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Posted at 9:26 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 1, 2011

By Mike DeBonis

TODAY IS MARCH 1, 2011 -- DAY 58 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY -- Sulaimon Brown stands to be a thorn in Gray's side -- D.C. summer jobs program reaches capacity -- Lopez supporter to challenge Mara's ballot petitions -- Biddle campaign aims to oust three competitors from ballot -- Gray heads back to Capitol Hill to talk vouchers

Happy Parking Bondage Day! As of today, street sweeping on residential streets begins for the year, so don't forget to move your vehicles -- be they Navigators, Town Cars or something more fuel efficient -- lest the sweepercams get you. That said, let's move on to another topic. If you are a city official who is considering spending taxpayer money on some sort of perquisite, perhaps you should consider how you will explain said perk in the pages of local newspapers or before the cameras of local TV outlets. Today's talker is from WTTG-TV's Tisha Thompson, who reports on several trips taken by UDC President Allen Sessoms involving first-class travel and luxury accommodations in addition to his "expensive car [yes, a Navigator], a million dollar house and a six-figure salary." Sessoms has a need to travel, no doubt, but it appears he was less than fully willing to respond to Thompson's inquiries: "Most trips are missing receipts and other documentation, prompting questions like ... Why did he spend more than $644 for one night in New York's luxury hotel The Plaza? And why are there so many other, unexplained credit card charges in cities like Boston, Memphis and Oklahoma City? ... The Egypt trip forces the most expensive questions. Why did Sessoms buy the $7,952 ticket to Egypt only three days before he left? And how did he get back?" Thompson showed up at a UDC board meeting, but Sessoms ducked the cameras, leaving spokesman Alan Etter to say: "There are questions in my mind as well. I wish I could give you the answers to those questions. I don't have the answers to those questions.

AFTER THE JUMP -- Wells, Lew probe vehicle practices -- at-large ballot stands to get smaller -- Evans says he might submit bill to send principal back to Hardy MS -- Skinner emerges from shadows -- Brown settles credit card debt

*** MAIN COURSE ***

VEHICLE PROBES -- Tommy Wells owned the news cycle with his brief "preliminary report" on the city's vehicle management practices, which included the conclusion that Kwame Brown "inappropriately requested" a gas-guzzling SUV. Tim Craig adds context in the Post: "The leasing controversy has battered Brown's public image. On Thursday, he was booed by some while trying to speak at a fundraiser at the Kennedy Center for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, according some people who attended. Brown was unavailable for comment Monday. But he issued a statement praising [Wells] , the chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, for looking into how the city leases vehicles. 'I agree that the procurement process requires a top to bottom review, and trust that the committee will make the necessary recommendations for changes when the final report is issued,' he said." Not everyone was so happy with Wells, such Harry Thomas Jr.: "I think the [Wells] report was handled in an inappropriate process," Thomas tells the Washington Times. "How can a report be released without committee input? This may be a violation of council rules." Late in the day, City Administrator Allen Lew announced he too was going to investigate the matter -- while making great pains in a news release to release his boss, Gray, from any political culpability. More coverage from Examiner, Loose Lips, DCist, GGW, WTTG-TV, AP, WUSA-TV

CHALLENGE TIME -- Council candidate Bryan Weaver reacted to all the recent foolishness by calling for "accountability" and pointing out that "symbols matter" in a blog post. But it's not clear whether Weaver will be able to take that message to the ballot. Supporters of competitors Sekou Biddle, Josh Lopez and Vincent Orange challenged various candidates. Patrick Mara, Jacque Patterson and Weaver have all come under scrutiny. And Orange, too, got a challenge from Biddle before it was withdrawn moments after it was placed, per Loose Lips. More at Four26DC.com.

POPE BILL? -- An unexpected twist in the Hardy Middle School saga: Jack Evans told an ANC meeting he'd consider legislation to reinstate Patrick Pope as principal, Shaun Courtney reports at Georgetown Patch: "Evans said he has generally been in favor of the District Council staying out of the schools. Last May other District Council members proposed a Sense of the Council Resolution, which Evans ultimately voted for, calling for Pope's continued leadership at Hardy. Evans called this a "meaningless document. Since that time, though, 'that issue has not gone away' said Evans. 'It is now, I think, firmly in my court...and it is an issue that continues to overshadow everything,' said Evans, cautiously. The Ward 2 Council member said he is contemplating 'legislating' Pope's return as principal. Evans was quick to add that he was not certain of the legality of such an action. Interim Chancellor of DC Schools, Kaya Henderson, 'is not inclined to bring [Pope] back there,' said Evans who met with the Chancellor Friday. Evans opened the question to the community, 'Do we want Patrick Pope back there or should the council and the mayor stay out of this situation?'" In other news: Pope will finish the school year filling in at Anacostia's Savoy ES, according to D.C. Schools Insider.

EMERGING FROM THE SHADOWS -- The most bizarre, unexpected development of the day: Sinclair Skinner, Fenty fraternity brother and parks contracting middleman extraordinaire, issued a news release calling on the media and the people to divert some of their civic outrage any from salaries and SUVs and onto the fact that Jim Graham's erstwhile top aide pleaded guilty to felonies last week. A sampling: "Washingtonians, welcome to the current state of D.C. politics. While many are paying close attention to Mayor Vince Gray's hiring policies, and the color of Council chair Kwame Brown's SUV interior, Councilman Jim Graham's former chief of staff goes to jail for taking a gratuity from a lobby, and no one bats an eye to see if Graham had any criminal involvement in the matter. Yes, the events [involving] Mayor Gray and Chairman Brown might be preposterous and unsettling. However, a chief of staff to a city councilman took money from a lobby for legislation that Graham ultimately proposed. If there is an issue that D.C. residents and our media watch dogs should be furious about --this is it!" Graham, of course, has not been charged or accused on wrongdoing in the federal probe of the city taxi industry, and Skinner has long clashed with Graham ("Gramzilla," anyone?). Read more in D.C. Wire and DCist.

NO BREATHALYZERS SOON -- Phil Mendelson convened a hearing Monday on the police department's breathalyzer problems. The main takeaway: Don't expect breath-testing equipment to be back in service anytime soon, Mary Pat Flaherty reports in the Post: "Deputy Attorney General Robert Hildum said that within 10 days he would lay out benchmarks for designing a new program. But Hildum also could not say when a functioning system would be in operation because the outside experts needed to design it were not yet hired. Setting up a reliable program, Hildum said, was more complicated than duplicating procedures used elsewhere in the country, an assertion that Mendelson later questioned. 'Do people really get drunk differently in the District?' Mendelson said after the hearing." Two D.C. cops also testified, Freeman Klopott reports in the Examiner, "that officers are now hesitant to make DUI arrests with the police department's alcohol breath-test program in disarray." Also WTTG-TV.

YES, SCHOOL CUTS COMING -- The Examiner's Lisa Gartner quotes an anonymous DCPS source who says that schools are about to get the meat ax: "'These are going to be very severe cuts -- we're talking about positions, bodies,' said the official who 'works closely' with Kaya Henderson. 'In the past we've tried to focus on central office, but this is school level as well.' The actual budgets, which were to be released today, have been repeatedly delayed. 'School employees are 'bracing' for cuts 'from teachers all the way up to administration,' according to the official. ... 'It's a difficult effort because again, whatever front you turn to, we've got fiscal constraints that we're operating under. ... It's a very painstaking and in some instances painful process,' Gray said recently of the school budgets, which are overdue by about a month."

KWAME SETTLES DEBT -- Kwame Brown has quietly settled his credit card debt, Alan Suderman reports at Loose Lips: "[O]n February 18, Brown finalized a settlement with the collection agency that's been hounding him for unpaid credit card debt. Brown's settlement allows him to pay only $9,500 on what was originally $21,743.87 worth of debt. The settlement also allows Brown to escape interest payments, late fees, or attorney costs. ... It now looks like Brown has resolved all the court cases brought against him for debt-related issues -- as long as he makes his payments on time."


*** SMALL PLATES ***

Congrats to Bill Turque, education beat writer of the year, and distinguished blogger Valerie Strauss (Post)

Bad day for Sessoms to talk about his vision for UDC (WAMU-FM)

Sulaimon Brown: "It was known by the mayor months ago that he was going to give me an appointment." (DCist)

It's that time of the year when Harry Jaffe predicts a "summer of bloodshed" (Examiner)

Federal prosecutors mull seeking death penalty in 2009 witness murder -- would be first under Obama/Holder (Washington Times)

Michelle Rhee returns home Wednesday (All Life Is Local)

House budget committee nixes Norton amendment to exempt District from federal shutdown (The Hill)

Snippets from the DDOT oversight hearing: Evans thinks 15th Street bike lane setup isn't working, and there was renewed talk of banning bike use on sidewalks (GGW, GGW)

Former D.C. health director speaks up for needle exchange (Post)

Mary Cheh legislates "workplace wellness" (Examiner)

Will new corrections chief be trans-friendly? (TBD/Amanda Hess)

"What Is Behind the Discrediting of Michelle Rhee?" (Ed Week)

Compared to states, D.C.'s Medicaid costs are high (DCentric)

Government shutdown probably won't affect Metro (Post)

Ward 8 residents not happy about group home for ex-offenders (WUSA-TV)

The disappearing D.C. gas station (City Paper)

Is DCPS being needlessly secretive about IMPACT calculations? (Guy Brandenburg)

Last week probably not in fact the worst week ever for District government (Loose Lips)

Yes, it could be worse (DCist)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray holds weekly news conference, noon in JAWB press room; attends National Press Foundation awards Dinner, 6;30 p.m. at Washington Hilton -- fifth legislative meeting of the D.C. Council, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500

By Mike DeBonis  | March 1, 2011; 9:26 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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Next: DeMorning DeBonis: March 2, 2011

Comments

"What Is Behind the Discrediting of Michelle Rhee?"

The reason being that there hasn't been this much disregard for the law by an invading force since Slim Pickins as Taggart.

Posted by: tcs1999 | March 1, 2011 7:55 PM | Report abuse

"What Is Behind the Discrediting of Michelle Rhee?"

The reason being that there hadn't been this much disregard for the law by an invading force since Slim Pickins as Taggart.

Posted by: tcs1999 | March 1, 2011 7:56 PM | Report abuse

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