. Gray told a media corps incredulous over the appointment of an individual who had made himself a laughingstock during a sham run for mayor. Within 24 hours, Mr. Brown was given the boot; asked to explain why, Mr. Gray claimed not to 'know the details.' That's not good enough. Mr. Gray campaigned on promises of integrity and transparency in government, but questions surrounding Mr. Brown's appointment and dismissal - along with other troubling incidents - have his fledgling administration off to the wrong start. ... Mr. Gray has hired many fine people for top positions, retaining qualified staff from the Fenty administration and bringing in talented new blood. Still, the missteps are worrying. Neither Mr. Gray nor the city can afford a return to the sad days of city governance when whom you knew mattered more than what you knew or what you could accomplish."

REACTION II -- Colby King compares the mayor and council to a pack of whiny elementary schoolers to great effect in his Saturday Post column: "Why do elected officials in the District, among the highest-paid in the nation, deserve taxpayer-supplied vehicles, free tickets or perks of any kind? Why is the D.C. Council still squabbling over free tickets for Verizon Center events? How does a Sulaimon Brown even get on the public payroll? Why aren't they doing the people's business instead of tending to their own while on government time and the taxpayer's dime? Why, indeed, do residents of the District tolerate such nonsense? But wait. We elected them. What does that say about us?"

REACTION III -- Tom Sherwood reports at WRC-TV that Gray "is losing control of his administration and must right his ship."
More no-good-very-bad-week pieces from WTTG-TV, WUSA-TV, NPR. Mark Plotkin takes aim at the "SUV blunder" in a WTOP commentary.

HOW TO FIX IT -- "[H]ow do they come back from becoming a joke?" Gary Imhoff asks in themail. "Three ways. First, modesty. They recognize that they're not the big shots they thought they were and that people are on to them. They scale back their inflated egos and their inflated dreams of power and position. ... Second, maturity. Vincent Gray was elected mayor because he embodied the hopes of the majority of this city for adult leadership after years of immaturity, callowness, and greenness. It's time for him to rise above the idea that we can build a great city by building up its politicians and bureaucracy. ... Third, openness. What have councilmembers and the mayor learned from the past week? I'm afraid they're learned exactly the wrong lesson: don't trust the press, and keep reporters at a distance so they can't learn anything we don't want them to know. What they should learn, instead, is to bring the press and the people even closer, and to let them -- us -- in."

DPR CRONY ALERT -- In her Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras notes the response of parks-and-rec director Jesus Aguirre when asked at his oversight hearing last week about two politically connected hires at the agency: "I did not request them. I did not interview them," he said of Cherita Whiting and Nicholas Hall. "Aguirre, a holdover from the previous administration, wasn't named until a week ago by Gray. By then, Whiting, who strongly supported his mayoral bid, and Hall, the son of Gray's $200,000-a-year chief of staff, were ensconced in the agency. ... The salaries paid to Hall's son and Whiting ($55,000 and $65,000 respectively) by comparison are pittance. Their employment, previously reported in the press, is troublesome. But, this isn't really about them. This is all about Gray: his questionable financial priorities and faulty management decisions. What happened at DPR is emblematic of both. That Aguirre, the agency's director, wasn't provided an opportunity to interview people who would work for him was unconscionable. Equally stunning is that Gray somehow believed hiring political cronies was the best use of public funds, despite the fiscal challenges facing the city."

HOW THE NAVIGATORS COMPARE -- In the wake of the Kwamemobile revelations, the Examiner's Freeman Klopott surveys executive transportation across the region: "Gray gets the prize for driving the most costly vehicle, a 'fully loaded' Lincoln Navigator, which has a sticker price of at least $10,000 more than both Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's Chevrolet Suburban. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has not one, but two SUVs. There's the $47,698 Chevrolet Suburban driven by a part-time security guard that Leggett uses for official county business, and there's also the $38,665 Jeep Cherokee Leggett uses when he drives himself."

911 CALLS IGNORED, UNION SAYS -- Scary report from WTOP on how some 200 calls to 911 went unanswered Tuesday because a furlough left the Office of Unified Communications understaffed: "The first round of furloughs happened last Tuesday for emergency operation employees leaving less 911 dispatch workers on hand to help answer calls. Most of the missed calls happened during the hours of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. Lee Blackmon, a spokesman for the union that represents D.C. 911 call center employees, said there was no one available to answer the calls and get information to police. ... A spokeswoman for [Gray] said that she was not aware of the missed 911 calls. But she said if the issue is affecting public safety then it needs to be addressed. Paul Quander, the city's deputy mayor of public safety, said there were 23 employees instead of the normal 30 because of the furloughs. 'This was the first week that we initiated the furloughs,' he said. 'It was a little rocky, but we made the adjustment.'" Klopott follows up in Examiner, reporting that the union had "pleaded with" Gray to exempt its workers from the furlough.

RESPECT HIS AUTHORITIES -- In Capital Business, Jonathan O'Connell looks at what Gray's proposed redevelopment authorities will look like: "[H]is administration says they will not be re-hashed versions of the National Capitol Revitalization Corp. and the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., which Fenty and the D.C. Council closed in 2007. Gray (D) will create special-purpose entities specifically to guide planning and development of two of the city's largest projects, the city-owned east campus of St. Elizabeths hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, according to a city official who spoke on the condition on anonymity because the mayor has not disclosed the plans yet. Victor Hoskins, Gray's newly appointed deputy mayor for planning economic development, told the D.C. Council last week that the administration was planning to create new entities but that they would not resemble redevelopment agencies that managed large portfolios as NCRC and AWC did. 'What we are looking at is more geographically specific and also project-specific anchors of land, instead of broad-sweeping areas,' he said."

MORE BREATHALYZER BALONEY -- A new twist in the bad breathalyzer saga, from Examiner's Klopott: "Attorney General Peter Nickles' office was aware that problems with the District's alcohol breath-test program likely stretched back more than a decade, but only alerted defendants in cases going back to 2008, documents obtained by The Washington Examiner show. In February 2010, the police department was alerted by independent contractor [Ilmar Paegle] that its alcohol breath analyzers were not properly calibrated and were returning inaccurate results. The department shutdown the program and Peagle continued his review of the program. On April 20, 2010, Paegle issued a memo Kimberly Brown, chief of the attorney general's criminal section under Nickles. In the memo, Paegle tell Brown that for than a decade the police department 'had no parameters for simulator test results and, in consequence, the simulator test in the field became meaningless.'" What does it mean? It means there's more questions for Phil Mendelson to ask at his hearing today on the matter.

DON'T SHUT US DOWN -- The Post urges Congress to keep a federal shutdown from affecting the District government: "If the federal government shuts down, D.C. residents likely will be unable to visit neighborhood libraries, renew their driver's licenses or have their garbage collected. Never mind that these services are funded with local tax dollars and that the District is a mere bystander to the game of chicken between Republicans and Democrats over government spending. It's infuriating, and it's further evidence of the need for the District to control how its local dollars are spent. ... A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) offered up only tired rhetoric about a government shutdown being in the hands of Senate Democrats. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he would get back to us; we're still waiting. Such disinterest, given efforts (mainly by Republicans) to chip away at home rule, isn't surprising."

HIGH SCHOOLS COULD BE CLOSED -- Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson tells WAMU-FM's Kavitha Cardoza that she's open to closing city high schools in the coming years: "Henderson says, for its student population, 17 high schools in the District is a lot. She says most people think smaller schools are better, but 'we subsidize many small high schools and specialized programs. We're not utilizing space appropriately, and every single high school wants a state-of-the-art gym, theater, computer lab and what-not, and we just don't have the resources to provide that.' Henderson says budget pressures will force them to 'blow the roof off' the way high schools are run. So, for example, maybe create computer or culinary arts centers around the city, rather than in schools. That way, students from different high schools can use them. Henderson says three years ago DCPS closed 23 schools as part of 'the first round.' And she says closing high schools is "absolutely an option.'"

SECURE COMMUNITIES AND YOU -- Fascinating piece by the Post's Shankar Vedantam on how D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier worked behind the scene to improve the federal Secure Communities program, only to be undercut by the D.C. Council: "When [Lanier] first heard about a new federal immigration enforcement program last year, she said it could have prevented eight murders in the city in the previous two years. But Lanier's enthusiasm was tempered by her concern that the program,designed to detect suspects in police custody who are undocumented immigrants, would also ensnare people who had committed minor offenses, prompting immigrants not to report crimes and domestic abuse to police. Lanier worked behind the scenes last year with federal officials to redesign the program in potentially far-reaching ways, according to recently released internal documents by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. But Lanier's attempt to get the program to focus on serious offenses was stymied after the D.C. Council and community groups expressed reservations about participating in any fashion. Eventually, the city withdrew from the program."

ABOUT THOSE SOLAR PANELS... -- The Post's David Nakamura reports on the demise of city aid to solar-panel installing residents: "Dozens of District residents who installed solar panels on their homes under a government grant program promoting renewable energy have been told they will not be reimbursed thousands of dollars as promised because the funds were diverted to help close a city budget gap. In all, the city has reneged on a commitment of about $700,000 to 51 residents, according to the D.C. Department of the Environment. The agency has pledged to try to find money in next year's budget, its director, Christophe Tulou, said. ... The abrupt suspension of the city's Renewable Energy Incentive Plan, an annual $2 million fund that was supposed to last through fiscal 2012, threatens to dampen budding enthusiasm for clean energy among homeowners. The program has helped 315 people install solar panels, with another 417 on a waiting list that has been closed by city officials. [Cheh], who is leading the push for a sustainable energy utility to encourage green energy in the District, said officials are scouring the environmental agency's budget in hopes of finding reimbursement money for the 51 homeowners this year. But, she said, 'I would think people would take a cautious approach' to future installations."

IN CASE YOU'RE WONDERING -- Here's what Cheh's telling her constituents about the Kwamemobiles, from her weekly Ward 3 update: "The entire episode has been very distressing to me, as it has been to you, especially in these difficult economic times. Since the matter first hit the media, the Chair has acknowledged his lapse in judgment and is moving to return the vehicle and reimburse the District for certain expenditures. If there is a silver lining in all this it is that the Council, through the Committee on Transportation and Public Works has indicated that it will take a look at the entire matter of employee leasing of vehicles and the proper limits in terms of purpose, cost, and hopefully environmental effects."


*** SMALL PLATES ***

Pennsylvania fights back (Phila. Inquirer)

Council nixes car-sharing at Wilson Building (Loose Lips)

H.R. Crawford at the center of board battle over new MWAA leader (Post, Post editorial)

Biddle debuts campaign office (D.C. Wire, Four26)

Chancellor selection panel gets to work -- it's not a search panel! (D.C. Schools Insider)

"One City": official policy of the District government (DCist)

Gray paid off-schedule visit to Hardy Middle School Thursday (G'town Dish)

Lou Cannon out at Protective Services? (City Desk)

"How the GLLU Made Nice With Some DC Activists" (The New Gay)

Was PreventionWorks killed by home rule fight? (DCist)

Richard Kahlenberg: "Gov. Scott Walker can thank Michelle Rhee for making teachers unions the enemy" (Post)

Richard Whitmire: "What Did We Learn from Michelle Rhee?" (ABC News)

All CMs save Catania, Cheh and Evans sign letter backing Washington Hospital Center nurses (Medical News Today)

Yes, there is still room to build in downtown (Housing Complex)

High schools still waiting on athletic budgets (Examiner)

Recall Kwame Brown blog pops up (Blogspot)

Help count homeless youth (Susie's Budget and Policy Corner)

Rhee does All Things Considered Weekend (NPR)

"DC needs school choice, not vouchers" (GGW)

Victor Reinoso takes "project development" job at Georgetown (D.C. Schools Insider)

Tony Williams is on Facebook -- still hasn't approved my friend request (Facebook)

Federal judge tosses challenge to tour guide licensing (Crime Scene)

It was Protective Services who escorted Sulaimon Brown out of his office (Loose Lips)

What Cheh did it Gitmo (Oelwein Daily Register)

Gray speaks up for streetcars at Georgetown groundbreaking (WTOP)

DCRA cracks down on N Street Follies tax break (Housing Complex)

Southwest Waterfront PUD is filed (WBJ)

Metro releases video of escalator collapse (WRC-TV)

Long-fallow Chinatown parcel changes hands again (DCmud)

DDOT tweaks slug lines (Post)

"Shotgun Stalker" will stay inside St. E's (Crime Scene)

The saddest thing (City Desk)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Sulaimon Brown appears on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, 10 a.m. on NewsChannel 8 -- Gray cuts ribbon on Petworth library rehab, gets Secret Service Briefing on reopening E Street NW to traffic in front of the White House -- council oversight hearing on Department of Transportation, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500; Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, Office of Veterans Affairs, Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, Office of Latino Affairs and Commission on Latino Community Development, 10 a.m. in JAWB 412 -- Mendelson holds hearing on breathalyzers, JAWB 123

By Mike DeBonis  | February 28, 2011; 9:59 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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Next: Sulaimon Brown stands to be a thorn in Gray's side

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