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It’s a Thursday afternoon at the District Government’s 441 4th St. NW headquarters, and a man delivering a vase of purple flowers approaches the building’s new directory. He’s looking for the office of Jack Evans, the D.C. councilmember from Ward 2. But the sign in front of him isn’t much help. Evanswho’s been on the council since 1990isn’t even listed. Neither are seven more of its 13 members, including Chairman Linda Cropp. Another visitor eventually offers directions, and the guy turns to the elevators headed for the seventh floor.
“I guess this means we’ve been placed in political Siberia,” says Evans spokesperson John Ralls.
In fact, its listingor lack thereofhas landed Evans’ office, like dozens of other D.C. government agencies, smack dab in the middle of Mayor Anthony Williams’ latest front-office miniscandal. On Feb. 4, mayoral aide Norman Dong allegedly whacked a colleague with a clipboard during an argument over the status of the directory. Williams had wanted it installed immediately, as part of his campaign to make D.C.’s forbidding bureaucracy more accessible to citizens.
At the time, the story played like yet another sign of a new administration hurdling off the tracks. But if you stare at the directory placard long enough, you might understand what could drive a person to violence. Six weeks and one clipboard incident into Williams’ age of openness, the directory remains incompleteleaving unwary visitors to fend for themselves.
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Kenneth Kimbrough, director of the Office of Property Management and the alleged victim of Dong’s clip, admits there are a few office names still missing from the directory. He says a mix-up with a previous order meant the shipment bringing the directory showed up short a few tiles listing office names. Those pieces should arrive in the next few weeks, he says.
Unfortunately, part of the problem is the stuff that’s already printed. Any office under the mayor’s administration, for instance, isn’t filed alphabetically under “M,” as one might guess.
Instead, it’s under “E” as in “Executive Office of the Mayor,” silly.
Offices under the chief financial officer follow a sort of quasi-logic and are located in the “C” part of the file, as in “CFO/Office of Tax and Revenue,” for example. Good enough. But the office of the CFO is under “O” for office, as are all other agencies that start with the wordwhich is, of course, quite a fewsuch as the Office of the Associate Director for Local Business Development and the Office of the D.C. Treasurer.
Kimbrough explains that Evans’ and other councilmembers’ names will be added to the directory as soon as they arrive. He adds, too, that there are several other flaws in the current design. Originally, his staff planned to list offices according to floors. “That wasn’t a workable decision, because people don’t think in terms of floors,” says Kimbrough. So they rearranged the tiles, alphabetizing by office name. “But you wound up with a lot of O’s,” acknowledges Kimbrough.
Kimbrough says his office now plans to scrap the whole thing and start over. They will reorder all the tiles and arrange them by more substantive identifiers. The Office of Aging, for instance, will be under “A,” as in “Aging, Office of.” “I don’t think it was well-thought-out from the beginning,” admits Kimbrough. “We probably should have taken more time to work it out. But we’ll make it right.” Laura Lang