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Volume 12, Issue 1, September 2005
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax
Emergency Training for Neighborhood Volunteers, Sally MacDonald
Taking Charge in D.C.
City Council Calls for International Help
Understanding the Commuter Tax, Councilmember Phil Mendelson
University Moneymaking Scheme
Officers and Board
President's Column, George Clark
DC's Emergency Medics: Shortchanged and in Short Supply, Ann Renshaw
Federation and Activists Honored
Washington, A Democratic Town
Federation Assembly Meeting Dates
FEDERATION ASSEMBLY MEETING
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
THE CHARLES SUMNER SCHOOL
It has been called by a senior DC government official the "Black Hole of the Government," meaning that business, matters, and cases get sucked into a huge vacuum and are forgotten. In reality, the DCRA is the grab-bag of the DC government ó the recipient of all responsibilities left over when fields and tasks were parceled out among the other departments of the government. The result is oversight over everything from doctorsí licenses to dog licenses, housing inspection to lot clearance.
Mr. Patrick Canavan has assumed the directorship of what may reasonably be termed the toughest portfolio in town. Housing inspection, for one area, is woefully inadequate. Inspectors are seemingly poorly trained and reportedly poorly paid, and down to present numbers of under 70 for the city, from over 150 within the memory of senior DCRA personnel.
Federation delegates with business at DCRA report large numbers of rolls of plans for building projects stashed in agency hallways. This indicates backlogs to the reasonable observer. One delegate recommends, "When you want a permit ó for instance, for a fence replacement ó bring walking shoes, a book, and water with you to DCRA."
In fairness, however, help is available, at a price. There are "permit runner," who serve busy applicants by piloting their permit requests through the DCRA system. Reportedly, these energetic persons keep on good terms personally with pertinent agency personnel, and urge their paperwork forward on an opportunistic basis during the working day.
Also, former Zoning Administrator Armando Lourenco has set up a consulting firm offering help to contractors and developers in the area of third-party re-use and third party inspections, reportedly basic services pertinent to DCRA processing.
Delegates will doubtless have extensive questions and comments to Mr. Canavan. He will have some stock DCRA answers: underfunding and understaffing and a need for staff training. Maybe a symbiosis, rather than a mildly adversarial relationship between the Federation and the Department, is in the offing here.
The Washington Times reports that the Minneapolis police chief is attempting to have panhandlers wear a photo ID badge issued by the city. The idea is in use in Dayton, Ohio, where the Minneapolis top cop used to work, and in a few other cities, as a way to control public begging. Badges would be issued yearly, and anyone caught begging without a license could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
A stroll in parts of the District suggests the desirability of the proposed Minneapolis/Dayton plan.
Sally MacDonald (Woodley Park)
The news from New Orleans and the Gulf emphasize the need for citizensí emergency response training in the strongest way possible. Millicent Williams is now in charge of the DC CERT office and training; her telephone number of 202-727-7200.
I am happy to be a graduate of the cityís first CERT training class, something I have advocated for a long time.
CERT training began in California after residents found that government "first responders" would not be able to reach areas for some time. Respondents realized that they should know what is needed, and how to organize, triage and bandage patients, turn off gas connections, and describe the situation accurately when the first responders arrive on the scene.
Indeed, in our first real DC training practice, we went about doing what we have been taught, including freeing patients from under debris, organizing patients from "dead" to "immediate care" with others for later treatment, and separating "walking wounded"; when we, rather proudly, reported the details by radio, the message back to us was, "You are on your own; we canít get there for at least 12 hours." It was a shock to us ó a most instructive one ó one we learned not to forget.
Watching the Gulf area news has brought back that first shocking response to me: "You are on your own; we canít get to you for ___ hours!"
Would you know what to do? You can learn, and be of important help to yourselves, your families, and your community. Call Millicent Williams, 727-7200.
When parents canít take care of their children, grandparents often step in. The city council moved a measure in May 2005 that removes a hurdle for grandparents seeking legal guardianship of children who have been in their care for at least six months: a court would not have to deem the children to have been abused or neglected.
Introduced by Council Chairman Linda Cropp and cosponsored by every councilmember, the bill allows low-income grandparents to receive the same childcare subsidies the District provides for foster families.
According to 2000 Census data, about 8,100 District grandparents provide primary care to grandchildren, and these families are concentrated in the cityís poorer neighborhoods. (Article from the AARP Bulletin, May 2005)
In its Resolution 16-173 of July 1, the city council called upon the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly "to adopt a resolution at its assembly (in Washington, D.C., July 1-5, 2005) in support of full and equal voting rights for the citizens of the District of Columbia," and to insist that "the government of the United States adopt such legislation as may be necessary to grant the residents of the capital city full and equal voting rights in their own national legislature."
While the OSCE is made up of 55 countries, including the United States, it is essentially a foreign entity. Such groups have very limited influence traditionally in U.S. domestic affairs in general. The current council initiative, which involves a constitutional matter, seems to offer small hope for tangible results. A favorite debating ploy of Amerca-foremosters is to point out the governmental shortcomings of the more outrť constituent countries in interfering international organizations and to doubt their standing in such matters as American domestic interests. It always works. Maybe it should.
Councilmember Phil Mendelson
First, itís not a "commuter tax"; that is a misnomer. Itís about taxing income where it is earned. The commuter tax is not about making the residents of other jurisdictions "scapegoats" for the cityís financial problems. Nor is it about being greedy. Rather, it is about fairness.
Every state in the union, every territory, and the federal government, too, tax income at its source. When a British rock band tours the United States, Uncle Sam levies an income tax. A resident of new Jersey who works in New York City pays income tax in New York States. Professional athletes pay income tax in every city (or state) they play. The partners of every multi-state law firm pay income tax in every state where the firm does business ó except the District of Columbia. Only the District of Columbia is prohibited from taxing income at its source.
On the other hand, a District of Columbia resident who has his law firm partnership in Silver Spring pays income tax to the State of Maryland. He then takes credit against his D.C. Income tax liability. Thus is the law throughout the United States ó and the District ó that a resident who pays income tax to another jurisdiction is then allowed to take a credit for that tax in his resident jurisdiction. This is only fair. . . .
Every professional tax study has emphasized the unfairness and economic hardship caused by this unique Congressional prohibition on the District. Three come immediately to mind: the "Rivlin Commission" study in 1990 headed by former Congressional Budget Office Director Alice Rivlin; the McKinsey study commissioned by the Federal City Council last year; and a General Accounting Office study released on May 22, 2003. The GAO estimates that limitations on our taxing authority total between $470 million and $1.1 billion ó annually.
By limiting our tax base, Congress has forced the District government to increase the tax rates on its citizens and underfund many government programs (notably deferred maintenance in our schools and other government facilities). While I would agree with anyone that the government could spend more efficiently, even a 10% improvement in efficiency (an unrealistically high number) would not offset the income from a 2% "commuter" tax. (From Councilmember Memdelsonís At Large Update, September 2005.)
A Foggy Bottom Association member reports the newest wrinkle in private institutional moneymaking: "Federation members should be aware of another George Washington University (GWU) moneymaking scheme ó the Gworld Card ó that is a credit card issued under GWUís nonprofit status and that allows students to bypass paying D.C. sales tax. After touting publicly what a great boon all these students are and how much revenue they bring to the city, GWU then does an end run around D.C.ís sales tax ó that all the rest of us have to pay!
"My question is, why shouldnít all nonprofit community organizations be allowed to do the same? Why canít the Federation (or any of its nonprofit groups) use its status as a nonprofit to issue a "Fed Card" so that members can patronize merchants and avoid the 10 sales tax like the students, most of whom arenít D.C. residents"?
The reporter continues: "GWU also makes money by charging exorbitant fees for merchants to carry the card. One merchant popular with students pulled out of the deal this summer and subsequently used that maneuver to get his user fee reduced, but not eliminated."
This reporter has a point. Obviously, if one private tax-exempt organization succeeds in operating a tax-free credit card business, can others be far behind? George Washington, already known locally as an academic real estate holding company, is the most acquisitive of expansionist universities in the city. These educational institutions seemingly put student character building and moral education before everything, except expansionism, Machiavellian examples, and money.
Iím honored and pleased to be your president for the 2005-06 year, the Federationís 96th year of service to the District. Carroll Green is a very tough act to follow, and fortunately he continues to devote himself to our cityís betterment, and to play a key role in the Federation, especially in getting me on the right course.
At our luncheon on July 26, we had the pleasure of seeing three Councilmembers present Guy Gwynne the formal city council resolution honoring him and declaring May 27, 2005 (the night of the Awards Banquet), as Guy Gwynne Day in DC. Guy is a shining example of citizen involvement ó and you wouldnít be reading this without him.
At that luncheon, many of you talked about the issues facing the city and how we might help move them forward. By luncheonís end we totaled 4 councilmembers and 3 mayoral candidates, with some overlapping). These luncheons are always a lively exchange of ideas and keep you ahead of where things are going. The list of upcoming luncheons and meetings appears on the last page.
This year we will focus much of our energy on the Comprehensive Plan rewrite. We will all live with this Plan every day for many years. We are lucky to have seven Federation stalwarts on the Task Force, but developer and single issue interests outnumber them. The Task Force meets in public at 6:30-9:00 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governmentsí Training Center at 777 North Capitol Street, NE. You can listen, but canít participate, but will find it both fascinating and sometimes disturbing. Because of our interest in the Plan, we will have Barry Miller from the Office of Planning at our October 25 Assembly meeting. Please plan on attending then, as well as the next round of Ward meetings on the Comp Plan in the last week of September.
We will have Patrick Canavan of DCRA at out September 27 Assembly Meeting, In the meantime, go Nats!
Anne Renshaw, First Vice President
(Note: The Federation of Citizens Associations turns the spotlight on DCís first responders, who will be the first to react to a terrorist attack, catastrophic event, or natural disaster in the nationís capital. What issues affect their performance? We need to know. Our welfare and possible survival depend on them.)
Setting the scene. The recent savage hurricane that ravaged New Orleans left countless people homeless, thousands injured, and hundreds dead. Julyís terrorist attacks on London results in over 50 casualties and 700 wounded. When terrorism or a major natural disaster hits the nationís capital (our home town) with equal severity, will DCís emergency medics be able to respond, rescue, minister to, and transport victims to local emergency rooms with speed and quality care?
DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (DCF & EMS) ó under scrutiny: Homeland Security has expanded the role and complexity of our public safety agencies. DCF & EMS has received $21 million of State Homeland Security monies since 2002 to prepare fire fighters and emergency medical providers for a terrorist attack. Yet against this backdrop of pending disasters, the number of DC civilian paramedics has dropped precipitously. Edward D. Reiskin, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice (who spoke for Fire Chief Adrian Thompson) addressed the strength of the Department, saying, "The Department is staffed to serve a daytime population in the District of about 1.5 million people and maintains the same basic level of readiness 24 hours a day." EMS Union President Kenneth Lyons counters: "Weíre in a state of crisis regarding emergency preparedness." Itís time to scrutinize the urgent situation confronting DCís emergency medics.
Background: In addition to its Homeland Security role, DCF & EMS currently responds to over 140,000 emergency incidents per year. Only 350 emergency medical providers (EMS officers, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians or EMTís) and 36 ambulances handle more than 110,000 emergency medical calls, while 15,000 fire officers and firefighters, 33 engine companies, 16 hook and ladder trucks, 3 rescue squads, 1 Hazmat unit, and 1 fireboat handle approximately 30,000 calls, of which about 1,000 are actual fires.
DCís lost medical personnel: Currently 75% or more of DCís emergency incidents are medical in nature (not fire related). Yet, "F & EMS has lost 63 skilled paramedics in the last 18 months," according to EMS Union President Lyons. "All these paramedics came to DC for training and experience and they are now gone. 56 of the 63 paramedics left for better paying jobs. And we stand to lose another 12 paramedics to PG County and other surrounding jurisdictions that pay more and have better benefits," said Lyons. He maintains that DC is short 57 paramedics and 15 EMTs. Although the paramedic shortage is a national problem, DCF & EMSís personnel turnover rate is largely due to a long-standing and continuing wage and benefit gap between lower paid EMS members and higher salaried firefighters. [For example: a basic DC firefighters earns $41,600-$69,300; compared to an advanced EMTís $32,400-$46,700 (approximate salary ranges). The salary range for a DC fire service lieutenant with 20 years of service is $73,300-$90,500; while an EMS lieutenant starts at $44,950 and maxes out at $58,300.]
Pay equity or cross train? Instead of equalizing pay and benefits between the Fire and EMS Divisions years ago to retain its seasoned emergency medical personnel, DCF & EMS recently instituted "cross training" its firefighters as a way to fill the emergency medical services ranks. A firefighter who becomes a paramedic receives additional pay. Most of the 1,500 DC firefighters are now trained and certified as EMTs. A few dozen are paramedics. However, an experienced EMS professional who becomes a firefighter for a better salary and career opportunities must start their career over as a rookie firefighter and wait five years or more to be eligible to take their first promotional exam. Many in both the fire and emergency medical services divisions are not willing or able to cross over to become firefighters or medics. This is one reason why EMS personnel leave.
Is service affected? DC firefighters are now required to become EMTs as a condition of employment. Here, too, not all firefighters want to staff EMS ambulance units (referred to disparagingly as "ambos" or "gut boxes") and many do so begrudgingly. ("Suck it up and ride the ambo," said one DC firefighter to a disgruntled colleague.) Do we want people to be forced to minister to us? This system where career firefighters vie with civilian personnel, dedicated to EMS, has exacerbated an uncomfortable and unnecessary turf battle between the two cultures.
Have response times been compromised as a result? The city maintains that its response time goal for advanced life support (ALS) calls is 8 minutes or less from dispatch to arrival time for the first arriving paramedic, 90% of the time. Over the years, citizens have died waiting for DC ambulances. Residents have repeatedly said at community meetings that they want more ambulances, not fire trucks or engines, to respond to their medical emergencies.
Equal pay for equal work? Should the District government close the EMS pay gap in order to retain, as well as attract, experienced medical professionals for the DC Fire and EMS Department? An actuarial study, which has been in progress for some time, is not yet complete, according to Deputy Mayor Reiskin. "The study is determining the financial impact to the District of Columbia of providing increased pension benefits to EMS personnel that do not transition to become cross-trained firefighter/EMTs."
But what about EMS salary increases under the "equal pay for equal work" standard? We asked if management, independent of the unions, would equalize the pay ranges for all ranks between the Fire and EMS Divisions by the start of the 2006 fiscal year. Deputy Mayor Reiskin said, "For those EMS employees not represented by Ö (EMS) Local 3721, Chief Thompson and I are working on several initiatives to address pay parity concerns and try to improve the system. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes.... We want all of our employees to be fairly and equitably compensated for the work they do." They seem to be thinking about it, but will they eventually do anything? Or will they wait until a catastrophe, botched and badly handled, forces them to take action?
Pay parity now? When faced with the inevitability of terrorism or other major calamity, shouldnít DCís residents and business community insist that the nationís capital have the best, most seasoned, highly trained and experienced EMS personnel? Why relegate the cityís civilian emergency medical professionals to an inferior pay status and nudge them out the door or require them to become firefighters? How can the city afford to lose veteran EMS professionals whom we need to save our lives when terrorism or other disasters strike the nationís capital?
Trained emergency medical experts are vital to our survival. Deputy Mayor Reiskin commented, "The District Ö Recognizes that, given the high demand for paramedics, compensation and pension benefits for EMS personnel also must be competitive." That said, the long overdue pay parity between the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Divisions can be achieved, not with another study, but with the stroke of a pen that can end a decades-long tradition of shameful inequality by simply grandfathering EMS personnel into the public safety community as equal members.
"The medical risks are getting worse in the city," stated EMS union spokesperson, Ken Lyons. "EMS is taking greater risks. For example, we could have a medical catastrophe with hazardous rail shipments coming through DC. This Administration has to start acknowledging the state of unreadiness and stop passing the buck. The message is that civilian EMS doesnít matter. Pay is an issue, along with the recognition from the city that EMSís work is significant."
Should the city pay now or risk losing more emergency medical personnel by deferring the pay parity decision any longer? DC must treat all of its first responders equally and avoid being another New Orleans.
May 27 was "Federation of Citizens Associations Day" in Washington, under the terms of Ceremonial Resolution 16-65 of the DC city council. The resolution notes, inter alia, that: "(WHEREAS), the Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia is dedicated to working for the strengthening of residential communities and neighborhoods while providing a forum for the expression and interchange of opinion to further the interests and to secure and to make effective united action of the people of the District of Columbia;" and "(WHEREAS), the Federation Ö Is one of a select group of organizations that serve as a forum and voice for citizens of the District of Columbia."
Also on the ceremonial recognition list were D.C. civic activists Valerie Costelloe, who was cited for her role as a key leader in the tenant movement of the District, and for leading the Tenant Organizations Political Action Committee (TOPAC) with D.C. residents Idus Holmes and Frederick Alston. Ms. Costelloe passed away in May 2000, and left a significant gap in tenant action affairs.
Also receiving council recognition was the Federationís own Guy Gwynne, cited for serving "as [an] ambassador of goodwill, chief recruiter for the Federation and coordinator for neighborhood organizations across the city." May 27 was also named "Guy Gwynne Day" in the District.
These are great gestures to the Federation and individuals by the city council. While ceremonial declarations carry no tangible benefits, they are rightly regarded as high honors among the civic activist community and by the citizenry at large. Associations wishing to honor a community leader or neighborhood contributor may petition their councilmember and recommend individuals or groups for ceremonial city council resolutions.
Or, color us blue. With an election a year away and nearing, the June voter statistics are an illuminating reminder, and are unlikely to change much by November 2006.
DC Board of Elections and Ethics
Party Totals and Percentages by Ward for the period ending June 30, 2005
*Includes Statehood-Green, other parties, and non-party registrations.
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