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Posted at 10:14 AM ET, 03/16/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 16, 2011

TODAY IS MARCH 16, 2011 — DAY 70 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — Patterson booted from at-large ballot, but Mara staysWal-Mart targeted by new D.C. Council billsTrout Report raises specter of ‘pay to play’

On Tuesday, Mayor Vincent C. Gray made his clearest moves yet to distance himself from the controversies that have dogged his last month in office. WRC-TV’s Tom Sherwood, Examiner’s Freeman Klopott and WUSA-TV’s Bruce Johnson report that Gray is trimming back salaries of agency heads and key political appointees whose pay exceeds statutory limits. There is some murkiness on just how extensive the slashing is: Klopott reports that Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s salary is being cut from $275,000 to $179,096, but Johnson reports that she is not affected. A council hearing on salaries and hiring is still set for March 28. Meanwhile, Gray continued to respond to criticism of his incomplete vetting and apparently nepotistic hiring. Will Gray take action to rid his administration of those responsible for that mess? Sherwood reported on Monday that Gray is “preparing to shake up his top staff in an effort to get better control of his administration” and “is being strongly encouraged” to replace his chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall. Johnson cites “sources” saying she’s “all but decided” to resign and that “the mayor will accept [her resignation] if it comes to that.” Hall is set to appear before Mary Cheh’s government operations committee later today. But before that, Gray has his weekly news conference, where he is promising “appointments of new agency heads.” Stay tuned to Twitter for updates.

AFTER THE JUMP — DPW owes $30,000 in unpaid parking tickets — did Trout’s ‘fishing expedition’ catch anything? — Mendo goes after Wal-Mart — John Boehner’s voucher bona fides — no, Adrian, Michelle, school reform didn’t end your tenures

*** MAIN COURSE ***

PAY YOUR TICKETS! — WAMU-FM’s Patrick Madden got a list of all Department of Public Works vehicles, then punched the license plate numbers for every last one into the Department of Motor Vehicles’ parking ticket database. The grand total: Almost than $30,000 in fines owed. “Nearly 90 DPW vehicles owe money, according to the site, and about one-third of the total — nearly $10,000 — belong to vehicles in the Parking Control Division. (The division that’s actually out on the streets writing tickets.) DPW spokeswoman Nancee Lyons says there is no way the department could owe that much money, and she estimates the total parking fines for the DPW’s vast fleet of vehicles to be closer to $6,000. Lyons also says many vehicles procured by DPW are actually used by other departments.” Do note: It’s DPW that runs the city parking enforcement unit.

TROUT’S ‘FISHING EXPEDITION’ — Jonetta Rose Barras reacts to the Trout Report in her Examiner column, calling it a “fishing expedition” that didn’t catch much: “When [its findings] are compared with the charges made during a yearlong probe, it’s clear D.C. Council members had engaged in a campaign to discredit then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty; deliberately misinformed the public; and knowingly sullied legitimate businesses.” She gets in touch with Omar Karim, who ran the firm at the center of the allegations and who remains subject to serious questions about his dealings. Says Karim: “I feel vindicated. I’m going to move on and continue to do good work. . . .We’re a model firm.” Barras doesn’t mention the fact that the report mentions that the deals struck by Karim and Sinclair Skinner stood to potentially squander hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in exorbitant subcontractors markups, or that real conflicts of interest exists between Karim, Skinner and contractors they hired to do work on. But she quotes their lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, insisting that “the companies’ dealings were unrelated to the DPR contract.” Uh huh. Then again, ol’ Scott has a good point: “The great irony ... is that this report is suspect because of the ethical cloud the executive and council find themselves under.”

COUNCIL NEWS I — At Tuesday’s D.C. Council meeting, Phil Mendelson introduced two bills to put some rails on Wal-Mart: One would force retailers opening stores of 75,000 square feet or more to sign benefits agreements with community groups; the other would force such businesses to pay a “living wage” set initially at $11.75 an hour. Their prospects are uncertain; the community benefits bill is headed to Harry Thomas’s Economic Development committee; the living wage bill is going to Michael Brown’s Workforce Development panel. Neither have yet shown much stomach for giving Wal-Mart any grief. Michael Neibauer quotes Mendo in WBJ: “These provisions are important first to the workers, because workers who are paid a substandard wage are not given fair compensation for their work, nor often is the case, are they getting benefits. . . .In turn this is a burden on the government, because the government ends up having to provide benefits, such as health care.” Also Housing Complex, Examiner.

COUNCIL NEWS II — The council approved Nicole Sorg’s nomination to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, but Lloyd Jordan, former DCRA director and Gray campaign honcho, has been held up. Tim Craig writes at D.C. Wire: “At Tuesday’s meeting, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) said the council was not going to immediately move on the nomination because some residents have told them they didn’t think Jordan had the right experience to sit on the board that rules on land disputes. ... Jordan, a well-known attorney and consultant, was a key strategist on Gray’s successful primary campaign. But Brown and other council members stressed that their decision to hold up the nomination for at least month had nothing to do with the mayor. ‘There was some concern about the speed these matters were moving forward,’ said Brown, adding that [Jack Evans] was particularly concerned. ... Marion Barry (D) criticized Brown’s decision to hold up Jordan’s nomination until at least April. ‘It’s not fair for Mr. Jordan that you take this off with no fault of his own,’ Barry said. ‘If we get into the habit of not moving ... people, then the public loses confidence of not doing this.’” Also Georgetown Dish.

COUNCIL NEWS II — The council took a first-reading vote on a proposal to move the District’s local primaries from mid-September to early April. Via DCist, that generated this quote from Barry, standing in opposition to the move: “I believe in the Democratic process, but I don’t believe in craziness.” Sekou Biddle proposes free Metro rides for D.C. students, Examiner reports — though it’s unclear who will pay. A Muriel Bowser proposal would allow the Department of Parks and Recreation to solicit advertising at recreation facilities, Housing Complex reports, “]w]hich means that you could have Nike, Powerbar, or Gatorade advertisements plastering your skating rinks, recreation centers, and swimming pools in the not-too-distant future.” And those solar-loving residents who thought they got screwed are now getting paid for their panels, thanks to emergency legislation.

BOEHNER VOUCHES FOR SCHOOL CHOICE — If D.C. residents get school vouchers back, they’ll have one man to thank more than any other: House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who is sponsoring the bill the reauthorize the controversial program. Ben Pershing and Paul Kane profile his very personal support of the issue on A1 of today’s Post: Boehner argues that his plan would create opportunities, rather than restrictions, for city residents. He wants local students to have the same chance he did: to follow a Catholic school path that he credits with helping him rise from the working-class suburbs of Cincinnati to the most powerful man in Congress. ‘I just think it’s horrendous that you’ve got one of the worst school districts in the country right here in the District of Columbia,’ Boehner said in a late January interview in his Capitol office, adding: ‘We’ve cut a lot of money out of the budget over the last month. We’ve got a lot more we’re going to cut. But I think we can afford to do this.’ ... While his legislative work on school choice traces back 25 years to his tenure in the Ohio state House of Representatives, his first exposure was more personal. When Boehner attended Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati, his parents paid half the tuition and the local Catholic parish paid the other half. The second oldest of 12 children, Boehner said he paid for several of his younger brothers to attend Moeller — and that experience taught him a lesson he later incorporated into his thinking about school policy. ‘Competition makes everyone better,’ Boehner said. ‘One of the problems with education in America is that there’s not enough competition in the K through 12 arena.’”

PATTERSON OUT, MARA IN — As reported Tuesday evening, Jacque Patterson is off the ballot, while Patrick Mara lives to fight on April 26. Patterson ended his campaign via Tweet last night; Mara meanwhile took aim at the BOEE. Deborah Simmons of The Washington Times unearths a fab tidbit: Gray says he asked former council member Carol Schwartz to take the open non-Democratic seat on the Board of Elections and Ethics, but she declined. Mrs. Schwartz, who failed in her four bids for mayor, but succeeded in three of her four citywide council runs, did not return phone calls. But a spokeswoman for the Gray administration said the mayor contacted her.” But D.C. GOP leader Paul Craney protests that Gray never asked for the party’s help in finding a nominee. “If he did, we would have potential candidates.” he said. “This is a very pathetic attempt at an excuse ... It’s nothing more than the mayor playing politics with one of the most important boards in D.C.” Examiner also covered Mara’s issues, as did Four26, natch. In other at-large coverage: The Blade’s Lou Chibbaro Jr. runs down the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsement of Sekou Biddle: “Stein members voted on the endorsement following a candidates’ forum held at Town nightclub in which Biddle and each of the other five candidates appearing before the club expressed strong support for LGBT issues, including support for the city’s same-sex marriage law. ... [Vincent Orange], in a stronger showing than expected, received 16 votes, or 38.7 percent, of the 53 votes cast on the first ballot, preventing Biddle from capturing the needed 60 percent to win. ... On the second ballot, which was limited to Biddle and Orange, Biddle received 30 votes compared to 19 votes received by Orange.”

VIVA LA PROCESS — Gray released a 12-page report from the abbreviated selection process that led to Kaya Henderson’s appointment as schools chancellor. Fun fact: “The sole piece of research was a copy of Henderson’s resume.” Bill Turque highlights the suggestion from advisory panel co-chair Michael Lomax “that the city create its own version of a ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ commission to unpack the anger and resentment lingering among teachers and other school community stakeholders in the wake of the Fenty-Rhee era.” Other comments were unattributed, though WAMU-FM notes specific objections from WTU President Nathan Saunders, including that she is “too closely aligned with former Chancellor Michelle Rhee,” has a “thin resume,” and was “the only person considered for the position.” The Examiner’s Lisa Gartner notes one panelist thought the one-candidate selection process would “come off as a sham”; she also notes that Hall “kicked off the Feb. 24 meeting by reading a message from Gray that ‘made it clear that the 2007 [act] did not anticipate our current situation ... the committee is not starting from scratch to fill an open position.’” In other schools news: Following Monday’s public hearing, Gray promises a “second look” on some schools’ budgets, Bill reports, saying that “School Within School at Peabody on Capitol Hill and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School in Northeast made particularly compelling arguments.” Fun fact: “Among the parents at Eastern Monday was former Connecticut Sen. [Chris Dodd], who has a kindergartner at School Within School. As it happened, Gray saw him later that evening at a dinner party.”

FENTY LOSES, SCHOOL REFORM WINS — Kevin Robillard, TBD’s outgoing Facts Machine, delivers a valuable reminder that it wasn’t education reform that sank Adrian Fenty’s mayoralty: “In interview after interview, the ex-mayor and Michelle Rhee, his former schools chancellor, have argued that political defeat is what happens to those who are so bold as to champion an aggressive stance toward teachers unions and a program of radical shifts in how business is conducted in the classroom. ... This narrative, while accepted by the national political class, is increasingly betrayed by the facts on the ground in the District. Education reform, it appears, is the cause no politician can afford not to support. ... When Rhee left office, [top deputy Kaya Henderson] was made her interim successor. That she would eventually be nominated to the permanent job was so well known that Gray acknowledged the leaks during the press conference when he made the announcement.” Also: “At a recent candidates’ forum for the at-large race, every candidate gave Rhee’s policies either an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ grade. Sekou Biddle, a former board of education member who was selected by Democratic party insiders to fill the seat on an interim basis, is a former member of Teach for America — the same teacher-training organization that defines Rhee. His view of education as the issue to end all issues in the city has a striking similarity to Fenty’s rhetoric.” The fabulous kicker: “The real danger lies not in pursuing Fenty-Rhee-style education reform, but in pursuing anything in the Fenty-Rhee style. That means no dissing the media at every turn. No brushing aside the concerns of great Americans. No scorning the notion of legislative oversight. For as long as he remains in denial about his mayoralty, Fenty will likely keep peddling his tale of woe about education reform. As time wears on, however, he’ll have to make peace with the facts: His signature issue of education reform is popular among District voters, who still saw fit to vote him out of office.”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Neil Albert questions Hizzoner, who reveals he’s been talking with Ike Leggett about Walter Reed (Housing Complex)

Prince William County’s Corey Stewart on slug enforcement: “D.C. would be wise to be a bit more friendly to those of us who come into work every day.” (WTOP)

Mendelson’s new chief of staff did communications for Monica Conyers and Kwame Kilpatrick! (Loose Lips)

Controversial San Francisco executive could be chosen today to lead Airports Authority (S.F. Examiner)

Five new board appointees for United Medical Center (WBJ)

New evidence warehouse is open (WUSA-TV)

D.C. success has Marylanders gung-ho on bag tax (Post editorial)

D.C. Water’s George Hawkins: “Under the right circumstances, DC Water would absolutely support a bottle deposit bill.” (GGW)

Why can’t Maryland be more like D.C. when it comes to charters? (Examiner editorial)

That homeless families are being turned away from shelters demand new city revenue, Ed Lazere argues (DCFPI)

A look at Educare (WAMU-FM)

How to fix bus service in Ward 7? (GGW)

Street sweeper crashes into car, tree near Capitol (WRC-TV)

North Cap Florida triangle now featuring grass (Housing Complex)

D.C.’s deadliest buildings. For birds. (TBD)

More than you wanted to know about DCmud (TBD)

WTOP focuses DDOT’s energies on the important work of removing all references to the MCI Center from street signs (WTOP)

What that sinkhole looked like (DCist)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray holds weekly news conference, 10 a.m.; meets with Venus Williams at JAWB, 2 p.m.; attends Urban League gala at Marriott Wardman Park, 5:45 p.m. — D.C. Council oversight hearing on Department of the Environment, Office of Contracting and Procurement, Executive Office of the Mayor and Office of the City Administrator, JAWB 412

By  |  10:14 AM ET, 03/16/2011

 
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