What's in a name?

What's in a name?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ethics Reform: Can Council set standards for themselves?

Good morning Chairwoman Bowser and other members of this committee. 
Never before in District politics have we witnessed so many sitting elected officials enduring investigations and allegations. These days are troubling and can no longer continue. I commend you for moving forward quickly with a means to create the kind of change that residents need, want and deserve. But before we get too involved.  I would like to suggest that these changes should develop from the grass roots stages first.  Only then can we be assured that they are both thorough and fair.  Compelling to very core of real change and inclusive of positive changes that residents can and will accept.  
On the top of my list would be the elimination of contributions from companies such as PEPCO, and Washington Gas.  These entities have corporate offices in the District and often contribute to the campaigns and constituents funds of the very councilmembers that then have to hold hearings and vote on their reliability and rate increases.  Let's face facts,  even if no wrong doing occurs,  it clearly doesn't look good.  So I ask today formally that each of you immediately return any donations to you own campaigns to the above fore mentioned companies so as to clear up any misgivings or potential gray areas of concern.  PEPCO and Washington Gas should neverhave an inside to your vote via their contribution,  or the preponderance of such. Let's face facts, their contribution buys them your ear. Regardless of what you may suggest the fact is it does. 
Now that we have cleared the air with this complication.  Let's talk about. Real ethics reform as many residents view it. The way out elections are held, campaign contributions, representation of the residents of our wards,  and finally constituent funds being used as a silent arm for re-election.  We all know it happens.  It creates a vice for new faces in these ward races and further empowers the incumbent to greater visibility in the community during re-election time by giving them extra money to spend within their neighborhoods to move projects forward in civic groups, and other interested bodies under the auspices of the Councilmember's office. Say what you we are experiencing this as we speak.  It goes on daily,  and it ever so evident.
So real reform must remove this ability by the incumbent to freely give funds to groups or tosponsor events in the ward during a reasonable time frame of the election.  Constituent funds should by all standards be for use for constituents needs. I give you an example July 1st three families were burned out of their homes. Literally losing all of their personal belongings.
At last account not one penny had been offered to these three families from theircouncilmember. At a serious time when money would surely have helped in buying badly needed items.  A simple call was never put forth to offer assistance. Yet funds were allocated to groups for events, and sponsorships,  detailing the elected officials name all over the postings and advertising. This was both inhuman and unfair it proves that corruption is rampant. As will not mention any names of our elected that conducted business in this manner,  completely over looking the real needs of our residents. It is clearly not the practice of every one elected to this council.
Ethics should first begin at the grass roots of this city. Listen first to what the residents want then draft your legislation. Bottom up, is the only way to assure that it is done fairly and without bias. Although there are some good basic ideas by various members of this body, I think it is clearly something that should come from the voters.  Perhaps a blue ribbon panel of two members selected from each ward,  and then perhaps 5 additional at-large members appointed to consider this legislation and proposed changes. Then and only then can we be assured that it is done fairly, without bias, and to the extent that the residents want to see it happen.
To sit before us and offer up your ideas can only muddy the waters either today or in the future with why some of you were so motivated to do so.  If this reform comes from the residents then it can be a clear symbol for right verses wrong.  A finalized product can and should offer reform in many areas to include a few like, term limits, campaign finance reform,  which should bar outside contributions from non residents and limit the amounts that corporations can give if they intend to have any legislation or approval for major construction in that particular elected officials ward or committee in which they preside or are a member of. Let's keep the campaign contribution and access to our elected to the residents, and defray those that wish to seek influence in the future by giving to our campaigns. This would eliminate the chance of wrong doing, and remove the perspective of such from our opinions. 
No sitting councilmember should ever be a part of the oversight process that involves a company, organization, or developer that has contributed their campaign.  This should include relationships dating back to as far as 5 years prior to them taking office.  Furthermore, re-election bids by sitting councilmembers should never include those individuals or company's that currently have legislation pending in front of the city or the council.  Specifically, that of Land Bankers, specifically David Wilmot and the very chair of the committee, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser. Setting higher standards for ethics reform can hardly be accomplished by a sitting councilmember that has had their share of questionable practices.  
Keith Jarrell
Resident Ward 4

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday's article on David Wilmot, which just a few days ago held a fundraiser at his home for Muriel Bowser.

The Washington Times 
The Washington Times
Sunday, October 23, 2011
LAND BANKER: David W. Wilmot (right), a power broker in the District since Marion Barry was first elected mayor, lobbies for Wal-Mart and has ties to city-owned land where a store is to be built. (The Washington Times)LAND BANKER: David W. Wilmot (right), a power broker in the District since Marion Barry was first elected mayor, lobbies for Wal-Mart and has ties to city-owned land where a store is to be built. (The Washington Times)

When Wal-Mart was looking for property to develop in Ward 6 for one of its four proposed D.C. stores, it didn’t have to go very far.
Politically connected lawyer and lobbyist David W. Wilmot, the company’s man in the District, had a financial interest in city-owned property on New Jersey Avenue in Northwest that he and his business partners had allowed to lay fallow for 21 years - renting it to the federal government as a parking lot for 18 of them.
Not many lobbyists can be players in deals they are lobbying for on behalf of a company like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., much less one involving city land and a long-term tenant who has failed to deliver on promises to a city in need of redevelopment.
But therearen’t many David Wilmotsin D.C. business and politics.
D.C. officials privately acknowledge that it takes connections to sit on city property for decades without developing it, saying such “land banking” often depends on faulty land-use policies and the exploitation of a dysfunctional city bureaucracy.
“I can’t speak to why this property was allowed to languish this long,”Jose Sousa, a spokesman for Victor Hoskins, deputy mayor for economic development, said about the 161,000-square-foot parcelcurrently assessed by the city at $72 million. “It’s not the tact we take with our current project inventory.”
When first contacted months ago about Mr. Wilmot’s financial interest in the New Jersey Avenue property, Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said he was unaware of such a stake. But as ties between Mr. Wilmot and the tenant of record - the Bennett Group - became harder to ignore, Mr. Restivo confirmed thatMr. Wilmot disclosed his financial interest.
Mr. Restivo deferred further questions to the Bennett Group.
The precise relationship between Mr. Wilmot, a power broker since the first Marion Barry administration with interests in group homes for the developmentally disabled to parking lots, and the Bennett Group, headed by LuAnn Bennett, widow of Richard A. Bennett Jr. - who was a law partner of Mr. Wilmot - is unclear.
Ms. Bennett, now in the process of divorcing Rep. James P. Moran Jr., Virginia Democrat, declined requests for comment. Mr. Wilmot did not return calls or emails.
‘Nature of the business’
Charles Maier, a spokesman for the Bennett Group’s financing partner, JBG Cos., said neither the Bennett Group nor JBG has an obligation to disclose private relationships. “It’s just the nature of the business,” he said.
Yet what appears to be previously undisclosed financial interests in land banking arrangements can get messy, and the suddenly attractive piece of dirt between New Jersey Avenue to the west, I Street to the north, H Street to the south and the Gonzaga College High School campus to the east is in the midst of historically blighted neighborhoods near North Capitol Street.
So questions have been raised about how Mr. Wilmot and his partners were able to collect tax-free rent on D.C. land for years.
Now his client is planning a multimillion-dollar project, featuring a Wal-Mart store that sells groceries, 10,000 square feet of first-floor retail set aside for small businesses and several hundred apartments, some of which will be workforce housing.

Mr. Wilmot just happens to be on both sides of the deal.
In 1990, after suing the city for a deal gone bad, Mr. Bennett and former Washington Redskin Brig Owens received a 99-year ground lease on the property as part of a settlement. The lease called for development of a prevocational school, and a zoning application called for construction of three office buildings and a day care center/nursery school/tutoring center.
Zoning records show that a “Minority Educational Foundation” was to be funded with $2 million “not later than two years after the ground lease commencement.” The foundation was to be headed by a board that included Mr. BennettMr. Owens and Mr. Wilmot, the records state.
Under the ground lease, Mr. Bennett and his partners gained exclusive development rights. In return, they would pay the District $250,000a year for the first two years, $10 million on the second anniversary of the lease date, and $2 million annually from years three through 10.
Annual rent would increase to $2.5 million in years 11 through 20, and to $3.1 million in years 21 through 30, the lease states.
The District would never see buildings go up, nor payments close to what the lease called for. Rather, in 1993, the Bennett Group, with approval of the D.C. government, began subleasing the property to the U.S. Government Printing Office as a parking lot for the GPO’s 475 employees, according to the agency.
Rent reduced
In 1995, in a lease amendment retroactive to 1993, the District reduced rent to $15,000 per month until the Bennett Group began construction of the buildings it had promised. Thereafter, annual rent would increase to $2 million for the next 20 years, the amendment states.
In 1999, a lease memorandum specified that the $10 million lump-sum payment would not be due until 2018.
A second lease amendment in 2007 required the Bennett Group to acquire building permits and break ground on a building by Dec. 31, 2010, or face financial penalties. By then, the Bennett Group had steadily increased the GPO’s monthly rent for years, according to the GPO, which put the current rent at $56,000 a month.
According to the deputy mayor's office, the District since 1990 has collected about $5.5 million in ground rent and a “possessory interest tax” enacted in 2000 as a means of raising revenue on otherwise tax-exempt commercial property.
But, according to the GPO, the Bennett Group has received more than $5 million in parking lot rent since 2001 - breaking even before factoring in eight years of tax-free rent from the 1990s. Land records also show that the Bennett Group borrowed $1.5 million against the property in 2007 and paid off a promissory note the next year.
In contrast, a review of the ground lease shows that had the Bennett Group performed under its agreement, it would have been required to pay the District more than $41 million by now.
The Bennett Group’s control of the New Jersey Avenue property came as the District was in a state of chaos at the end of the first Barry administration. The Barry era of the 1980s had presaged a re-examination by city officials of District land use.
Soon after Sharon Pratt was elected D.C. mayor on a promise of reform in 1990, she sought to address the glut of city property that had not been taxed while in the hands of private developers for years, said Merrick MaloneMs. Pratt’s deputy mayor for economic developmen

“I forced developers to turn over everything that had been land banked throughout the 1980s,” Mr. Malone recently told The Washington Times. “I told ‘em to build, pay or get off. A lot of land came back to us,” he said, pointing to the later redeveloped Gallery Place and Columbia Heights sections of town.
Butwhen asked about the ground lease at the Bennett Group’s New Jersey Avenue site, Mr. Malone said he could not recall.
“I don’t know how I missed that one,” he said.
Former mentor
Pressed for details, Mr. Malone does recall, however, that Mr. Wilmot, his former mentor at Georgetown Law School who served on the transition committee that recommended him for his Cabinet-level post, had been law partners with Mr. Bennett.
“I tried to break some of those agreements and take back the land, but some of them were ironclad,” he said. Asked to defend either the deal with the Bennett Group or the principle of land-use reform, Mr. Malone did both: “It doesn’t appear they did anything wrong except outsmart the District. I’m pro-development, but it sounds like a brilliant business move.
“But it’s unbelievable that the District could have so much land off the tax rolls, then to let people land bank on top of it,” he said.
Asked about Mr. Wilmot’s dual role as land banker and Wal-Mart lobbyist, now that two decades later his client and his partners in the Bennett Group are developing the property, Mr. Malone said, “I don’t know what the hell that is. That’s interesting.”
Ms. Pratt, a one-term mayor, seemed similarly perplexed.
“It’s not in the city’s interest to tolerate land banking if it’s not centered around a clear set of objectives,” she told The Times. “To just allow such arrangements to continue ad infinitum without strategic goals? I don’t understand it.”
Successors to the Pratt administration continued to wrestle with the District’s untaxed and underdeveloped land problem, while Mr. Wilmot and the Bennett Group continued to collect tax-free rent from the GPO throughout much of the 1990s.
Kenneth R. Kimbrough was the District’s chief property manager from 1998 to 2000 under Mayor Anthony A. Williams. By then, the city’s finances were in shambles after the last of Mr. Barry’s terms as mayor and a congressional control board was overseeing city finances.
Mr. Kimbrough said a mandate of the era was to establish a central agency and database to oversee land dispositions. Reviewing deals that were cut during the Barry administration, he said, “We found a lot of goofy transactions, to be kind. Like, why’d he do that?
“Our marching orders were: Clean this mess up,” he said.
Yet the 1999 lease memorandum signed by Mr. Kimbrough simply summarized the ground lease between the District and the Bennett Group and allowed the $10 million lump-sum payment that had been due in the second year of the lease to be postponed until 2018.
“I have a vague recollection,” he said, unable to offer details of why the decision was made.
Meantime, the Bennett Group sharply increased the parking lot rent from roughly $400,000 per year in 2001 to more than $675,000 in 2010.
In 2007, under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the District imposed a $750-per-day penalty as of Jan. 1 of this yearfor each day the Bennett Group allowed the property to languish. After Jan. 1, 2013, the penalty increases to $1,500 per day.
“You can argue correctly that 20 years is an incredibly long time for that property to lay fallow,” said Lars Etzkorn, the District’s chief property manager at the time.
Though he noted that market conditions can be a determining factor in urban redevelopment, Mr. Etzkorn, now a director of finance and economic development for the National League of Cities, concluded that the Bennett Group was able to take advantage of the District’s less-than-optimum land-use practices.
“That’s kind of crazy,” he said. “Why wasn’t the city allowed to share in some of the revenue until development occurred?”
Mr. Restivo, Wal-Mart’s spokesman, declined to say how the company identified the New Jersey Avenue property as a development site. He provided an article from The Washington Post that profiled the company’s real estate broker, John Meyer, and insisted it was self-explanatory.
But the article does not address Wal-Mart’s interest in the Ward 6 parcel it intends to develop as part of a multiuse complex. It does identify, however, the official responsible for marketing available property to retailers seeking to develop stores in the District.
Keith Sellars, senior vice president for the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership, which works with the deputy mayor's office, said he recalls discussing with Wal-Mart three of the four parcels slated for development - but not the property at New Jersey Avenue.
Mr. Meyer told The Times that a developer told him of the property some time ago, but he could not recall when and declined to identify the developer. He said he learned of the property before he met Mr. Wilmot and that he could not recall being informed of the lobbyist’s financial interest in the property.
Mr. Wilmot had nothing to do with this,” he said.
Yet in discussing the history of the property, Mr. Meyer acknowledged what D.C. officials have learned the hard way: that Mr. Wilmot is perhaps the foremost expert on the property at New Jersey Avenue and H Street Northwest.
“That’s who you need to talk to,” he said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where is the leadership we voted for ?

​It is becoming more and more evident that the GRAY administration is lacking the ability to lead. It seems like one thing after another.  I am not sure where it will end up but clearly there is reason to worry.  It seems like every turn and bend offers up some new "mistake or miscalculation or a failure to vet someone that is bring hired. First off was the horrible scandal with the former Chief of Staff, GERRI MASON HALL , followed by  his long time "friend" LORRAINE GREEN.  Most likely Lorraine Green is behind the Sulaimon Brown nightmare. I am  not sure if we will ever get to the bottom of this part 1 of the mess or not.
Then comes appointments to the administration that have left gaping holes in abilities. Those like Bebe Orterio who is simply way in over her heard.  Likely a nice person but coming from a non-profit bringing with her an inexperienced, immature and less than good at what she does is,  Ariana Quinones as a "chief of staff. Which incidentally is immensely over paid for her abilities and her motivation. While I am  at it,  how does one come to the administration in a  high paying job,  at the end of May and get a vacation in July?  What every happened to having to work to earn time off, rather it be with or without pay.  If you want the job, the position, salary, and the responsibility then give up your vacation the first year and earn the time off!
We have a city manager that brought with him people that at best should have been considered baggage and left at the air port.  Names that first come to mind is Tony Robinson.  paid a whopping $120,000 a year,  like Ariana with little follow up skills and a lot less on the ball than one would expect.  Mr. Lew visited Europe this summer while all  along the city was falling a part from things not being addressed. Another over paid, over praised element that couldn't run the school building budget so now we trust him with the daily management of the city. His over spending is one of the biggest reasons we now have so many programs taking cuts in funding and services.

Now let's talk about the left overs!  Laura Nuss left over from the Fenty administration is clearly anything but a shining star in this or any administration.  She lacks tack, presentation and certainly experience in a broad range of issues covering our disabled.  Her expertise I am told,(if there is one) is in the developmentally disabled.  Which is good for a portion of our residents but if your don't fall into that category then you are kind of up a creek without a paddle. Leaving REHABILITATION SERVICES ADMINISTRATION under the former Neil Albert.  Mr. Albert is finally gone as he dug himself a grave and now is off someplace trying to convince another city to hire him so he can create another mess.  He was simply a waste of money, energy and oxygen.  He is probably the scape goat for Nuss's mistakes and inabilities.   But none the less the payroll at RSA has grown considerably and it is concerning.  With all the budget cuts and cut back in services.  It is more and more clear that again we have a lot of people getting big pay checks and little work being done. There are now layers of incompetence where before it was mostly contained to consular and supervisor level.  Now we have Operations Program Manger, and her assistant and another layer or two in between.  So clearly, the money is going into the pocket of those that could care less about the level of service they deliver to the residents.
As this lack of experience and solid leadership continues,  mistakes are rampant and it shows.
With a council that has disgraced themselves with foul language and a political agenda that is both self serving and fruitless,  it is time that citizens become more than engaged.  It is time for each of us to rethink what our objectives are and to take a step to return our government to a body of public servants elected to serve our residents,  not spend with reasoning.
Again, this week we learned of yet another scandal in the office of Tax and Revenue. Not so long after we were promised change, improvements and a safety net that would prevent fraud from inside the agency.  

Crime continues to be fairly decent in the District of late.  Except for the continuing saga of shootings that take place randomly in Ward 4. Gang violence is suspected in most of the incidents of gun fire. Until stricter measures are put  into place and council votes on a drastic change in our laws and how we deal with juvenile crime, repeat offenders and their sentencing,  we will continue to be held hostage to guns, robbery, and killing in and around our neighborhoods. We must elect those with a mindful eye on reform, and the back bone to jump in there and support this revision to our current policy and see that we develop a better mechanism to teach our juveniles right from wrong.  It is up to us as voters to demand to be represented on these and other issues. 
Where is the leadership in our city?  Why do we continue to have scandals in hiring those that are not qualified and in mid level management in so many of our agencies?  We have seen more and more decisions based on who someone is and their personal relationships verses their qualifications,  and them meeting the proper criteria for the position.
We voted for change,  are we getting what we voted for?  Are we represented fairly and thoroughly on these and other issues?
I think it is time for leadership now and for these calloused blunders of the first few months to be put behind us.  Additionally,  let's keep a close eye on the newly revitalized constituent services that our current elected in Ward 4 is serving up.  If I didn't know better I would suggest that it is election time and that her highness is up for re-election and perhaps she has come competition.

Have you looked at the crime statistics in her neighborhood lately?  Crime continues to be a problem in and around the close proximity of our elected leaders house yet very little is ever said about it. We need to re-think our support and our efforts here and be heard,  be represented in Ward 4!


Friday, October 7, 2011

Heinous Crime: Preventable

Sadly, on 6 October 2011 was a tragic day in the District of Columbia.  Two lives were lost at the expenses of two different incidents involving automobiles. 
The first at 11AM,   Trudith Rishikof , 64, who is listed in online records as living in the 4200 block of Massachusetts Avenue NW, was struck by a 2008 Toyota Highlander as she crossed the street in the 3100 block of Connecticut Avenue about 11 a.m., said Officer Paul Metcalf, a spokesman. She was taken to a hospital, where she died.
The second in our neighborhood just before 4PM, now appears to have stemmed from anargument that later lead to one of the victims being purposely struck and ran over by a Jeep.
The driver whom as it is being reported by local news agencies, and witnesses told police the man was fighting with other men in the block and was chased into the street. Police think a Jeep deliberately ran over the man as he tried to escape the attackers, the officials said. Major crash is investigating. 
Sadly, the effects of communication from MPD yesterday pertaining to this incident was anything but acceptable.  It took well over 3 hours for Captain Hill to even post the incident to the list serve. At which time a look out was posted for the automobile that they are now looking for. Mind I say that in three hours this Jeep and the driver could be well out of the area,  and easily hidden out of sight.
Even as late as midnight last night only the media was calling this a homicide investigation leaving MPD absent from communicating this very important incident properly to the neighborhood. The very people that may have been able to identify the driver, the vehicle, or to share important details of what they may have seen. Now possibly lost is the availability for someone that may have seen something to realize what they were witnessing and the notice to report it on a timely basis.
With all the technology we now have, list serves, Tweeter, web pages and the like this lack of communication yesterday by MPD is less than acceptable. 
A life is lost and the chances of closure to what really happened and who was involved is lessened by the lack of communication.

This morning I received a startling email from an eye witness.  This witness tells me that MPD easily knew within minutes of their arrival to the scene that the vehicle that struck and killed the victim was clearly a Jeep.  The grill that was left behind had clear markings.  This intensify's the very debate as to how MPD handled the situation by now immediately putting word out for both other Districts and citizens alike to keep an eye out for A jeep missing it's front grill.  Could it have been possible that someone could have sighted this Jeep.  Absolutely ! 
Additionally, the very sequence of events on the 6th leads me to stress again the importance of more traffic safety from MPD.  Gone are the days that we should accept parking police cruisers and unmarked patrol cars on our streets staffed by officers being paid time and a half as they monitor cameras for speeders. Especially when most of us have gotten to recognize both the locations and the hours to expect this. 
Instead we need better use of these resources for such things as additional police officers in our neighborhoods during rush hour to cut down on aggressive driving from cut through commuters. Enforcement of stop signs in our neighborhoods. Arrests for public intoxication.  Additionally, we need more police on our streets in areas where gang violence has been prominent for years  As most of us know in the vicinity of Sherman Circle, NW, Crittenden Street, and the area that sits between Kennedy Streets Northwest have been plagued for years with too much of this resulting in numerous fights, shootings and more than our share of homicides.
Being a great admirer of MPD and one that has supported them and their projects in many ways for many years.  I realize well the needs of the department, and the struggles they endure.  But on the same token I know well when it is time to rearrange priorities, set new guidelines to effectively step up to the needs of the moment. And to help better protect our families and the 
very sanctity of neighborhoods. That time is now. 

We need a thorough re-thinking of our priorities when it comes to policing.  We need tore-emphasize neighborhood safety.  Revert if you will, to the Broken Window Theory 

 and step back and put our resources back in play to work on ground up strategy to assure that we are not over looking the smaller things in life that are leading to far more worse crimes.  

I am very happy that crime is down in the District of Columbia. This no doubt follows a national trend.  But we can never suggest that it has occurred without some of the best policing in the nation being conducted by our many MPD officers and the Command staff. Chief Lanier's leadership stands head and shoulders as top notch.   She is both educated, informed and in control.  The District's homicide closure rates are leading nationally,  and serious crimes are on the decline. Although we have less police officers than we have seen in years,  still in my opinion we have plenty enough officers to adequately cover our neighborhoods and our streets.  What we do need is simple deployment technique changes that will encase coverage with the problem areas. Officers should be assigned regular traffic observance shifts to cover problem areas, during problem times.  Staffing and supervision oversight should be intensified to assure that our officers,  all of them are where they are needed to be every hour during their shift. 
These simple adjustments could well benefit the overall safety in and around our homes.  
Finally,  it is necessary that every citizen take it upon themselves and in groups to become moreaware of the norm in and around their homes and businesses and to never hesitate to report any change that signals anything negative or improper.  To help do this we should all be out walking in groups more, in and around our homes.  Offering a positive force to the potential bad elements in and around our homes, our schools and our places we frequent. The last thing the criminal wants to be identified and to be caught.  Our eyes can play an important role in the daily crime fighting from the perspective of if you see something, and report it and put it in the hands of those we place in responsibility to do so much for all of our safety and protection. Our eyes are there even when MPD can't be.  
challenge everyone to do your part.  Citizens, District employees, and MPD. Together we can overcome every obstacle and in doing so become that city that shines bright and stands tall today and everyday.