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May 18, 2011

Press Conferences

Dear Conferees:

When Adrian Fenty became mayor, he discontinued the weekly press conferences that Mayor Anthony Williams had established. Williams didn't much enjoy being subjected to press questioning, especially after the first several months of his honeymoon with the press tapered off into a quarrelsome relationship, but he stuck with the press conferences as an important way to get information to the public. Mayor Adrian Fenty saw how having to answer difficult questions from the press got Williams into trouble, so he discontinued having press conferences. Instead, he held photo availabilities several times a week. He allowed himself to be photographed at ribbon-cutting and ground-breaking events, but wouldn't allow any press questions that weren't directly about the event. That let Fenty give the appearance of accessibility without giving reporters the opportunity to ask him anything troubling.

Mayor Vincent Gray, to his credit, reinstituted the practice of holding weekly press conferences, but he isn't happy with the result. Reporters actually ask him difficult questions, and he doesn't like it. Last week, he told reporters that he wanted a "good news" press conference, and he didn't want any questions that would distract from or cast any doubt on the good news that he was announcing. His press handlers have tried to enforce a rule that each reporter will be limited to one question and one follow-up, in order to prevent the mayor from being subjected to any in-depth questioning or from having a misleading answer challenged. This week, on Wednesday, Gray had at least two uncomfortable moments that had his press handlers trying to silence reporters. When WTOP's Mark Plotkin asked the mayor who had authorized the sizable payments made to Gerri Mason Hall ($30,000) and Howard Brooks ($45,000) for unspecified consultant services to his election campaign, and when the mayor learned that those payments were made, Gray began to answer (implying that he first learned of them from newspaper accounts), but then retreated to saying that he wasn't going to go into that subject again, because he had answered all of those questions before — which he hasn't. Second, when Dorothy asked about the scathing, damning DC Auditor's report on Allen Lew's management of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, Gray and Lew tried to dismiss the questions. Lew scorned the report, implying that the auditor had been unable to find the supporting documents because she had been incompetent, and Gray implied that the audit was unimportant because Lew got the job done, and people liked the renovated schools. Gray had campaigned against Fenty's management style. He said it wasn't inclusive, wasn't open, didn't take account of the peoples' interests. But on Wednesday, as he had done before when he endorsed Michelle Rhee's campaign against teachers in the name of school reform, Gray repudiated everything he had campaigned on. He endorsed and embraced the mistakes of Fenty's administration, and claimed them as his own. He said following procedures and regulations — the safeguards the city government established to prevent corruption and waste — was unnecessary, since all people cared about was the final result.

So how could the mayor hold a good press conference, when the press is already skeptical of him? He could stop trying to "manage" reporters, and instead try to answer their questions honestly. He should embrace the "openness and transparency" that every mayor has claimed to embrace, and that his campaign promised.

For further press reports about the DC Auditor's investigation of Allen Lew's management of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, see Michael Neibauer in the Washington Business Journal,; and Freeman Klopott in the Washington Examiner, For another account of yesterday's press conference, and of what she calls Gray's "Fenty-esque Defense of OPEFM," see Lydia DePillis in the Washington City Paper,

Gary Imhoff


OPEFM Audit: Allen Lew's Report Card
Dorothy Brizill,

Last week, on May 11, the DC Auditor released the "Auditor's Review of the Operations and Administration of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization" (Letter Report DCA 162011, The in-depth forty-six-page audit by Deborah Nichols covers a two-year period, fiscal years 2008 through 2009, and is highly critical of Mayor Gray's City Administrator Allen Lew and his management of OPEFM, and details multiple instances in which he failed to comply with District law. The auditor reaches the conclusion that "OPEFM established a procurement contract record management system that did not facilitate a review of school- and project-specific expenditures for school facility capital improvements, maintenance, repairs, and operating costs. OPEFM's contract and procurement files did not consistently contain sufficient information to constitute a complete history of contract and procurement transactions. OPEFM did not create or maintain meeting minutes, written summaries of key decisions, lists of project next steps, or reports on the impact that changes in project scopes had on sufficient modernization projects. Finally, OPEFM issued payments to a vendor without a valid contract and assigned managerial functions to a contractor."

The audit finds that: 1) "OPEFM deliberately set up their record keeping to obstruct transparency of and accountability for its use of capital funds to DCPS facility construction and modernization projects"; 2) "vendor payment records were inaccurate and incomplete"; 3) there was a "$31 million discrepancy between payments OPEFM reported to the Council and PM (project manager) files"; 4) the Auditor couldn't "rely on PM (project manager) files to determine accurate school- and project-specific modernization and stabilization expenditures"; 5) there was a conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety when Thomas D. Bridenbaugh, a partner at the law firm of Leftwich and Ludaway, served as OPEFM's Procurement Manager/Consultant, even though he was the son-in-law of a Turner Construction Company Project Executive assigned to OPEFM projects (and, in FY2008 and FY2009, there were $15 million in change orders approved by OPEFM for Turner); 6) "OPEFM's contract and procurement files did not contain documentation to support $15.3 million in payments; 7) OPEFM's files for RBK Landscaping and Construction (owned by Adrian Fenty's friend and mentor Keith Lomax) did not contain "6 purchase orders and supporting documentation for payments totaling $9,756,525"; 8) OPEFM vendor payments for Turner Construction "did not include 6 purchase orders and supporting documentation for $5,553,608 in payments to Turner"; 9) "OPEFM made payments totaling $411,425 without a valid written contract" to McKissack and McKissack and OPEFM could not determine "whether the services were delivered"; 10) "OPEFM paid $12.7 million for project management services but did not require written documentation of issues and recommendations"; 11) "OPEFM modernization projects failed to consistently comply with requirements of Design Guidelines" that list "specifications, finishes and furnishings for the modernization and stabilization of DCPS facilities"; 12) OPEFM improperly contracted with Warren Graves to be paid as an "on-site consultant" and Chief of Staff to OPEFM Director Allen Lew; and 13) "Given the projected $3.5 billion that OPEFM plans to spend on school modernization and stabilization projects over the next 15 years, it is imperative that OPEFM substantially improve its record keeping practices and maintain files that are accurate, complete, and organized in a manner that is consistent with best practices and applicable regulations. Without an accurate, complete, record of each transaction, it is impossible to establish a reliable, verifiable record of accountability and transparency, or a sufficient audit trail."

This audit report should interest every DC resident. It offers insight into the management shortcomings of Allen Lew, whom Mayor Gray has promoted to be his City Administrator. Also, the Budget Support Act for FY2012 that is currently before the city council creates a General Services Department (GSD) within the District government to oversee the redevelopment of District-owned properties and most capital projects, including the operations of OPEFM. Lew has convinced the mayor that GSA should an office overseen by him within the Office of the City Administrator. Finally, at the mayor's weekly press conference on Wednesday, I asked the mayor a very simple question — have you read the auditor's report on OPEFM? He responded that he had not, but then proceeded to defend Lew, arguing that, after all, "things turned out all right" and "our schools look better today then they have ever looked in the District of Columbia." Thus, despite poor management at OPEFM and its violations of District law, Mayor Gray argues that "the product" (i.e., renovated or rebuilt schools) justified the means, and praised the work of the OPEFM under Lew.


Law? What Law? Who Cares, What Law? Continued
Jack McKay,

In the May 15 issue of themail, I complained that the people who hand out parking tickets — I hesitate to call what they do "enforcing parking laws" — are inordinately fond of P055, "no parking anytime," as the universal, one-size-fits-all parking violation. Trouble is, according to the official MPD document defining these three-digit codes, this citation corresponds to DC Municipal Regulation 18, 4019.1, which is applicable in only three very specific locations in the District. Virtually every car receiving a P055 ticket is not in fact in violation of that regulation.

The MPD has responded by inserting a caveat on the web page linking to that document, saying, essentially, this document cannot be trusted. Evidently the DMV has also figured out that the official interpretation of P055 is nonsensical, and is trying to weasel its way out of this problem. My Mount Pleasant neighbor, denying by mail a DDOT-issued P055 ticket, received this creative response, rejecting his denial, from the DMV: "It is a violation of District of Columbia regulations to park any vehicle, except an authorized emergency vehicle, in a no parking anytime zone (18 DCMR 2400.6; 2406.7)." Evidently somebody decided that, if 4019.1 didn't fit, maybe one of those two DCMR paragraphs would.

In fact, 2400.6 isn't a prohibition, and 2406.7 is, in this case, irrelevant. The latter can be dismissed quickly, because it applies only to narrow streets, fewer than thirty feet wide, and the street at issue here is not narrow. The first, read carefully, is not parking regulation. It says that ". . . the provisions of this chapter prohibiting the standing or parking of a vehicle shall apply at all times, or at those times herein specified, or as indicated on official signs, . . ." In short, it's about the times at which the various regulations of Chapter 24 of DCMR Volume 18 are applicable. Nobody's arguing about the times, and that regulation certainly does not define a "no parking anytime zone." Clearly, the DMV is desperately trying to figure out some parking ban that might plausibly relate to P055, "no parking anytime," given that the official paragraph, 4019.1, is quite irrelevant.

Gee, maybe the parking enforcement folks could specify codes that actually correspond to the actual violation, instead of this magical, universal, unthinking "P055." In this particular case, the correct parking code is P025, "Parking less than 40 ft. of intersection," corresponding to DCMR 18, 2405.2(c). Why is that so hard? With that correct citation in hand, the recipient of the ticket, and the DMV, will know exactly what the charged violation is, and the two parties can have an intelligent discussion of the matter. But it seems to be impossible to get DC ticket writers, whether DDOT, MPD, or DPW, to give up their addiction to the simple, universal, no-thinking-required P055. So the recipient of the ticket cannot know exactly what parking law he's being accused of violating, and the DMV cannot determine, from the notations on the parking ticket, what the supposed violation of law is. They're all just guessing, but you're supposed to shut up and pay the fine anyway. For whatever it is you did.


DCFPI Poll on Taxation
Liane Scott,

I was confused by Gary's post about the DCFPI poll [themail, May 11]. Yes, DC is overwhelmingly Democratic. The question is, would DC voters prefer a more progressive tax code? I took a look at the poll myself and saw no references to Gary's assertion that "social services programs are assumed to be uniformly both effective and cost-effective." In fact, I went to a budget workshop facilitated by an employee of what we're now hearing is a nonexistent DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and the facilitator railed at some length against the job training programs that DC insists that TANF recipients take, not because she felt they shouldn't take job training, but because they were so ineffective and frustrating to the participants who in most cases are desperate to improve their skills, get a real job and get off the dole.

As a low-income, working, single-mom myself, some may assert that it is simply self-serving and selfish of me to desire the more progressive tax code that the DC Fiscal Policy has been promoting. So be it. I appreciate hearing from those who make more than $250,000 per year and aren't happy about having their tax rate go up .4 percent (which I think is what we're talking about). I hope that they are in turn willing to listen to those of us on the other end of the tax hike/budget cuts debate. To that end, I submit the following video, which features a lot of people who are impacted by the budget cuts to social services and would benefit greatly from a tax increase on the wealthy. Here's the link:



Helping Others Better Workshops
Susie Cambria,

Susie Cambria and Diana Winthrop are offering four workshops for nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and more. Topics are having effective relationships with the legislative and executive branches, having an effective relationship with local media, and outreach that actually reaches out. The workshops are affordable and registration and other information is online:


National Building Museum Events, May 26
Stacy Adamson,

May 26, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Building in the 21st Century: Walking the Talk: Why Seek LEED Certification for the Center for a Livable Future? No charge. Registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Dr. Robert Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, discusses the renovation of the center and how its LEED certification reflects the institution's commitment to the highest standards of current green technology, food production, environment, and human health. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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