Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Two years ago, Congress faced a familiar dilemma: It wanted to shore up the dilapidated Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) with a $42-million handout, but it didn’t want the money to pass through the tainted hands of Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr.
Home rule defenders, led by D.C. congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, insisted that Congress respect the mayor and show him the money. Congressional Republicans, wary of Barry’s proclivity to divert MPD funds to other spending needs, held their ground.
Whenever home rule bleeding hearts clash with Republicans, the outcome is predictable: Congress scaled back the gift to $15 million and sent it to the D.C. financial control board with specific orders to then-MPD Chief Larry Soulsby on how to spend it. Implicit in the deal was a condition: If MPD and city officials spent the money wisely, then Congress would fork over the remainder of the $42 million.
Now Capitol Hill bigwigs may be wishing they had given the money to Barry to begin with. At least it would have been spent quickly.
An unreleased report by the House Appropriations Committee has concluded that the city spent just over $5 million, only one-third of the total grant, during the 17 months following the disbursement. The report, circulated widely among committee members but not given to D.C. officials, found that MPD had contracted to spend another $5.8 million as of last December. Some $4.2 million continued to sit in MPD coffers.
Meanwhile, officers begged community groups for Xerox paper, Comet, automobile parts, and buckets and towels to wash their patrol cars.
“It’s really ticked off a lot of people over here,” says a congressional staffer. “The city said it was emergency money that the police really needed, and it sits there. What’s going on?”
Three weeks ago, MPD issued a report claiming that bids had been solicited to spend the remaining $4.2 million, and that only $307,500 was left “uncommitted” as of March 2. Congressional auditors are now going over MPD’s figures to determine just how much of the original grant remains unspent.
They are also investigating whether Soulsby and his successor, interim chief Sonya Proctor, stuck to the original spending plan mandated by Congress. MPD did buy 75 police cruisers adorned with the infamous red and blue “Pepsi” insignia, as well as 139 computer workstations, 160 new Honda motorcycles, new uniforms, and bulletproof vests. But officers are still awaiting more patrol cars for the 83 understaffed patrol service areas, mobile digital computers, automated fingerprinting ID equipment, and a workable 911 system that lets MPD broadcast reported phone warnings to residents of embattled neighborhoods. Although MPD insists the 911 system is in place, public safety advocates say there’s no evidence to support that claim.
Proctor, say several sources, is rushing to throw the money at all sorts of projects before this spring’s budget negotiations with Congress. Some of the funds may even go toward a makeover of the department’s seven district headquarters.
When Congress mandated better technology, it wasn’t talking about new TVs and VCRs for the officers lounge.
MPD watchers are fussing over $504,000 in interest earned on the $15-million grant after it was deposited in a city bank account in September 1996. The control board last year took that interest income to pay for reports by its ballyhooed Booz Allen & Hamilton consultants.
Congressional auditors are questioning whether the control board had the authority to “reprogram” that money from the original plan negotiated for use of the grant. Control board chairman Andrew Brimmer, they’re finding, is looking more and more like Barry.
The police department began spending the money in earnest last March, the report shows. This was only after the control board sent a letter to Soulsby that chided the chief for spending the grant at the pace of former Cleveland Indians designated hitter Mike “the Human Rain Delay” Hargrove. Shortly thereafter, control board vice chairman Stephen Harlan and his management team took control of police procurement and let the federal General Services Administration handle purchasing in exchange for a 2-percent fee.
After that coup, spending increased rapidly, the congressional report indicates, and hit a peak of nearly $3 million by August. But spending dropped off sharply the following month and dwindled to nothing during October and November of last year. MPD failed to spend any grant dollars in nine of the 17 months analyzed in the congressional report.
“We are not seeing the items that were supposed to be purchased with these monies,” Sally Byington, a member of MPD’s Citizen Advisory Council, told a D.C. Council hearing last week, after reviewing a copy of the congressional study.
But at least rank-and-file officers can watch the latest episode of The Young and the Restless on shiny new TV sets.
Even though the District’s elected school board has been reduced to the lowly status of an advisory neighborhood commission by the control board, its members still suffer from delusions of political grandeur. At least four school board membersone-third of the city’s first elected bodymay seek to convince voters this year that their dismal performance in reforming the District’s dysfunctional public school system qualifies them for at-large seats on the D.C. Council.
The contenders are:
•Ward 8 member Linda Moody, who became the first to publicly declare her council bid at a sparsely attended event in her home ward last weekend.
•Former school board president Don Reeves, who filed to run for mayor last fall. Since then, Reeves has sobered up a bit and has begun campaigning for a smaller prize.
•Ward 4 member Sandra Butler-Truesdale, who doesn’t trust her own Democratic Party any more than D.C. voters do. Butler-Truesdale plans to run as an independent.
•Seldom-noticed Ward 2 member Ann Wilcox, whose bid for an at-large seat hinges on the coherency of At-Large Statehood Party Councilmember Hilda Mason. If Statehood stalwarts can convince Mason to retire, Wilcox will jump into the void and attempt to hold on to the party’s sole council seat, which it has occupied since the beginning of home rule.
But the octogenarian Mason, whom councilmembers regard as a vacant mind atop a warm body, isn’t budging. Despite pleas from party members to step down, Mason appears committed to extending her 21-year council tenure. Statehooders are rightly concerned because Mason, the self-proclaimed “Grandmother to the World,” is the most vulnerable at-large councilmember on the ballot this year. She certainly does not offer the fresh face and force for change that D.C. voters have sought in recent elections.
LL has a solution for the statehooders: persuade Mason and her husband to dip into their family wealth and set up the Grandmother to the World Foundation, and then hire Barry to run it.
So far, we haven’t been able to get anyone in the Statehood Party to take our idea seriously.
During her brief March 14 announcement at New Image Community Baptist Church in Southeast, Moody pledged to “demand an efficient and accountable government, advocate that all neighborhoods be clean and safe, effectively advocate the position of all residents, [and] be accessible to all people.”
She left out promises to smile a lot, return phone calls, and never utter an unkind word about D.C. government workers. But there’s still time for more platitudes. Her campaign may be short on ideas, but it won’t suffer from a lack of rhetoric.
Moody picked up a quick endorsement from Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen, which struck a body blow to the hopes of former council chairman Arrington Dixon. Somehow Dixon didn’t get the message from the voters in December that they would prefer to send the city’s old politicians to the incinerator rather than recycle them.
In his first attempt at a political comeback after a 15-year layoff, Dixon suffered an embarrassing defeat to gay conservative Republican newcomer David Catania in a low-turnout special election to fill an at-large vacancy on the council. Dixon ran on a platform that the city should turn east, since D.C. voters have never elected an at-large council member from east of the Anacostia River during 24 years of home rule.
But voters valued a fresh face over geography and elected Catania to fill the vacancy created when Linda Cropp moved from her at-large seat into the council chair last July. Many Democrats, including Dixon, Moody, and Reeves, don’t believe that the overwhelmingly Democratic District will vote for Catania again this fall, when he runs for a full four-year term. So far, though, no Democratic heavyweight has suited up to challenge him.
Moody, who also hails from east of the Anacostia, threatens to steal Dixon’s eastness theme. But the former council chair may think he has a secret weapon in the Moody camp. Everett Jennings, Moody’s campaign manager, directed Dixon’s campaign last falland steered it over the cliff.
If Jennings can do for Moody what he did for Dixon, she will be back on the school board this time next year, still whining about the board’s loss of power and ducking the city’s school crisis.
FRESH FIELDS FALLOUT
The tug of war between the Shaw-Cardozo community and Dupont Circle residents over a new Fresh Fields store threatens to spoil the mayoral ambitions of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. Last month, Fresh Fields shunned a yearlong quest by the city to get the whole-foods grocer to build a new store at 13th and V Streets NW and opened negotiations for an alternative site at 15th and P Streets NW, in Evans’ ward.
The critics accuse Evans of orchestrating
“It was wrong for the fair-haired Jack Evanswho wants to be mayor for the whole city, he claimsto steal business away from one part of the city that really needs a grocery store,” says an angry supporter of the 13th and V site.
But no one’s angrier at Evans than the folks at the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which owns the hard-luck 13th and V site. One DHCD official claims that Evans secretly flew to Austin last fall to lobby Fresh Fields execs at the company’s Texas headquarters.
Evans’ office says there was no October surprise; the councilmember hasn’t been to Texas in 20 years and has never been to Austin.
Thirteenth and V supporters would have nothing to bemoan if they hadn’t posted a notice on the Internet bragging about their grocery coup before the deal was done. Dupont Circle residents spotted the mention and sprang into action, calling on their councilmember to intervene with Fresh Fields on their behalf.
Evans sent a letter to the grocer touting the P Street location. But Evans spokesperson John Ralls claims his boss abandoned the effort after subsequently learning that Ward 1 Councilmember Frank Smith had been working for nearly a year to get Fresh Fields to commit to the 13th and V site.
“We sent one letter,” says Ralls. “As soon as we found out Frank Smith had been working on this for over a year, we stopped.”
“Our role was innocuous,” Ralls insists.
Smith, who is seeking re-election this year, may not want to join the chorus blaming Evans. That would be an admission that he packs so little clout after nearly 16 years on the council that his year of work could be undone by one letter from a council colleague.
But other city officials, also in need of a scapegoat, will. And Evans could have a tough time convincing Ward 1 voters he didn’t steal their Fresh Fields store.CP
Correction: Frank Donatelli was incorrectly identified as a developer in last week’s Loose Lips column. Frank Donatelli has no connection to the development firm of Donatelli & Klein.
Got a tip for Loose Lips? Call (202) 332-2100, Ext. 302, 24 hours a day. And visit Loose Lips on the web at www.washingtoncitypaper.com.