Relations between the District’s executive branch and the D.C. Council aren’t getting any sweeter—-especially when it comes to the D.C. Public Schools.
On Aug. 1, DCPS held a systemwide summer-school graduation ceremony at McKinley Tech High School, attended by schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. No member of the D.C. Council was invited, and at least one of them isn’t happy about it.
That would be Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., in whose ward the ceremony was held. He showed up, having been given a ticket by a graduate’s family. When he arrived, he asked a Rhee staffer if, as an elected official, he could join Rhee and top aide Kaya Henderson, as well as the ceremony’s keynote speaker, on the stage. Thomas says a Rhee staffer initially told him he could not join them, then was escorted out a side door. Later, Thomas says, he got the OK to go on stage, but “at that point I said, the ceremony was well underway.”
“Instead of causing a scene,” he says, “I decided to use the power of the pen.”
That refers to a letter that Thomas posted to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and copied to Rhee and his council colleagues. In the letter, obtained by LL, Thomas didn’t stint on the outrage: “To date, this is the most egregious display of disrespect to not only me, but also the entire body of the Council,” Thomas wrote. “To use a beautiful occasion to celebrate our students’ accomplishments to expound derision is exceptionally troubling. (The full text of the letter is after the jump.)
Thomas’ critical comments come weeks after Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray delivered some of his most ascerbic commentary to date on the Fenty-Rhee approach to legislative relations.
Asked about the incident, Thomas says he was most concerned about the institutional snub: “Quite frankly, the crux of it all is that no one [on the council] got an invitation to one of the most important events of the summer,” Thomas says. “That alone was disrespectful to me.” Further adding to Thomas’ ire, he says, was that he and colleagues were not colsulted on the hire of a news DCPS athletic director. (Troy Mathieu was named the new AD last week.)
“It would have been a lot more helpful to say, ‘Here’s the guy,’ instead of reading about it in the Washington Post,” he says.
Rhee’s spokesperson, Mafara Hobson, reports in an e-mail that her boss “wasn’t aware of the behind the scenes commotion during the graduation.” Rhee, Hobson says, was given a note saying that Thomas wanted to come on stage, and “she immediately insisted that he do so,” but Thomas then walked away. Rhee e-mailed Thomas about what happened but never heard back from him.
Rhee and Thomas, Hobson says, are scheduled to meet about the incident this week. Asked if the situation has been resolved to his satisfaction, Thomas says, “It will. I’m a satisfaction-guaranteed type of guy.”
August 2, 2008
The Honorable Adrian M. Fenty
Government of the District of Columbia
The John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20004
Dear Mayor Fenty:
During our 16 months serving the residents of the District of Columbia in our current offices, I have been particularly proud that we began our terms with the common goal of reforming our struggling school system. However, I am greatly disappointed that the spirit of collaboration that was so evident when the Council’s vote was required is no longer apparent.
The most recent display of the loss of cooperation was at the August 1, 2008 Citywide Summer Graduation at McKinley Technology High School, located in Ward 5. Not only was I, and other Council colleagues, not invited to this extremely important event marking the success of our students, but I was denied by the Chancellor’s staff the opportunity to sit on the stage with other dignitaries. Subsequently, I was ushered to a side door and told that I was not allowed to return through that entryway. To date, this is the most egregious display of disrespect to not only me, but also the entire body of the Council. To use a beautiful occasion to celebrate our students’ accomplishments to expound derision is exceptionally troubling.
On behalf of my Ward 5 constituents, and all students in the District, I will continue to seek to work with the Chancellor, and do what I determine is best for our children. However, I feel it is time for the Council to heighten its oversight and scrutiny of all further DCPS reforms to ensure that our partnership returns to the appropriate level of discourse and collegiality. Moreover, I request that any future actions regarding school openings and closings, employee reforms, and administrative measures taken regarding school restructuring be shared with the Council prior to release to media outlets.
I am convinced that we all want to reach the same goal of excellence for all District students, and I am sure we can work together to achieve our desired outcome. As always, please feel free to contact me regarding any questions or concerns at (202) 724-8028. Thank you very much for your consideration.
Harry L. Thomas, Jr.
Councilmember, Ward 5
cc: Chairman Vincent C. Gray
Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander
Councilmember Marion Barry
Councilmember Muriel Bowser
Councilmember Kwame R. Brown
Councilmember David A. Catania
Councilmember Mary M. Cheh
Councilmember Jack Evans
Councilmember Jim Graham
Councilmember Phil Mendelson
Councilmember Carol Schwartz
Councilmember Tommy Wells
Chancellor Michelle Rhee
Joanne Ginsberg, Legislative Director, EOM