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Posted at 11:06 AM ET, 03/ 3/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 3, 2011

By Mike DeBonis

TODAY IS MARCH 3, 2011 -- DAY 60 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY -- Coming soon: Wilson Building baristas? -- D.C. property assessments rise modestly for 2012

Mayor Vincent C. Gray appears to have a vetting problem. A week after Sulaimon Brown improbably became a household name, Alan Suderman digs into another politically connected Gray appointee in the newly redesigned City Paper: "Talib Karim, a Gray backer who recently began a $133,000-a-year job as chief of staff in the Department of Health Care Finance, appears to have used physical force on his ex-wife, according to D.C. Court of Appeals rulings that upheld a protective order against him issued by a Superior Court judge." Here's what Gray's spokeswoman has to say: "The initial vetting process only revealed financial challenges and an intra-family/child custody dispute with a former wife. ... [A]dditional details have come to light. The matter is under review by the agency director." Late Wednesday evening, the Gray camp announced it was going to task the Metropolitan Police with reviewing its political appointees, writing in a statement that there is "concern that the vetting process currently in place is not sufficient to identify all of the challenges that may be experienced by potential hires." Said Gray in the statement: "While a vetting process was implemented, it is clear that the approach was not thorough enough to address all relevant issues and questions." More from WRC-TV, Loose Lips, and TBD.

AFTER THE JUMP -- A hard look at Yvette Alexander's constituent service spending -- is the city fleet well-managed? -- pundits dole advice to Gray, Brown, council -- Biddle challenges vex opponents -- Sessoms responds to UDC community

*** MAIN COURSE ***

LOTS OF MONEY, LITTLE SERVICE -- Jeffrey Anderson of The Washington Times does a very good review of Yvette Alexander's constituent service fund and finds out that very little of it is actually going to serve constituents -- "less than 5 percent of the money she has raised since 2007 [has gone] to help constituents with urgent needs, such as funeral expenses, rent and utilities." Instead, Alexander "has spent the bulk of the money she raised from businesses, labor unions, lobbyists and others on catering, consultants, advertising and supplies for community events and fundraisers." Another problem: Poor documentation: "[U]nlike many of her colleagues, Ms. Alexander has declined to provide receipts or invoices that would justify thousands of dollars in recent expenditures from the fund. ... Ms. Alexander declined to comment on the funds or respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for the information, ordering a Times reporter to 'get out of my office.' John Hoellen, the D.C. Council's general counsel, said he is trying to determine whether any records exist supporting the expenditures and whether they should be released under the FOIA, adding they were "not necessarily council records." Also: Alexander has a fundraiser set for next week at Tony Cheng's.

FLEET MISMANAGEMENT? -- The Kwamemobile revelations prompt closer looks at the city's vehicle fleet from city reporters. Examiner's Freeman Klopott reports that the city pre-paid $17,000 toward the costs of two SUVs leased for Kwame Brown, citing city sources. "The Attorney General's Office has canceled both leases, but is now negotiating to get back some of the cash the city already paid for the sport utility vehicle, the sources said. ... 'It's not unheard of for prepayments to take place on contracts,' one source said. 'What's unusual in this case is that the pre-payment was made on a lease.' The source said the city might have received a price break by making a prepayment, although that remains unclear and officials are still trying to determine the details of the Department of Public Works' decision-making process." And WTOP's Mark Segraves and Paul Shinkman take a more comprehensive look at city vehicle procurement, reporting that an examination of fleet records "demonstrate just how unusual [Brown's] request was, particularly during dire financial times." To wit: "[M]any others who use public vehicles were able to make do at a fraction of the cost of the SUVs Brown ordered. The average cost of a D.C. public vehicle lease costs taxpayers about $430, almost 4.5 times less than Brown's Lincolns. The cheapest is a 2003 Chevy Venture the Department of Corrections began leasing in July 2007 for $207.43 per month. The most expensive vehicle is the Department of Disability Services' 2007 Grand Caravan, specially equipped for handicap use, for which the city pays $1,600 per month. Aside from that one vehicle, the next priciest is a 2008 Dodge Caravan, leased for the Office of Aging for $780.00 per month."

FIX-IT TIME -- Advice is rolling in for embattled city politicos: Bob McCartney writes in his Post column that the SUV and hiring dustups are "only mini-scandals, because relatively little money was involved. But the damage to the city's reputation is unavoidable. ... What is to be done? Gray and Brown need to change the narrative - and quickly. To start, they should strongly push some ethics measures, such as investigating [UDC President Allen Sessoms]'s travel and creating a promised new ethics watchdog body for the D.C. Council. Perhaps more important, the mayor must recover the adroit political sense that helped him win a landslide victory last year but has deserted him since he took office. Gray has ignored one of the most important rules in politics: Prevent vacuums. He hasn't used the now-vanished honeymoon period to promote big, bold initiatives on his signature issues of jobs and education. He seems to be content to manage the city rather than lead it. Now he's at risk of being defined by his missteps." At GGW, Mitch Wander offers some "quick fixes" to the council's credibility -- including a repeal to the parking ticket exemption for council members, giving up free box tickets to Verizon Center and Nationals Park and full disclosure of purchase card transactions. "None of these three suggestions will repair overnight any recent damage done to the reputation of the Council or the District as a whole. But implementing these three fixes quickly and in their entirety will show residents and the region that the Council wants to take measurable steps in the right direction." Meanwhile, Brown is seeking his own advice on ethics reform -- from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, which will "make recommendations regarding the best means by which the Council can stay within the boundaries of ethics rules, and to review the effectiveness of the Office of Policy Analysis for the Council of the District of Columbia." (The Georgetown Dish, incidentally, thinks that creates its own ethical dilemma.)

CHALLENGES TO CHALLENGES -- Sekou Biddle's petition challenges generated some critical coverage yesterday after challenges Jacque Patterson and Bryan Weaver noted that some notable personages were among the challenged signatures. Tim Craig reports at D.C. Wire: "Among the names being challenged, Patterson said, are those belonging to former mayors Adrian M. Fenty and Anthony Williams and numerous other community leaders. Patterson said he gathered many of his signatures at [Gray]'s inauguration. ... Weaver also released a statement criticizing Biddle's for challenging his signatures. Weaver questioned why Biddle challenged the validity of signatures belonging to former Ward 3 council member Kathy Patterson as well his wife, campaign chair, campaign manager and campaign treasurer. 'If I didn't take every part of the process very seriously, this would be pretty funny,' Weaver said." More from Examiner, DCist, Four26.

ARE NEW SCHOOL FACILITIES AFFORDABLE? -- Ahead of an oversight hearing on the city's school facilities office, Bill Turque asks at D.C. Schools Insider: "Can District afford to continue school modernization program?" Budgets were routinely busted and modified under Adrian Fenty and Allen Lew, Turque writes, and Kwame Brown wants "more clarity and consistency from new agency head Ollie Harper about what work will be done and when. 'It used to be that there was a plan, and the plan wasn't followed,' Brown said. Of greatest concern to Brown is whether the city will be able to cover the $2.4 billion his staff estimates will be needed to complete the promised work by 2019 -- at the same level of quality. ... Brown wants to hear from Harper how the city plans to get from here to there. 'At the end of the day we promised we'd modernize every single school,' Brown said. 'Communities have been promised and promised.'"

MORE UDC QUESTIONS -- Questions about UDC President Allen Sessoms persist for another day. WTTG-TV's Tisha Thompson turns her attention to Sessoms' vehicle -- a Lincoln Navigator that UDC paid for via a one-time $60,000 vehicle allowance -- and what appears to be a university-funded driver. DCist, meanwhile, posts a letter Sessoms sent to UDC students and faculty defending his travel spending, arguing that WTTG took the records he produced "out of context." What he doesn't explain is why he never sat down with Thompson to give that context. Sessoms also rejected the notion that taxpayers footed the bill for his trips, noting that they were "paid for out of University generate revenue, including external reimbursements, private grant funds, and Foundation funds." The hullabaloo gives the Wilmington News Journal an excuse to revive concerns about his troubled tenure at Delaware State University, where he "resigned in 2008 amid mounting opposition to his harsh management style." Also WRC-TV, Informer.

TSK TSK, JACK -- The Post editorial board takes a whack at Jack Evans for his Hardy Middle School legislation: "Apparently, neither his work as the Ward 2 D.C. Council member nor his job at a blue-chip law firm keeps [Evans] busy enough. How else to explain his desire to do Interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson's job? Mr. Evans's bid to force a personnel decision on Ms. Henderson is the very epitome of the micromanagement of schools he has long decried. Even worse, it's politicizing education for his own crass interests. ... What makes Mr. Evans's legislation so appalling is that he really knows better, as evidenced by his acknowledgment that 'micromanaging is not a good idea.' It seems, though, that this veteran lawmaker - no doubt looking ahead to his next election - is tired of the phone calls from a pack of persistent and vocal parents. So, to get them off his back, he comes up with an ill-advised piece of legislation that, if approved, starts the council down the slippery slope of becoming the next school board."

THE 'GOLDEN EGG' -- In light of an increase in city property assessments, driven almost entirely by commercial real estate, business interests are warning Gray and the council to fund downtown priorities: "Of a $10.4 billion increase in the city tax base, the 'central' subdivision that includes the bulk of downtown represented two-thirds of that growth. Richard H. Bradley, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, said the new figures are a reminder that downtown real estate remains the 'economic engine' driving the city budget. ... Bradley called on city officials, faced with closing a $322 million budget gap, to maintain funding for services that increases downtown's desirability to renters and owners - such as late-night Metro service, city-run Circulator buses and traffic control officers. 'It's important to sustain this,' he said. 'It's the goose that lays the golden egg.'"


*** SMALL PLATES ***

Yitbarek Syume, taxi conspirator, pleads guilty to felony bribery, other charges; could face nine years in prison (Post, WTOP)

City used faulty breathalyzer scores for weeks after they learned they were unreliable (WTTG-TV)

Battle over new Heritage Foundation office raises high-stakes legal questions for historic preservation (Housing Complex)

Current calls on ABC Board Chair Chuck Brodsky to recuse self on many cases (G'town Dish)

Bids are open for streetcar operator (WBJ)

City closes group home for developmentally disabled (Post)

Solar panels vs. SUVS: Not a good juxtaposition (Post letter)

DCFPI defends its tax study (GGW)

WHC nurses ready for Friday strike; hospitals says they will lock out till Wednesday (Post)

Increasingly unlikely federal shutdown could wreak havoc on special election (Four26)

More on the opposition to notary marriages (DCist)

A look at Jim Graham's effort to ban credit checks for prospective employees (Informer)

What Shaw squeezed out of Doug Jemal (Housing Complex)

Sound off on the Circulator (Dr. Gridlock)

What needs to be fixed about the city's solar power incentives (Housing Complex)

Gray willing to meet with GU students on noise law (Vox Populi)

Meet D.C.'s teacher of the year (Post)

No, Marion Barry didn't have to pay for all of his parking tickets to get his boot removed (DCist)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray meets with Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones; celebrates anniversary of gay marriage debut, 11:30 a.m. at Covenant Baptist Church; attends National Association of Social Workers conference, Earth Conservation Corps fundraiser and Board of Trade dinner -- Council oversight hearings on Office on Aging, Commission on Aging, Office on Human Rights, Office of Community Affairs, 11 a.m. in JAWB 500; on Department of Health, 11 a.m. in JAWB 412 -- Eleanor Holmes Norton, Charles Thornton talk about returning from prison on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, noon on WAMU-FM, 88.5

By Mike DeBonis  | March 3, 2011; 11:06 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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