Just when you thought it was safe to read this column without hearing more about the saga of D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman vs. D.C. Council member and education committee chief Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), we offer the latest chapter.

First, a brief recap: The story started with Chavous and other council members blasting Ackerman for failing to show up at a slew of hearings this fall to talk about her efforts to improve D.C. public schools. How, they asked, could they hold her accountable if she won't come talk to them?

Then, Ackerman, suggesting some posturing on the part of council members, said she had told Chavous she couldn't attend all the hearings. In the next installment, Ackerman didn't show up at a hearing she had promised to attend, and a furious Chavous called a recess so she could be located. When she finally appeared--very, very late--nobody on the council asked her a single tough question.

Now, in Chapter 4, Chavous held yet another hearing Nov. 4 on special education to discuss the many problems in the transportation division. Ackerman was again expected to show up, and she did. On time even!

She said she told Chavous she had to finish testifying by a certain time because she needed to attend an important meeting with top city officials. Ackerman said Chavous promised to adhere to that schedule.

Well, you guessed it. It didn't happen. Ackerman waited, and waited, and listened to public witnesses go first, and then officials from the contractor, Laidlaw Transit Inc., and finally had to leave 1 1/2 hours later without being called.

After she left, Chavous and other city officials decided they wanted her back to testify. The head of special education was there, as were the head of the transportation division and the deputy superintendent. But that wasn't enough, so Ackerman was paged and came back.

Some in the audience braced for a rigorous cross-examination of the superintendent. How much did she know about the problems in transportation? How was she going to fix them? But the council members didn't lay a glove on her. They asked a few gentle questions, then let her subordinates answer the rest.

Why bother to call her back at all then? Chavous says simply that he wanted to hear from her. Asked the same question, Ackerman just smiled. But one of her close associates said: "To put her in her place. Why else?"

Where's the Mayor?

Ever wonder where Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is when he's not at one of those hundreds of appearances he's made since he took office last January?

The answer, in short, is meetings. Lots of meetings. But maybe not as many as his official schedule would have you believe.

Several times a week, the mayor's office gives reporters the mayor's official schedule for the next day or two. Often, it's short on details and long on time gaps. Even those who write about the mayor's whereabouts receive a blanket schedule with blocks of time set aside with the generic "meetings" designation--no names, no specific times and no indication of what Williams is doing.

One day this month, Williams's schedule said he was having meetings from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. One of the groups with whom Williams was quietly meeting was The Washington Post, where he had lunch with reporters and editors.

While at the lunch, Williams was asked about his schedule.

"So Mr. Mayor, when your schedule comes out, many times you have meetings from 12:30 to 6. Is there any way we can find out who you're meeting with? Why is that private?"

The mayor, surprised by the question and the laughter that greeted it, said, "It doesn't tell you who I'm meeting with?

"I think we can work that out."

Later, the mayor's spokeswoman, Peggy Armstrong, was eager to point out that The Post lunch was left out of the schedule for a reason.

"We don't put meetings with the press on the schedule," she said.

But she added that the mayor's folks are taking under consideration the need to be more open about other previously privately scheduled meetings.

Now, the mayor's office has a new policy but still few details.

What was the mayor doing between 2 and 6 on a recent afternoon? "No public events planned" was the oblique answer.

Out of Pocket

Monday was a hectic day for the city's Child and Family Services Agency. On the foster care front, there was some good news. But in the management and financial arena, the agency took a big hit.

Through it all, the agency's director was missing in action.

The child welfare agency, which is under court receivership, held its second annual foster and adoptive parents conference at Howard University last week, chock-full of workshops on parenting children in foster care.

The conference drew a slew of television cameras because the agency was also honoring Mary Brown, an 89-year-old Charles County woman who has been the foster mother to 125 children over the past 52 years. One of her daughters, who plays bass guitar in a well-known local band, performed while the audience swayed to the music and cheered.

But where was the head of the Child and Family Services Agency, Ernestine F. Jones?

On vacation, according to her spokeswoman, Karen Kushner. It had been planned for some time, she said.

Coincidentally, it was the same day that The Washington Post ran a front-page story detailing the double- and triple-billing troubles at the agency and the results of a District audit that found management problems serious enough to refer to the inspector general.

Staff writers Valerie Strauss, Yolanda Woodlee and Sari Horwitz contributed to this report.