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Volume 10, Issue 5, February 2004
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax
|People's Counsel Elizabeth
Noel to Discuss New Utility Issues
Budget and Oversight Hearing for Office of Planning Upcoming
Norton Pans School Voucher Idea in Principle
Court Oversight of DC Jail Ended
US District Court for DC: Need for Volunteer Observers
Officers and Board
President's Message: Federation Alert: New Building Code
(Overly) Complicated Democratic Primaries / Caucuses / Superdelegates
Federation Assembly Meeting Dates
FEDERATION ASSEMBLY MEETING
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
PEOPLE'S COUNSEL ELIZABETH NOEL TO DISCUSS NEW UTILITY ISSUES
Ms. Noel has arranged to reschedule her snowed-out January speaking visit to February. Washington's utility service and supply are hot items on the current scene, and no one can better supply the consumer perspective on utility matters.
Most delegates are aware of the virtually unique efficient operation of the Office of the People's Counsel during past administrations of poor government in the District. Operating as a public interest law firm, Ms. Noel's office represents utility ratepayer interests before the Public Service Commission, which regulates all DC-area utilities; the Federal Communications Commission; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; the DC Court of the Appeals; and the federal courts — a weighty portfolio if ever there was one.
At the same time, the OPC and Ms. Noel herself have been consistently available to associations and community leaders with advice, information, and, at times, heavyweight assistance. Much of civic Northwest remembers the helping hand and advice to communities of Ms. Noel during the infamous case of an attempted installation by Georgetown University of a private commercial power plant on its property in residential Georgetown bordering other communities.
A latter-day heroic intervention on behalf of Washington electric power ratepayers is a successful lawsuit concerning the Mirant bankruptcy case, now before the US District Court, 5th District. (Under a Back-to-Back agreement, Mirant purchases from PEPCO the capacity and energy PEPCO is obligated to contract to buy from two wholesale suppliers.) If Mirant had been permitted to reject the agreement, as it tried, District ratepayers could have been faced with $227 million in additional power costs, costs Mirant agreed to bear when it bought PEPCO's generation facilities in 2000.
OPC was the only District regulatory agency to participate in the Mirant case before the court, and its participation made a substantial contribution with its amicus brief. (Where were the Public Service Commission and, possibly, the DC Office of Energy, we may ask.) Appeals may be in the offing, but for now OPC is congratulating itself.
In the always interesting Q and A session at our January meeting, the question of underground wiring, after the disastrous storm that wrought havoc with electric overhead lines, is sure to surface, and should be of broad interest.
On the civic front, Ms. Noel has served as Secretary of the Parents Association of the Holton Arms School in Potomac, Maryland, and serves as co-chair of its Fine and Performing Arts Committee. She is also a past recipient of the Federation's award for Outstanding Public Service.
Budget and Oversight Hearing for Office of Planning Upcoming
Council Chairman Linda Cropp has announced a public oversight hearing by the Committee of the Whole on the Fiscal Year 2004 and Fiscal Year 2005 spending and performance by the Office of Planning, and on the "Progress Report on Implementing the Land Use Element of the DC Comprehensive Plan for Fiscal Years 1999-2002."
The hearing will be held on Thursday, February 26, beginning at 1:00 p.m., in the council chamber, fifth floor of the Wilson Building.
The purpose of the hearing is to provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the performance of the Office of Planning and to provide the Council with an opportunity to review and question the Director of the office of Planning regarding actual expenditures and performance in Fiscal Year 2003.
The hearing will also focus on the progress made in implementing the Land Use element of the Comprehensive Plan. The mayor's most recent progress report, dated April 2003, was submitted to the council in May 2003. Copies of the report may be obtained from OP's web site at http://planning.dc.gov. The report is also attached to PR 15-214, the "Progress Report on Implementing the District of Columbia Elements of the Comprehensive Plan for Fiscal years 1993-2001 Review Resolution of 2003," which may be obtained from the council's Legislative Services Division, Room 2 of the Wilson Building, 202-724-8050.
Oral testimony will be limited to three minutes per witness. All written statements should be submitted to the Committee of the Whole, Council of the District of Columbia, Wilson Building, Suite 410, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.
NORTON PANS SCHOOL VOUCHER IDEA IN PRINCIPLE
District secondary school children stand to become eligible for federally funded school financial vouchers this fall, to enable them to transfer to schools outside the regular DC public school system, widely viewed as substandard. Interestingly, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has taken a principled exception to the federal move, since 1) DC public schools stand to be hit hard financially if a predicted 2,000 students exit the system in the fall, 2) the District leads the country in providing alternatives to the public school system, with an extraordinary 42 charter schools, widely viewed as being successful, and 3) "the best hope for our low-income children are our [fifteen] transformation schools that surround these children and their parents with extra services. . . ."
Poignantly, Ms. Norton noted, "Although the . . . voucher program is called a 'pilot,' the results are already in on vouchers. The GAO study of the Milwaukee and Cleveland vouchers found no evidence of student gains. Ten years of independent, verified research of public and private voucher programs in Cleveland, Dayton, DC, New York, Chile, and New Zealand have shown no substantial academic gains."
As one Federation delegate observed, "I hope no one is expecting [voucher-benefitted] children to transfer to the good quality but hugely expensive schools like the Cathedral, Maret, or Sidwell Schools." More likely is that transfer students with vouchers may seek to enter parochial schools, more affordable and possibly more congenial."
A federal appeals court recently affirmed a lower court ruling that the DC Jail no longer requires court supervision. Federal oversight of the facility has been in effect for over thirty years. Jail authorities claim the new move reflects improved conditions in the formerly notorious prison. It would be good to see a poll of prisoners to corroborate the improve efforts and their practical effect.
A move is getting underway to recall DC Mayor Anthony Williams, a la California. Proponents cite the troubled city; the mayor's office cites the proposition that Mr. Williams inherited all the problems, which are difficult to resolve. Recall signature collection has begun, with a necessary goal of some 18,000 signatures, i.e., 10 percent of all registered voters, provided that the petition reflects the signatures of at least 10 percent of the voters registered in at least five of the eight wards.
Delegates who feel strongly about this matter one way or the other will appreciate how difficult the enormous collection effort for the requisite signatures will be. Most of us have labored over getting 20 signatures on election petition forms, and know the difficulty connected with garnering even candidacy qualification numbers. Few voters outside of the recall activists are holding their breaths about actual recall. Reporter Tom Knott laconically noted in The Washington Times that, "The recall initiative, however, well-meaning, has the markings of being a frustration-relieving exercise." Meanwhile, we petition with our opinions and wait for the spirited recall exercise to play itself out to its toss-up or less contested end.
US DISTRICT COURT FOR DC: NEED FOR VOLUNTEER OBSERVERS
Have you ever been offended by what you observed in the US District Court? The murmured proceedings, a nervous pop-off judge, seeming personal opinions from the bench? The Council for Court Excellence (CCE) is looking for community observers to collect information regarding the operations of the US District Court. It invites members of the public to consider this volunteer opportunity.
The purpose of the exercise is to provide information "that will help the courts be more responsive to the needs of the citizens who use them." Volunteers will attend regular court sessions, report their observations, and make recommendations for improving the administration of justice in the federal trial court that affects the citizens of DC.
Volunteer court community observers attend half-day court sessions on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis, where they will evaluate the performance of the judges and magistrate judges; the performance of attorneys; the performance of court officers, staff, and other personnel; the efficiency of proceedings; the court's physical facilities; and other aspects of the court's performance.
The sponsoring Council for Court Excellence is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, civic organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice in the Washington metropolitan area. Federation observers may not observe a particular judge if they or someone close to them has been involved in a case before that judge in the last five years. The project will go on from mid-February through April.
It is possible that some delegates have been annoyed or appalled by hijinks and liberties from the bench at this court in the past. Here is a constructive opportunity to influence more deliberative proceedings of a court that is often vital to Washington's residential taxbase communities. Interested persons need to contact the Council for Court Excellence Observers Project, Volunteer registration, 1717 K Street, NW, Suite 510, Washington, DC 20036, or fax 202-785-5922.
At its February 12 meeting, the Federation Board of Directors:
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