City Paper is not for tourists
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT—-‘Gandhi Tells Rhee That $34M Surplus ‘Does Not Exist’‘; ‘Sinclair Skinner Not Backing From Fenty Ties‘; ‘Nuclear Summit Annoys More Drivers Than Previously Thought‘; and tweets galore!
Happy Emancipation Day all. LL’s Zen-master approach to DCPS budgeting appears to have been the correct one. You’ll recall that, three days ago, Chancellor Michelle Rhee told councilmembers that she planned to pay for her new teacher contract out of a $34M surplus—-surprise! LL took that with a grain of salt, seeing as it didn’t come from the mouth of Natwar M. Gandhi, almighty counter of the beans, glorious keeper of the purse strings. And now Gandhi has spoken: The surplus, he wrote in a letter to Rhee shared with the media, “does not exist.” Glad we cleared that up. Now there’s only one question: How the hell do we pay for this teacher contract deal? Hey, Bill and Melinda Gates, can you spare $34M?
AFTER THE JUMP—-Star principal found dead in Silver Spring home; Sinclair Skinner speaks; Barry publicly accuses Catania of flouting earmark ban; NYT hates voting-rights compromise; Kwame’s in, Raymond’s out
RHEE-ACTION—-From Examiner‘s Leah Fabel: ‘Rhee hotly disputed Gandhi’s assertions. “Information supporting a $34 million surplus had gone undisputed by the interim CFO [George Dines] as late as Monday of this week,” she said….Gandhi expressed incredulity in his letter that no discussion has taken place “to date” regarding the surplus. Sources within DCPS, however, said that numerous discussions have taken place between the schools and the budget office about the contract and its funding since it was announced on April 7. The two departments have engaged in a nearly weeklong dispute over who is to blame for utter confusion over actual dollars to pay the system’s nearly 4,400 teachers.’ Rhee sent a letter of her own late yesterday, which said that Gandhi ‘was in fact consulted’ about the surplus prior to the announcement and that never did an agency CFO describe the surplus as ‘preliminary, draft or subject to any disclaimers.’ Moreover, Rhee said her staffers ‘have identified sources to fill this balance’ of about $29M to make the contract work.
MORE—-Bill Turque writes in WaPo: ‘Gandhi’s analysis, outlined in a stinging letter to Rhee, is likely to raise new questions about the prospects for an agreement between the city and the Washington Teachers’ Union….In the letter, Gandhi, who is responsible for certifying collective bargaining agreements as fiscally sound, tells Rhee that although there is a projected $34 million in “underspending” in the school operations section of the agency’s budget, it is offset by an estimated $30 million in overspending in the system’s central office. In unusually blunt language, Gandhi takes Rhee to task for what he describes as a failure to adequately consult his office before mentioning the surplus at a meeting with D.C. Council members. “I was incredulous to learn that in your April 13, 2010, presentation to the Council on the contract you asserted that a surplus is available to fund the proposed salary increases based on preliminary information,” he wrote….Gandhi was infuriated by Rhee’s attribution of the surplus to his office and told sources who spoke on condition of anonymity that he felt as if he’d been thrown “under the bus” by Rhee. The Fenty camp also expressed anger toward Gandhi, who in its view was trying to back out of assessments made by his staff. What followed Wednesday was a round of leaked e-mails and on-the-record swipes from both sides.’ Also NC8 ; WaTimes, well behind, notes Gray questions on private funding.
TODAY—-THE AFT and WTU are holding a press conference at Moultrie Courthouse at 11 a.m., announcing new filings to reopen the teacher RIF lawsuit.
Shocking news out of Silver Spring: Brian Betts, principal of Shaw @ Garnet-Patterson MS and perhaps the highest-profile principal in D.C. Public Schools, was found dead in his home in mysterious circumstances. ‘Montgomery County police called the death “suspicious” and said they are searching for the victim’s dark blue 2007 Nissan Xterra sport-utility vehicle,’ WaPo reports. ‘Betts, 42, who became principal of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson in fall of 2008, did not report for work Thursday, police said. Montgomery police were called to the home in the 9300 block of Columbia Boulevard at 7:37 p.m. after co-workers of Betts’s arrived at the house looking for him. Betts’s next-door neighbor, Dan Kelly, said on Friday that he had just returned home Thursday evening when Betts’s colleagues came to the Kelly house asking whether he had seen his neighbor. They all went over to the house together, Kelly said, and found the door unlocked….Betts came to the D.C. system from Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring, where he had been an assistant principal for three years. When Rhee hired Betts, she gave him unusual latitude to select the teachers he wanted and change rules he felt were not helping students learn. Betts visited scores of students and parents before the 2008-2009 school year started, introducing himself and asking, among other things, how they felt about a white man running a school where all of the students were black or Hispanic. He eliminated homeroom periods and recess, which he considered wastes of time, and boosted teacher training significantly….Although test scores were slow to change, attendance and parental participation improved dramatically. Betts’s supporters said he raised expectations for students, recruited strong teachers and fired those who were not performing well.’
BIZARRE—-‘The two-story red brick house where Betts lived has a separate tragic history. It is the same house where 9-year-old Erika Smith and her father, Greg Russell, were brutally murdered by an intruder in 2002. The house had been empty since the double killing and Betts was not aware of its past when he bought it in 2003, Kelly recalled.’
Sinclair Skinner goes to the Wilson Building: The controversial friend of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty finally showed up to testify in the council parks contracting probe yesterday. The atmosphere was more subdued than one might think, if for no other reason than that the questioning was directed by lawyer Robert Trout rather than the usual motley crew of elected officials. That’s not to say the proceedings were without flair. Skinner himself testified that, despite a boyhood dream of owning an engineering firm, he twice failed the Professional Engineer exam then gave it all up for dry cleaning. And then there was the part where Skinner defended how he built his business to Michael Brown, telling him, ‘I didn’t have a father who was famous.’ But the meat of the findings were these: Skinner’s firm is thinly qualified to do the work it was hired to do. No one on the payroll of Liberty Engineering & Design can do surveys or do geotechnical analysis or field work of any sort; all that had to be hired out. LEAD, Skinner said repeatedly ‘managed, coordinated, and oversaw’ the engineering work, much as a general contractor hires out plumbers and carpenters. But the parks projects already had a project manager (Banneker Ventures) making damn good money to do that (not to mention general contractors hired by Banneker). Notably, Skinner, at the direction of his attorney Scott Bolden, refused to answer questions about his other dealings with Banneker Ventures and its principal, Omar Karim—-relationships that, according to checks disclosed yesterday, goes hundreds of thousands of dollars deep.
Scene from Nikita Stewart and Paul Schwartzman reporting in WaPo: ‘Skinner said he could not remember specifics surrounding the creation of his business, the thousands of dollars in invoices from a few months ago or his weekly interaction with Karim. During his testimony, “I don’t recall” became Skinner’s refrain. People watching the hearing in the council chambers began murmuring and mouthing the words, quickly turning it into the catchphrase of the day inside the John A. Wilson Building. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said Skinner’s testimony was distinguished by the number of times he could not answer Trout’s questions. She described his testimony as the “most remarkable loss of memory and failure to recollect, almost to the extent where he needs medical assistance.” Skinner, who wore a dark suit and an Obama pin on his lapel, said he talks to the mayor “all the time” but never about business. As mayor, Skinner said, “the last thing you would want to talk about is business. . . . He’s not that type of person.” During a 10-minute recess, Skinner and [Bolden] stepped into the mayor’s executive offices to talk. The mayor was not there.’
SINCLAIR & ADRIAN—-‘Skinner said he does not cite his relationship with the mayor to land contracts: “I don’t have to tell anyone that I know the mayor….It’s been pretty well covered.”
SKINNER’S TAKE—-Via Michael Neibauer in WBJ: ‘I have done everything I thought was right. And while I’m the only subcontractor to be subpoenaed to appear before this committee, let me be clear, I did not participate in any inappropriate, unethical, unlawful activities to obtain the Liberty/DPR subcontract. To do so would be against my deeply rooted principles and beliefs….At the end of the day we provided these services, we provided great service and we got this work done in a very timely fashion.’ In Examiner, Bill Myers adds this nugget: ‘I’ve had to bust my behind to get where I am today….I understand how people are cynical about politics. I’m not that person. I fought against that.’
ANALOGY—-From WaPo: ‘At one point, Skinner drew this analogy: ‘He said the subcontractors’ names did not appear on the invoices and work because Liberty was responsible for the end product. He likened it to Alcoa producing an aluminum can for Coca-Cola. He said “Coke” still appears on the can though Alcoa actually made the can.’ Thing is, at least Coke has the courtesy to put some soda in the can before they charge you for it.
Nothing like a little payback, right? Marion Barry made the unprecedented move of calling a press conference yesterday to directly accuse a colleague of malfeasance. That colleague is David Catania and the misdeed in question is a sole-source contract awarded to the GWU School of Public Health—-the latest in a series of contracts funneled to the university, heretofore by earmarks. Tim Craig notes his in WaPo lede that they are ‘accusations that he could not substantiate.’ The context is this: ‘Until last year, the Catania-backed contract with the university was funded as an earmark, a process council members have since voluntarily curtailed because of concerns of abuse. This year, it was funded as a city contract that was not put out for bid, an arrangement allowed under certain circumstances….Arguments over policy and politics are common on the council, but it’s rare for a member to publicly question another’s ethics or motivations. Barry’s allegations, however, underscore how a once-friendly relationship has deteriorated to toxic levels in the past year after Barry opposed the District’s same-sex marriage law, whose chief sponsor was Catania. Since that vote, Barry has accused Catania of fueling the investigations into how the former mayor used city earmarks as the Ward 8 member.’ Examiner’s Markham Heid notes this response: ‘While Catania chose not to respond to Barry’s accusations, a statement issued by Catania’s chief of staff, Benjamin Young, called the allegations “ridiculous” and a “sadly predictable attempt to deflect attention” from Barry’s own transgressions.’ At the end of the day, the difference is this: Catania can rightly claim credit for improving health insurance coverage rates and DHCF tells Craig they’re happy to have the money; meanwhile, Barry just whines about how lousy his ward is.
ALSO—-Via Examiner, ‘The Ward 8 councilman said Catania…had violated the “Earmark Prohibition Act of 2010.” While the “prohibition act” Barry cites does not exist, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray did in 2009 adopt new rules prohibiting organizations from receiving earmarked funds in consecutive years.’
The New York Times decries as a ‘cynical, sickening compromise’ any D.C. voting rights deal that means weakening gun-control laws. ‘The district’s — nonvoting — representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has reluctantly accepted this extortion. “The strength of gun forces in Congress has grown, not diminished,” she declared in explaining why she felt forced to abandon her long fight for a measure free of gun lobby abuses. She estimates that her cause and the Democratic majority may only be weakened in the next election. And she feels the gun lobby is powerful enough to oppress the district with a stand-alone measure. That all may be true. But it is not inevitable and certainly not enough reason to hand the gun lobby this pernicious victory. The legislation would intrude on home-rule prerogatives by repealing the district’s restrictions on semiautomatic weapons, rolling back requirements for registering most guns and even dropping existing criminal penalties for owners of unregistered firearms.’ Tim Fernholz of the American Prospect has a different take: ‘I think [the compromise] speaks to the “ethic of ultimate responsibility” that Max Weber fans like myself see as important in politics: Finding the best possible deal to accomplish good ends….The sooner D.C. has a voting representative, the sooner congressional interference in gun laws, and other issues that are the province of the District’s local government, will come to an end.’
Drive-by suspect Orlando Carter, no surprise, has been ordered held pending trial by Superior Court Judge Michael Rankin. That followed this scene, recounted by Keith Alexander in WaPo: ‘With a slow cadence, veteran D.C. homicide detective Tony Patterson sat in the witness chair in a D.C. Superior Court room Thursday and repeated the names, ages and graphic details of the deaths of the four people killed March 30 in drive-by shootings. Tavon Nelson, 17, was the first killed, Patterson testified. He died from multiple gunshot wounds to his body. Five minutes later, the three other victims were fatally shot as they stood outside a District apartment building. William Jones III, 19, died from multiple wounds to his head and body. DaVaughn Boyd, 18, also was killed by several shots, and Brishell Jones, 16, died from a gunshot to her head. Prosecutor Bruce Hegyi added to the effect by repeating each name and cause of death.’ The accused 14-year-old wheelman, in a closed hearing, was also ordered held. Another suspect, Nathaniel Simms, had his hearing rescheduled after his attorney didn’t show.
More Spring Valley chemical finds—-WaPo reports: ‘Dan Noble, the corps’ Spring Valley project manager, said workers unearthed the half-liter jars of arsenic trichloride March 29 at 4825 Glenbrook Road in the Northwest Washington neighborhood. Two of the jars — one of which was broken — began to smoke when they were unearthed. The leaking arsenic trichloride was likely reacting with the air to produce hydrochloride gas, he said. Noble said the excavation was closed down. Two of the jars were packaged at the site and probably will be removed Friday. The third jar, which had not opened, has been taken away, he said.’ Also AP.
Believe it or not, there is non-contract-related schools news: According to independent projections, DCPS will gain ‘164 students, or .36 percent’ of its population in the 2010-2011 school year, WaPo’s Turque reports. ‘While the projected increase is barely a blip, it is encouraging news for a school system that lost 40 percent of its students between 1996 and 2008. But the news is also qualified by analysts for the 21st Century Schools Fund, who collaborated with the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution on the study. They say DCPS’ numbers are being held steady by the District’s big investment in preschool and pre-kindergarten programs….Many upper grade levels show continued decline, including grades 1-3 (3.3 percent) grades 6-8 (1.4 percent) and 9-12 (1.4 percent). Public charter schools are projected to continue their brisk growth next year, with a 6.2 percent increase from 27,661 to 29,387.’
Metro’s spare-parts inventory tracking system sucks, an IG audit finds. ‘In fact, the agency does not know if all those parts — ranging from tiny nuts and bolts to escalator steps, drills, tires and even engines — are actually worth the $95 million that Metro has on its books,’ Kytja Weir reports in WaPo. “Unless you actually do a real inventory, you don’t know if the amount is high or low,” Metro’s Inspector General Helen Lew told the Washington Examiner. Lew’s report, made public this week, found the listed value of Metro’s spare parts increased by 25 percent from fiscal 2006 until fiscal 2009. However the agency’s system for tracking the equipment during that time was “not accurate” and “incomplete,” she said.’
Tea Partiers partied on Freedom Plaza; the commotion could be heard booming through the Council Chamber’s walls at the Skinner hearing. Outside, Harry Jaffe gathered some string for a nice column: ‘”TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION” my license plate reads. Is anyone paying attention? Then it hit me. On this tax day, right now in the nation’s capital, throngs of citizens who share my gripes about taxation and injustice are gathering….I decided to take it on down to Pennsylvania Avenue and see if I could find common ground with the Tea Party members. Why not? Driving through the National Mall on the beauteous afternoon, I passed a few men carrying “Impeach Obama” signs. Coming from a town that voted for Obama 9-1 and is unflinchingly liberal, might I be on a fool’s errand? I approached a lovely couple of Tea Party members and asked if it was fair that District residents pay federal taxes yet have no representatives. “If they pay taxes like everyone else they ought to have representation,” said Ray Pander. “We talked to a guy on Metro this morning about it,” his wife, Paula, said. “I don’t blame any of you for being angry.”…Politics make strange bedfellows, they say. Taxes might make even stranger ones. I say we join forces.’
Lou Chibbaro Jr. reports in DC Agenda that ‘[f]ew gay Democratic activists attended a rally last week that marked the opening of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s re-election campaign headquarters….Among the gays seen at the event were Christopher Dyer, director of the mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, and Joe Martin, director of the mayor’s office of constituent services for Ward 4. Also present were gay civic activists John Fanning of Logan Circle and Martin Moulton, the gay president of the Convention Center Community Association….Don Colodny, a member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, was one of the few club members present. He said the lack of a large gay presence at the event was not a sign that gays won’t vote for Fenty. “It was held at 10 in the morning on a Saturday in the far side of the city,” he said.’
HERE WE GO—-KwameForChair.com is live. (Personally, LL thinks he coulda made his name bigger.) Campaign tagline: ‘Making a Difference Together.’ From a press statement: ‘“As Council Chairman, I will ensure that the DC City Council remains a strong, independent voice for District residents through open, transparent, and accountable governance,” said Councilmember Kwame Brown. “I will lead a unified Council to promote policies that improve the everyday lives of District residents through a common sense approach to government.”…“Councilmember Kwame Brown understands what’s at stake and has the ability to bring the Council and residents together on critical issues,” said Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh. “He has the skills to preserve the City’s fiscal health while balancing the needs of residents across the city.”’ Also WBJ.
Lisa Raymond, Ward 6 member of the State Board of Education, has decided not to seek office. She says in a statement: ‘While this work is extremely important, I am now ready to focus more of my time and efforts on local school reform, which is where my passion lies….While we have a long way to go, the growth that we have made collectively over the past four years, outpacing most urban school districts, is truly inspiring….Moving forward, I urge this mayoral administration, and all of those in the future, to appreciate and embrace the State Board as a full partner in education reform. Our Board members represent our communities and can bring great resources toward this effort; yet at times we have struggled to even be invited to sit at the table. While the State Board members are all elected and we have striven to be an independent voice for education, the State Board and [OSSE] both remain under the authority of the Mayor’s office. This is a potential challenge that we all need to monitor to ensure checks and balances moving forward. ’
Sooo…that MPD cop who said he was carjacked in Baltimore? The plot thickens, via AP: ‘Charging documents show that Officer Kevin Carey changed his story several times while being interviewed by Baltimore police. He ultimately came clean and said he picked up a woman and agreed to give her a ride for $10. Police say Carey stopped to get gas and the suspect, 18-year-old Keara Moodie, waved a man over to the car. The two drove off together. The car was recovered, and Moodie was arrested and charged with vehicle theft. Carey’s service weapon was in the car when it was stolen and was not recovered.’
Dale Jamir Rhea, 31, is charged with Wednesday’s stabbing murder of Steven Sledge, 36, who was found wounded on the 3000 block of Stanton Road SE, WaPo reports.
Arts Overlay modification to be taken up April 26 by Zoning Commission; an emergency modification could raise the bar-and-restaurant cap to 50 percent.
APPLY NOW—-Judge Odessa Vincent‘s retirement leaves Superior Court vacancy.
Why no development on lower Georgia Avenue?
Congrats to the District’s seven Gates scholars!
Need koi? Head to the Arboretum.
Jim Graham is a ‘safety net hero.’
Advoc8te: ‘Why is David Catania not running for Mayor or Chairman? We need David Catania!’
TODAY—On WAMU-FM’s Politics Hour: R. Donahue Peebles.
D.C. COUNCIL TODAY—-No events scheduled; Emancipation Day!
ADRIAN FENTY TODAY—-10:45 a.m.: remarks, Waterfront Safeway ribbon-cutting, 1100 4th St. SW.