The D.C. Council wrapped up its 2004 session yesterday, approving legislation allowing the city to sell a former men's homeless shelter, keep the red-light ticket enforcement cameras clicking and appoint a chief medical examiner who is not a certified forensic pathologist.
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) also presented crystal bowls to departing members Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), who were defeated in their reelection bids.
Before the council voted to sell the Randall School men's shelter in Southwest to the Corcoran Museum of Art for $6.2 million, an activist climbed over a seven-foot barrier and onto a 50-foot-high ledge in the John A. Wilson Building to protest the sale.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that activists with Mayday DC have used the ledge as a platform for their demonstration. Yesterday's protester, Jamie Loughner, 40, said she was "prepared to stay for days" to bring attention to the plight of the homeless. She remained on the ledge late last night.
Although the council's biggest vote of the day cleared the way for Major League Baseball to bring the former Montreal Expos to Washington, renaming them the Nationals, the council had a lot of unfinished business to resolve. During the seven-hour hearing, members approved the mayor's appointment of Marie Pierre-Louis to be the chief medical examiner for two years, although she is not a certified forensic pathologist. Two weeks ago, the council paved the way for her appointment by approving a temporary change in the city's laws.
Pierre-Louis has been a deputy in the examiner's office for 18 years and has headed the agency since October 2003, when Jonathan Arden was forced to resign. Several organizations, including the College of American Pathologists and the National Association of Medical Examiners, wrote to the council opposing the city's new law.
"We believe that such a qualification is critical to maintain the highest standard for the office and the quality of the medical findings issued," Mary E. Kass, president of the College of American Pathologists, wrote in a letter to Cropp.
Council members also approved legislation authorizing the city to pay several contracts that had exceeded the $1 million cap without the required council approval. Two of those contracts were for ACS State and Local Solutions Inc., which processes photo radar tickets and collects fines from motorists. More than a million tickets have been issued and more than $62 million in fines generated, according to council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5).
The council also approved the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act, which curtails the amount of force officers can use on demonstrators. Under the measure, police also cannot encircle protesters unless they plan to arrest them.
While the council focused on demonstrators at public rallies, city officials were busy trying to figure out how to stop protesters from scaling the protective glass in their own building. Carol Mitten, director of the Office of Property Management, said that as a temporary measure, plywood has been placed above the glass to expand the barrier. She said that additional officers will be stationed in the area.