Congratulations on your election. You've brought to the city a sense of excitement that your new administration might be able to get things done even under difficult financial conditions.
I'm sure you're getting lots of advice about what to do, and it's clear you have some strong ideas of your own. I hope that, in addition to the expert advice you'll be getting, you'll also entertain suggestions from those of us who live and work and are trying to raise our children here.
Here is a list of improvements that seem important to me as a resident of the District for more than 20 years and a mother of a student in the D.C. schools.
Many D.C. residents' closest encounters of the worst kind with the D.C. government involve their cars. Getting a driver's license, paying parking tickets, getting your car inspected, getting new tags -- all can be nightmares. Find almost any car-owning D.C. resident, and you'll find a tale of pain and suffering and abuse at the hands of the District.
Commit the city to creating a first-class institution at the University of the District of Columbia. Our kids deserve an excellent, affordable university as much as the kids in Virginia, Michigan, Texas or California.
Make the city's office of consumer affairs an aggressive advocate for the consumer. It's not now. Montgomery County has a tough, capable office of consumer affairs with an incredible track record for righting consumer wrongs. Why should we have less?
Because of the budget process, the city has a legitimate interest in the bargaining that will occur between the school board and the teachers. A city that cares about its children should make sure that teacher and principal pay in D.C. is comparable with pay in surrounding jurisdictions. Parents with children in the D.C. public schools watch some of the best teachers and administrators reluctantly leave when they get substantially higher offers from suburban school systems. Others, equally good, stay at great personal sacrifice. One possible trade-off -- that D.C. teachers and administrators would work a longer day for higher pay -- would also benefit our schools and students.
Clean up the Martin Luther King Library -- it looks dirty and frayed -- and make sure that the neighborhood around it is safe enough so that parents don't have misgivings about their children walking there from the nearby subway stop. The materials that kids need for homework assignments are often unavailable at branch libraries. They need the King Library for schoolwork, and it should be made more inviting. And, by all means, keep it open on weekends.
Make it easy to get answers. Unless you know exactly which agency or which office handles a particular problem, finding the help you need from the District government can be an adventure in Never-Never-Land. Some D.C. employees go beyond the call of duty to provide help to Washington residents, but they stand out in sharp relief to many others who treat the public as pesky intruders.
Some of these improvements probably could be made without tremendous expenditures -- for instance, beefing up the consumer affairs office. Any of them, I believe, would go a long way to making ordinary tax-paying residents of Washington feel as though the city responds to their needs and provides some return on their taxes.
-- Martha Hamilton