2001 July 10

Welcome back again to the show that never ends. "Welcome to Washington."

First, I would like to note that the "Greater Washington Metro WebSpace Search Engine" now has a clone-sister, running on a rather faster machine with a more-reliable and much faster connection. Yes, it does die rather frequently, unlike the very-reliable earthops.org site -- but it also can now scan its target sites with blistering DSL speeds, and between the site-scan runs which often cause it to crash, it's fairly steady. Try to make some use of this resource, it searches some 80-plus DC regional websites, most of the official DC Government sites included, and it searches these sites at least once a week.

Also please note that such updates as are made to this page will be made to three different servers, as redundancy is a good thing. Please welcome Media.EarthOps.Net to our family of servers, joining the hopefully reliable and fast WWW.EarthOps.Net and the old standby, sluggish-but-dependable EarthOps.Org.

The Region

Regionally, the main concerns are the relentless slowdown in the technology sector. There are a lot of unemployed information-technology workers. While the Federal and Government job sectors are generally hiring -- and are particularly hiring in the information-technology area -- they are not hiring the unemployed IT workers recently downsized, primarily because the majority of these IT workers are simply uninterested in working for the Feds, nor for the corporate bottom-feeders who cater to the Feds. The general consensus seems to be that it's just not logical to compete to get paid $30,000 a year to wear a suit to work so you can piss in a bottle twice a week.

Another concern in the region is the recent disappearance of intern Chandra Levy. It seems that Ms Levy -- reportedly involved with Modesto California congressman Gary Condit -- walked out of her apartment just south of Dupont Circle, sometime on 2001 May 1, with only her keys. The rest of her belongings were neatly packed in her apartment, according to the media. Nobody's talking who knows where she actually went. Is it just another case of someone who walked down to the liquor store to cash a check and got taken off by some mysterious stranger? Or is it yet-another case of Beltway Insiders putting the wraps on a potential Presidential candidate's potential embarassment? Maybe it's just another case of an intern chewed up, but not spit out, by the notorious Capital Hill "bimbo mill". Anyway you look at it, "mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be interns".

Also of concern in the region is the appalling rate at which Prince George's County Maryland's police officers have been using deadly force. Please see this excellent series, "Blue Wall of Silence", from The Washington Post.

The Chesapeake Bay, the Region's centerpiece, remains in relatively good health, but more effort is necessary. The Bay Grasses are returning, but nowhere near as fully nor quickly as has been hoped -- and also, the Blue Crab populations remain in decline. It may prove necessary to impose a partial or full moratorium on crabbing in the Chesapeake until the populations rebound. Bay Grass coverage and Blue Crab populations are believed to be linked. Another factor may be the major population rebound of the Chesapeake's sporting fish, many of which appear to feast largely upon the smaller stages of the Blue Crab lifecycle.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") has stated that it will need to spend about $150 millions over the next six years if it is to keep up with anticipated ridership growth. At least 300 new busses -- additional to the roughly 325 new busses needed to replace the aging current fleet, for which funding is in hand -- will be needed, along with at least one new parking garage.

The District

First, we want to make clear to all that we are not abandoning the District because we think it's a terrible place. The District of Columbia has a great deal to recommend it. It is also the inevitable target and point of rendezvous for a great many parties of questionable goals and means, and, as many places as the District has to recommend it, it has as many venues which are the gathering places of those who do not mean well. Unfortunately, as a rule, this is the only sort of place that will let me in. Why bother.

When the District was in dire need, I felt it incumbent upon me to agitate for changes which I believed would lead to a stronger Washington, and thus to a stronger Nation. Many of those changes have taken place, or are in the pipeline. When such as myself feel a need to become involved in the public life, rest assured, historical forces were like the cat at the door, outside, toothy, and not going away unfed. But there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I have taken my approach and others have taken their own approaches to cleaning up the District. The District, for all its special considerations, remains a city, and one of moderate size, centrally situated within a modern Megalopolis comprising the District and substantial parts of two States. There will always be crime in the District, and there will also always be good people as well as the bad -- but the District is no longer a festering sore attracting only the forces of corruption and decay. With no Dark Cloud hanging over it at present, that excellent disinfectant called Sunshine will tend to root out the evils which had hoped to batten upon the Nation by attaching themselves to the wound on the neck of America which was the District of Columbia in the late Twentieth Century. Is the District, is the Nation, out of the woods yet? Not by a long shot -- but a new day has dawned and we believe our services are no longer required as a guide through Darkness. It would appear that the District has seen the Light. Though patches of shadow yet remain, we will mostly recuse ourselves from making reports or offering suggestions, unless (of course) it appears to us that rather than finding its way into the Light, the District is again stumbling into the Darkness towards the embrace of the unholy with which it so happily danced along the edge, through most of living memory.

Soon, the DCFRA Control Board will disband, leaving the District to its own devices in pursuit of its own goals. What shall history record? Time will tell. I won't have much to say, probably, other than perhaps to occasionally point to this or that bit of interesting trivia, and hopefully to no egregious failures or violations on the parts of officials and politicians.

And now, on with the show.

District Government

The DC Medical Examiner's Office (City Morgue) has recently become an independent agency, in the hopes of streamlining the hiring and procurements processes. Backlogs in procurement and funding have left the ME's Office with a caseload dating back to 1999. This is -- believe it or not -- quite an improvement on the state of affairs throughout most of the 1990s. Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, the quality of service at the ME's Office had declined along with funding, and assorted interesting developments with respect to personnel in the early 1990s combined with decreasing funding to reduce the ME's Office to the position of being literally the national laughingstock in the profession. One Dr Jonathan Arden was finally positioned as the Chief Medical Examiner after a nationwide search. An expert in child forensic pathology, in the last three years Dr Arden has brought a lot of focus to the plight of the District's battered children. He's also managed to staff the ME's Office -- and not incidentally clean up the pools of gore in which hundreds of bodies lay slowly decaying in inadequate refrigeration under the former mismanagement -- but the ME's Office hasn't yet managed to fully modernize, nor to eliminate the backlog. Among other things, the ME's Office is waiting on completion of their own toxicology lab, essential in any city but especially so in an international hotbed of intrigue and espionage. Plans to consolidate with the Metropolitan Police Department's Crimes Scenes unit -- for the creation of a large and modern joint forensics lab -- remain at least five years from fruition.

It may not matter much. The Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") -- according to a group of retired detectives and police administrators who Chief Charles H. Ramsey formed into a "homicide review team" -- is failing badly in increasing the success rate of Homicide investigations. While the force itself is now far-better equipped than they were at the beginning of the Crisis back in 1995, the rates of "closure" -- "closure" in DC means that the cops are pretty sure they think they know who did it -- remain about the same. The Homicide Review Team's report indicates some premature closures, cases not fully investigated due to failure to contact witnesses, collect or properly store evidence or keep records sufficiently so as to be able to convict. In particular, the "chain of custody" had been insufficiently documented, which is almost guaranteed to cause problems during prosecution. Among the records missing, additionally, were such essentials as crime scene reports, and autopsy reports.

Bad record-keeping has been one of the persistent problems within the MPD. In some cases, the initial reporting was not of the highest quality, but in some instance there has been a general failure to properly file the records, and in other cases, the records were apparently properly filed and logged, but subsequently disappeared without being logged out. Statistics are not available regarding which -- or how many -- cases have been lost in court due to missing records or log-files. It's certain that future prosecutions are in jeopardy due to the ease with which defense attorneys can see a case dismissed simply with pro-forma requests for records and logs which, under the present mess, likely could not be produced.

There are also the records that were never kept, or which were once kept, but which now have no assigned compilation clerks. for instance, the Post reported on 2001 June 10 that the MPD has not kept comprehensive files on missing-persons cases since roughly 1995. For instance, in the present case of infamy, the missing Chandra Levy, the obvious approach is to compare the facts of the present case with cases of the past, to see if there are obvious similarities. Yet, there are no records with to make the comparison. Only the National Crime Information Center has any general statistics, and their statistics might be misleading as they only collect statistics on the opening of such cases, and not on the resolution. The Post investigation found some 558 cases for this year alone with some 160 of them missing juveniles. Of these reported cases for this year, the FBI databases report 443 as not-yet-found -- but this may be due to a failure to fill out and submit the proper forms notifying the FBI that the individuals have been located. Or, there may be 443 people missing from the District who will never be heard from again. This is the crux of the problem: there simply isn't any way to actually know.

Moving Right Along:

Parts of Georgetown in NorthWest spent several days last month with no electricity, due to yet-another subterranean utility-tunnel fire and consequent manhole-explosion. Plans are being developed to coordinate a massive replacement or upgrade of almost all of the utilities in Georgetown, one of the oldest parts of the city. Presently tony and upscale, Georgetown has had an interesting history. Once the original Port in the region, pre-dating the District by many years, Georgetown later became one of the majority-black and working-class neighborhoods until shortly after the Second World War. Since that time, it has become increasingly populated by the wealthy, and sought-after as a location for businesses, especially upscale shops and specialty merchants. It's also a major tourist attraction, and these outages in the middle of tourist-season have had a major impact on Georgetown businesses.

The District's Water and Sewer Authority has proposed a $1 billion upgrade to the city's sewers, including miles of new tunnels and creation of reservoirs to impound waste and runoff until it can be treated. At present, almost everytime it rains on the District, overflow gates discharge effluent directly into the local streams and rivers. Recently, a woman who had acidentally plunged into a rain-swollen Rock Creek during a flash-flood later died, apparently due to exposure to fecal coliform bacteria during her brief swim. Unlike many cities, or the surrounding Maryland Counties, the District doesn't have a storm-water system completely seperated from sewer conduits. About a third of the District's stormwater and sewage systems are combined.

DC General Hospital is closed. Non-emergency patients are being seen by local private-practice doctors. We will endeavor to track developments as they occur. A 38-member "Health Services Reform Commission" has been appointed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, which will track health-care delivery to the Indigent who formerly tended to be served at DC General Hospital.

The District and contiguous counties are being mobbed by Central Americans as a result of a Federal decision to extend "Temporary Protected Status" to refugees from "Hurricane Mitch", and also as a result of a major lobbying effort by the government of El Salvador, which is heavily dependent on remittances from generally-illegal "refugees" from their civil war which ended 10 years ago. Somewhere near 250,000 work permits are being offered to illegal aliens from Central America who want to work in, or near, the US National Capital.

The rental "boom" appears to have ended in Nortern Virginia. In the District, it's still difficult to acquire a rental property for a reasonable rate, but this probably will not last. Home-ownership rates are rising in the District. According to the Census reports, nearly 3/4ths of the rise in ownership is due to purchases by minorities.

About 9000 people in the District are going to lose the tax-breaks they'd been getting under the District's popular "Homesteading" program. Due to the District being essentially a US Territory, the same Homesteading Act rules apply which once enabled frontier settlers to lay claim to a property by building a house on a property and living there for five years, after which they would have clear title. In the District, those who live in property they own automatically get $288 off of their tax bills, and pay taxes at only 75-to-83 percent of the tax on properties where the owners do not reside. It turns out that some 12,000 housholds were taking the tax breaks, but never filed the proper paperwork. Another 16,000 households possibly qualify for the tax-breaks but their paperwork isn't fully in order. The District might make from $10 to $20 millions from taxing fully as allowed by law.

The popular "Home Lottery" program is being overhauled. For $250.00, lottery winners would become owners of abandoned, tax-defaulted, or problem properties. Part of the deal was that these properties would be renovated bvy a certain time, brought up to City Code and occupancy standards. But the vast majority of lottery winners have failed to live up to their end of the bargain. The District is proposing that entire blocks of adandoned housing be renovated by private contractors, and afterwards be made available to lottery contestants who would pay the cost of the renovation, still far less than they would have to pay to buy a livable house from a resident. The objective of the city is to repair problem properties and get people living in houses that they own.

Wayne B. Upshaw, the third Budget Director under the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, has decided to resign his post. In the interim, his duties will fall to Gordon McDonald, the Deputy Budget Director. Upshaw was technically on loan from the Federal Office of Management and Budget. Among other things, he cites a desire to spend more time with his new child, and to pursue other professional opportunities. Generally considered by all to be very competent in his job, he also apparently developed a reputation as aggressive and somewhat abrasive. Considering that this is what it takes to get anything actually done in District government, we can only hope that his permanent replacement is better at being diplomatic when the situation calls for it, and just as tough when the situation calls for that.

District Department of Mental Health director Martha B. Knisley has named two top deputies to assist in the transition from a Receivership -- court-ordered due to massive institutional failings in the District's mental-healthcare system -- to a city-controlled agency. Starting 2001 July 16, the Senior Deputy Directory will be one Anthony E. Thompson, formerly of Detroit's Wayne Center. Starting in August, the new Chief Executive Officer for St.-Elizabeth's Hospital will be one Joy Holland, with 15 years experience at the Michigan Department of Community Health, recently specializing in client-care and Federal compliance certification.

The DC Council has approved the appointments of David A. Clark as Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and Jacques Abadie III as Director of the Office of Contracting and Procurements. Abadie is a veteran of 20 years in the Army, managing contracts. Clark was formerly the US Postmaster for the District from 1992 to 1999.

The DC Council has overridden a voter's Referendum imposing Term Limits on the DC Council and offices of the Mayor and the Board of Education's elected members. Also eneacted, a property-tax increase limit for the neighborhoods most affected by the change from tax assessments every three years, to yearly tax-assessment.

The DC Council has voted to accept the very generous $50 millions offer of Betty Brown Casey to build an offical Mayoral Mansion on 17 acres in upper NorthWest.

The DC Council voted to expand MedicAid eligibility. Covered, childless adults ages 19 to 27 making up to half of Federal poverty-level income, adults with no dependents aged 50 to 62 earning up to the poverty-level, and uninsured poor people with HIV.

The DC Council voted to require the Department of Parks and Recreation to hire eligible Welfare recipients.

The District Schools had planned for some 30,000 students attending this summer, but only about 20,000 have enrolled or are attending.

Nine District schools are to be restructured and given a make-over. All personnel at the schools, some 500 in all, are on notice that they will have to re-apply for their jobs. These were the nine most-poorly performing schools in the District. They are:

The District's "one-stop career centers" received a very poor evaluation from the DC Jobs Council and DC Employment Justice Center. Of 43 individuals tracked through the career-center's processes, none found work through using the career-center. According to the report, the test subjects were unable to receive even basic services.

The District's 5.75-percent tax on snack foods has been lifted effective 2001 June 9.

MPD will be using "radar cameras" to photograph speeders, who will be mailed tickets. This will suppliment the use of similar "red light cameras" which photograph red-light runners, who also will be mailed tickets.

The District's National Capital Revitalization Corporation has purchased 600 Water Street SW, for some $3.15 millions. This is hoped to be a core of a redevelopment effort for the SouthWest waterfront. Further plans were recently disclosed regarding Urban Planning for the nearby Anacostia Navy Yard area, which is presently a site of major reconstruction. We will try to bring you more on this as it develops.

16th Street NW between "M" and "U" Streets is being resurfaced, which is long overdue and badly needed. The project hopefully will be completed by the end of August.