IN CASE YOU MISSED IT—-‘City Awards Voting Rights Grant, Takes It Back‘; ‘Mary Cheh Leaves No Doubt She’s Green‘; ‘Video: 11-Year-Old Westboro Baptist Protests Gay Marriage in D.C.‘; ‘Video: Newlyweds and Protesters at Superior Court‘; and tweets galore!
Morning all. The greater political machinations reflected in this week’s D.C. Council censure of Marion Barry are becoing increasingly obvious. Now that Chairman Vincent C. Gray has cleaned his own house, he and his colleagues are moving with confidence to take a peek inside Mayor Adrian M. Fenty‘s. Nikita Stewart reports at D.C. Wire this morning that the council has engaged yet another big-name attorney, this time to investigate the questionable awards of millions in parks funds to Fenty-allied contractors. The council’s appointment of criminal defense lawyer Robert P. Trout ‘elevates its months-long investigation into how the contracts were awarded.’ And in an election year—-imagine! Questions yet to be answered: Will Trout, working pro bono, merely review materials already gathered by the council, or will he embark on his own probe? And if he does will Peter Nickles and the rest of the Fenty administration cooperate?
AFTER THE JUMP—-Federal report slams Metro safety record; Sarles officially appointed interim WMATA GM; DCPS still racing to the top; out-of-boundary lottery results leave many disappointed; charter high school to be shuttered; Baltimore looks to D.C. Council for ethical leadership
WHO’S TROUT?—-He is, among other things, ‘the defense attorney who represented former Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson who was convicted of corruption after he placed $90,000 in marked bills in a freezer in his District home.’ Great optics, that. But he’s also a DOJ veteran whose private practice ‘has concentrated primarily on complex commercial litigation and on white collar criminal defense as well as the defense of administrative agency enforcement actions,’ according to an online bio. ‘He is listed in The Best Lawyers in America in three categories (Bet-the-Company Litigation, Commercial Litigation, and White Collar Criminal Defense), and he is also listed in Super Lawyers, Chambers USA Guide America’s Leading Lawyers for Business, and Washingtonian Magazine’s Top Lawyers.’
Federal Transit Administration delivers highly critical report on Metro safety. The agency’s investigation ‘identified pervasive flaws in rail safety at Metro and severe inadequacies in the agency responsible for oversight,’ Lena Sun and Joe Stephens report in WaPo. ‘Findings released Thursday call for widespread changes in how the nation’s second-busiest subway system is supervised and managed….The sternly worded report, prepared by the Federal Transit Administration and presented Thursday to Washington area members of Congress, was the first in-depth look at Metro’s safety program, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said. It revealed deep-rooted deficiencies at the transit agency and its independent oversight committee, highlighting vulnerabilities in the systems that are supposed to safeguard passengers and workers….The findings will make it increasingly difficult to placate members of Congress who have called for “direct federal intervention” if Metro does not make immediate safety improvements, although Rogoff flatly ruled out a takeover of Metro by the FTA.’ Read the full audit [PDF].
FINDINGS—-WaPo: ‘Metro has no process to ensure that safety problems are identified in a timely fashion. Top leaders don’t receive regular reports about safety issues. The safety office has been marginalized within the agency, lacks access to key data about subway operations and has been left out of decision-making. As a result of those problems, the report says, the safety office has allowed known hazards to remain uncorrected for years.’ Adds Kytja Weir in Examiner: ‘Train operators told auditors they do not always know if workers are on the tracks until they see them, which especially can be a problem in blind spots that give them little time to slow down. “This is a fundamental violation of rail safety operations,” [Rogoff] said. Metro developed new safety procedures for track workers after a 2006 death at the Dupont Circle station but never consulted its oversight group about them. Metro officials said they trained employees on the rules, but the audit found employees were given a copy of the directive and asked to sign a form saying they understood it.’
ROGOFF SPEAKS—-‘”Our audit makes clear that these two agencies are not doing enough to guarantee the safety of Metro passengers or Metro workers,” Rogoff said, referring to Metro and its oversight body….He said the findings were a symptom of a much deeper problem, extending from executive leadership down to the most junior employee, and he urged the incoming Metro general manager to use the report as a “road map” for the “overarching safety problem.” Rogoff, a daily rider on the Orange and Green lines, said the agency needs “radical restructuring,” including “knocking some heads and putting some people on the unemployment line.”‘
Meanwhile, Metro appoints and introduces its interim GM, Richard Sarles, at Thursday’s regular board meeting. Sarles, said board members, ‘would keep the transit agency from drifting as it faces unprecedented safety, financial and leadership challenges,’ Ann Scott Tyson reports in WaPo. ‘Sarles pledged to make safety his “first priority” when he takes the helm at Metro on April 3 amid four investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board into serious accidents—-including the June 2009 Red Line crash that killed nine people….Sarles called the string of employee and rider deaths during the past year “unacceptable” and said they have tarnished Metro’s reputation. “It’s our job to restore that reputation through action,” he said at a news conference after his appointment. “We have to show results.”‘ Sarles begins work March 29, one week before Catoe leaves; he will be paid $25,000 a month plus housing and benefits. Also WBJ, NC8, GGW; Metro has posted video of Sarles presser.
ALSO—-Sarles: ‘Let me be very clear, first, that I am not a candidate for the permanent GM job. I am taking this position as the interim GM because Metro is a vital public transportation system not only in this region but as a symbol for this entire country.’
Aaand…WMATA unveils possible fare hikes and services cuts to be implemented July 1: ‘Possibilities include raising the peak period boarding rate up to $5.45, adding a 50-cent surcharge to weekday morning trips between 7:30 and 9 and evening rides between 4:30 and 6, in addition to raising fare during off-peak times to $1.65. Also, rail and bus passes could get more expensive to keep pace with the fare increases. Another proposal calls for an $1.70 MetroBus boarding charge,’ Examiner notes. Meanwhile, train headways could increase, stations could close nights and weekends, bike locker fees could ‘nearly triple,’ and some bus routes could be axed. Metro has set hearings starting later this month. Also Dr. Gridlock, WAMU-FM, WUSA-TV, WTTG-TV.
Race for the Top finalists are named: D.C. makes the cut, Virginia and Maryland do not. WaPo’s Nick Anderson and Bill Turque lede with this: ‘The Obama administration gave a major lift Thursday to the reform agenda of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and D.C. charter school leaders, announcing that the District had joined 15 states as finalists in an unprecedented $4 billion contest for federal aid….The District beat out 25 states…with a proposal to “drastically reduce” the number of low-achieving schools, increase standardized test scores by five percentage points a year, and raise graduation and college enrollment rates. The plan would build on Rhee’s drive to use achievement data to assess teacher effectiveness, link pay to performance and improve instruction….At stake for D.C. schools is $20 million to $75 million. There is no assurance that the District will win anything; Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned that many finalists will not be winners….The District’s finalist status suggests that it will continue to be a prominent venue for educational experiments.’
ALSO—-‘The District’s 189-page application was drafted by officials from the school system, charter schools and the office of the state superintendent of education under the direction of Deputy Mayor Victor Reinoso. These sectors have not always worked in harmony, but Rhee said the application process could be a turning point. “We were pleasantly surprised at how aligned all of our priorities were and how each of the groups pushed each other’s thinking,” Rhee said.’
DCPS out-of-boundary lottery results were released yesterday, and there are a lot of disappointed, if not outright upset parents out there. One of them is WaPo columnist Petula Dvorak, who writes of the lottery: ‘It’s an opportunity to pretend that you live in Georgetown or Chevy Chase or Palisades while staying in your crummy little house with high property taxes and no parking. Hooray! More important, it’s a chance for many parents to dodge the age-old quandary of whether to put their faith in a struggling school that has been called “up-and-coming” for 10 years, ruin the family finances to pay for private school, or finally give in and trade their urban lives for cul-de-sac living and great public schools outside the city….Parents set up spreadsheets comparing the schools. They had online chats, dinner discussion groups, and meeting after meeting with exhausted school officials. I was up until late Sunday, rearranging the rankings again and again, trying to find the right strategy. The truth, as it showed up at noon Wednesday on the school’s lottery results Web site, hurt….Yes, the District has some great schools people are clamoring to get into. But there still aren’t enough of them in enough neighborhoods. And a lot of parents are just like me: wary of taking a leap of faith at the not-so-great schools and entrusting them with our kids. Maybe I should start playing Powerball.’ For more mishegoss, may LL direct you to DC Urban Moms.
ALSO—-‘The school that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty‘s kids sailed into last year got a wave of applications. One parent who is 246th on the list to get into Lafayette Elementary lamented that the lottery seems impossible. It seemed so easy for the mayor.’
Former Catholic Charities executive pens scathing letter about decision to cut off spousal benefits to exclude gays, WaPo reports. Tim Sawina, COO until last year, ‘called the elimination of spousal health benefits “devastating” and “wrong” in a letter Wednesday to the governing boards of the social service organization….[B]y eliminating such benefits, Sawina said, Catholic Charities is driving current employees to look for jobs elsewhere, handicapping the group’s recruitment efforts and losing the respect of the D.C. community. “Some, including the archbishop, have argued that by providing health care to a gay or lesbian spouse we are somehow legitimizing gay marriage,” said Sawina, a former priest. “Providing health care to a gay or lesbian partner—-a basic human right, according to Church teaching—-is an end in itself and no more legitimizes that marriage than giving communion to a divorced person legitimizes divorce, or giving food or shelter to an alcoholic legitimizes alcoholism.” The archdiocese responded to Sawina’s letter Thursday, calling it an inaccurate portrayal of the Church’s position and saying that his appeal to the organization’s board of directors would have no effect, because the board can’t overturn the archbishop’s decision.’
ALSO—-Gay marriage FTW: DC Agenda’s Lou Chibarro Jr. reports on a couple who are moving from Silver Spring to D.C. because of legal same-sex marriage. ‘Kareem Murphy and DeWayne Davis…have been together for nearly 19 years. The two gay men, who are active members of D.C.’s Metropolitan Community Church, said they have been grappling for several years over whether to remain in Maryland or move back to the District, where they lived in the 1990s. “Moving back to D.C. was attractive, but when the marriage issue took off it made the choice between Maryland and D.C. very clear in D.C.’s favor,” said Murphy….The couple has placed their Silver Spring house up for sale and is actively looking for a new home in the District.’ And, in Agenda column, activist Peter Rosenstein looks at what it all means: ‘As my former boss, Rep. Bella S. Abzug might have said to her constituents, “We have come a long way baby and screw ’em if they don’t like it.” We have come a long way and we owe that to the hard work of so many people. As we celebrate this victory we must also never forget that we still have a long way to go before we in the LGBT community have our full equal rights.’
WAMU-FM’s David Schultz examines a fascinating question: Did the planned K Street busway miss out on federal funding because it was K Street? ‘”There was a rumor-which we were unable to confirm one way or another,” says David Alpert, editor of the transportation blog Greater Greater Washington, “But there was some sensitivity about the fact that K Street has a connotation nationwide of being ‘The Street of Lobbyists.'” Alpert says the FTA may have been wary of being seen as “giving money to K Street,” with its stigma of corruption and influence-peddling.’ No comment from FTA, natch.
Harry Jaffe likes what’s happening at the post-takeover Anacostia High: ‘Under new management for less than a year, Anacostia High appears to be rising from the ashes of its past as D.C.’s worst and most violent high school. Will it succeed in teaching the city’s least teachable? Or will it fail, as so many high schools have in the past?…Last year [Rhee] put an end to the lassitude. She put Friendship Public Charter Schools in control of Anacostia High. Its Collegiate Academy, not far from Anacostia High, was turning out young scholars. Why not give it a shot at turning around Anacostia?…Much has changed; much has not. “Now the teachers care more,” Melanie says….I ask Hope what percentage of Anacostia students come with the trio’s desire to learn. “About 20 percent,” she said. If the hybrid Anacostia can educate some of the other 80 percent, it will be a game changer. Let’s keep an eye on it.’
Marion Barry tells WaPo’s Stewart that, following his long week, he’s ‘probably going to have a quiet birthday party’ for his 74th tomorrow. ‘”I’m saving the big one for 75,” Barry said. It will be a fundraiser for foundations for scholarships, kidney transplants and leukemia, the cause of death of former wife Effi Barry, he said.’
Here’s the lede to the Informer’s coverage of the Barry censure: ‘The recent reprimand of a veteran D.C. Council member by his colleagues has not diminished the support in the ward that he represents….Former D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, who represented Ward 8 from 1996 to 2005, and who attended the event, did not like her former colleagues’ actions. “It was sinful,” Allen said of the action. “With all the corruption in the city, you single out one person. You call out everybody, not just him.”‘
IMAGINE THAT—-Baltimore Sun editorialist looks to the D.C. Council for a ethical example: ‘In what seemed a remarkable demonstration of integrity by an institution often viewed as ethically challenged, the District of Columbia City Council last week finally moved to censure its most famous member, former Mayor Marion S. Barry, for his well-publicized ethical misdeeds….Would that Baltimore’s own city council could summon the courage to show the same moral clarity. But instead of standing up for the integrity of their institution, council members here seem more intent on cutting whatever deals they can to advance their personal political agendas rather than upholding principles aimed at ensuring that elected officials conduct themselves honorably.’
Police Chief Cathy Lanier addresses DCPS teacher allegations on WTOP’s Ask the Chief. Of the 200-plus incidents catalogued over the course of the 2008-09 school year by school security, 69 were referred to police for investigation, and of those, four arrest warrants were issued. Only one teacher was ever arrested. ‘Lanier says police referred another 12 or 13 cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but prosecutors declined to pursue charges. “A lot of times in cases like this, it’s one person’s word against the other. We do the best we can to investigate or sustain one side or the other. But the attorneys have to make the decision whether they can prosecute that case. Just because a warrant was submitted and declined, it doesn’t give you any real conclusions.”‘ Also Bill Turque at WaPo, Examiner.
ALSO—-Lanier discusses the fate of gun-pulling cop Mike Baylor. ‘I am aware that there was some policy violations that were sustained, but that’s pretty much the extent of what I can comment on….I don’t think this is a termination offense.’
Arrest made in killing of Calvin LaVonne Woodland, younger brother of Calvin B. Woodland Jr., chief of staff to Jim Graham. Graham tells WCP that the suspect is Reginald Rogers, 18. The elder Woodland tells WaPo that ‘the suspect and his brother, who both are 18, had known each other since elementary school, but the two were not good friends….”[My brother] and this guy crossed paths and had a fight about two weeks earlier,” the elder Woodland said. “This probably was revenge for that fight.”‘ Also Examiner.
IN PRINT WBJ—-God forbid: A groundbreaking is set for residential development! Sarah Krouse reports on impending construction for JBG project at 14th and S Streets NW. ‘The company acquired the south end of the 1800 block of 14th Street NW when developer Scott Pannick walked away from it in 2008. JBG paid $11 million for the entire stretch between S and Swann streets. The company plans to finish the design on the 120-unit project, which will also include 18,000 square feet of retail, in late spring, apply for permits and break ground in the fourth quarter if it can get financing. That’s a big if, JBG officials acknowledge, but say they have talked with several financing brokers eager to get back to business.’ Also: Jonathan O’Connell covers council tax break for business affected by H Street NE reconstruction—-and potentially on 14th Street NW, too.
Public Charter School Board is set to close the Young America Works Vocational HS, located in Lamond-Riggs, in an emergency meeting tonight, Turque reports at D.C. Schools Insider. ‘Board communications director Nona Richardson said the school has been under increasing scrutiny for the last couple of years because of issues with truancy, student safety and poor academic achievement. “It seems evident that the situation is not improving, and given recent incidences of violence and ongoing disruptions at the school, board members felt they needed to act immediately,” Richardson said.’ See PCSB statement.
ALSO—-Mark Lerner interviews new PCSB chair Brian Jones
More on the federal disaster declaration for December snowstorm from WaPo: ‘District officials did not provide information on the amount of money they requested, but [Fenty] said in a statement: “We appreciate the Obama Administration’s swift decision to reimburse the city for recovery efforts related to the 2009 storm, and are preparing to apply for additional support for the February winter storms.”…The declarations cover snow removal, some infrastructure damage, removal of debris and storm-related emergency services. They do not cover losses by individuals or businesses.’
Grandmother of 2-year-old who died after FEMS wouldn’t take her to a hospital speaks out to WTTG-TV’s Paul Wagner. Also see very good coverage from WaTimes’ Matthew Cella and from WUSA-TV’s Dave Statter.
Federal appeals panel sends Skyland eminent-domain litigation back to D.C. Superior Court, Legal Times reports.
Late-night D.C. Jail release controversy is covered by NC8.
Cherry blossom peak: April 3 to 8.
WaPo Sports Bogger Dan Steinberg on the council’s stumping for the NHL Winter Classic.
Wilson High School is a historic landmark.
Rhee ‘office hours’ next Thursday at Ketcham ES.
Invites are out for this year’s DCBIA awards dinner. Honorees: Allen Lew, Deborah Ratner Salzberg, and Bob Peck.
D.C. COUNCIL TODAY—-10 a.m.: Committee on Housing and Workforce Development agency performance oversight hearing on Department of Employment Services, JAWB 500 [yes, Michael Brown‘s first hearing as a committee chair]; Committee of the Whole agency performance oversight hearing on Office of the State Superintendent of Education, JAWB 412.
ADRIAN FENTY TODAY—-10:45 a.m.: remarks, Potholeapalooza kickoff, 740 Ridge Road SE.