Let it never again be said that the District government lacks efficiency.
Andy Chasin's story begins at home, in Woodley Park, with Mom. Or at least a package from Mom, sent in March, with love, from Arizona, via FedEx. The package stayed at home, but somehow the air bill, the sheet of paper that contains Chasin's address, wound up in his pocket, where he discovered it earlier this month while walking on Connecticut Avenue NW.
Having no need for the slip, Chasin tossed it into the trash can on the corner. This would be the crime scene.
Last Friday, Chasin, 28, was in his office at the law firm of Baker & Hostetler, when he received from the District government a Notice of Violation, delivered at a cost of $4.42. The city's Department of Public Works charges Chasin with Improper Use of Public Litter Receptacles. Fine: $35.
The notice is signed by Cecil Herd, Solid Waste Inspector. Attached to the notice is the evidence: the FedEx bill.
"At first, I thought I must have thrown it to the trash can and missed," Chasin says. "Littering. But my co-associates and I broke away from other stimulating legal matters to track down the statute."
They found 24 DCMR 1009.1: "Public wastepaper boxes shall not be used for the disposal of refuse incidental to the conduct of a household, store, or other place of business. . . . "
"Ridiculous," Chasin says. "Obviously this was meant to stop people from taking their entire trash can and throwing it into the public can. I threw out a single piece of paper."
"Folks hate to be caught doing something that maybe they weren't supposed to do." That's Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Public Works. "I understand he's frustrated. But we have an enormous problem of overflowing litter cans due to people putting their home or business trash in the public litter cans."
But Mary, a single sheet of paper?
"Doesn't matter," she says. "The purpose of public litter cans is for simple pedestrian trash -- cups, food wrappers, a gum wrapper, the kind of thing you would have in your pocket."
But Chasin had this paper . . . in his pocket. Would it be a violation if I tossed the tissue now in my pocket?
"No, that's fine."
What's the difference here?
"A bill is something one could assume had been mailed. It's not likely to be something you would have crumpled in your pocket, like a receipt."
Citizens, study well: Receipt, okay; bill, not.
"It's probably a slender thread of difference," Myers concedes.
But let's give the city its due. Inspector Herd discovered the evidence, maintained the chain of custody, wrote up a two-page report, found the culprit and delivered the notice of violation, all in just 13 days -- the time between when he found the air bill and when Chasin was served. My tax dollars are working.
How'd the inspector do it?
Two nights a week, "our solid waste inspectors drive along with the overnight public litter can people, and they look for things like bagged trash in the public cans," Myers says.
The inspectors, who usually investigate illegal dumping and search for the bad guys behind graffiti and posters, actually go through the yuck in litter cans searching for identifying information -- a piece of mail, stationery, an air bill.
The city feels for Chasin. "Poor guy," Myers says. "I tell people all the time: Don't put anything with your name on it in a public trash can."
"Absurd," Chasin says. "I'm an upstanding citizen. I pay taxes. I pay parking fines." He plans to appeal.
One more thing: That FedEx package from Mom? It contained information Chasin needed to fill out his tax forms -- to pay the District even more money.
Principal Watch: Following my report on the phony doctorate held by Walker-Jones Elementary School Principal Wilma Durham, D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose wrote to the school system demanding Durham's removal. Now Interim Superintendent Robert Rice responds: Durham "has worked hard" to bring "order, direction, discipline" to her school. Rice's only reference to the fake degree: a line about how stressful it is for children "hearing negative news about their principal."