Monday, August 20, 2007

Hanover Place Residents Take Charge

(My posting ability over the past week was halted due to computer issues, so please excuse the delay in this entry.)

Perhaps the most interesting and productive community meeting yet during my tenure as Commissioner took place last Saturday morning at Big Bear Cafe.

The residents of the unit block of Hanover Place N.W. (
map), under the leadership of Fisseha Mekonnen, organized this meeting due to concerns about out-of-control children and crime generally. An amazing number of residents (12) from a single block attended the meeting, with great diversity in background. (Typically, my single-member-district meetings, which are open to the entire district, generally only a few people.)

The issues concerning children range from property damage to creating noise disturbances after midnight. The group consensus was that both the "carrot" and "stick" approaches to the issue of unruly children should be used.

First, the carrot. One problem is that the children causing issues in the neighborhood have nothing to do and no where to go. Local churches will be recruited to provide activities to children between the hours of 10 p.m and midnight on the weekends. And one resident, Kamina, pointed out that developing a friendly foundation (begin by saying "hi") will help pave the way to a more constructive response when concerns are raised.

On the other hand, no resident should have to endure a noise disturbance at 4 a.m. A collaborative effort will be employed to bring these issues to the attention of the police. The addresses of "problem" properties were listed. Much of the problem rests with parent(s) who are unwilling or unable to control their children. I informed the residents that although a mechanism exists within D.C. law whereby parents can be held responsible for the continued lawbreaking committed by their children, that law is not being enforced.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

New Meeting Structure Proposed for Community Police Department Meetings

Tonight's D.C. Metropolitan Police Department PSA 501 Northwest meeting yielded four attendees: myself, Tom Usselman (on behalf of the Citizens Advisory Council), Lieutenant Anthony White, and Officer Woodard. Let it also be known that Scott Roberts stopped by after the meeting had concluded. The number of participants was not unusual, so I suggested that substantial change is needed to better utilize the time of the ANC commissioners and MPD.

Those present developed a plan that I believe will greatly increase the effectiveness of PSA meetings and more efficiently utilize the officers' time.

The plan is as follows: PSA 501 will hold its monthly meetings in conjunction with one (and only one) civic association meeting each month, on a rotating basis. One month, the meeting will be held at Bates Civic Association, the next month at Eckington Civic Association, and the next month at Bloomingdale Civic Association. (If Hanover Civic Association begins holding regular meetings, it too should be included in the rotation.)

Individuals seeking to address crime issues should attend whichever civic association is "at bat," and leaders from each civic association are encouraged to attend every meeting. Naturally, the MPD portion of the civic association meeting should probably begin the meeting. MPD is ready to start this schedule right away, beginning with the month of September.

Not only will this more efficiently use MPD time and resources, but I imagine that increased interaction between community leaders will result from this arrangement.

Finally, at the meeting, we also discussed the possibility of MPD conducting self defense classes for residents. Lt. White said that he would look into the D.C.'s registration procedures for pepper spray.

(Photo credit here.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

MPD National Night Out

Last night, I attended the National Night Out event sponsored by the Metropolitan Police Department at the Harry S. Thomas Recreation Center. It was a great opportunity to interact with police officers, despite the blaring Smooth Jazz 105.9 (just kidding, I prefer Miles Davis or John Coltrane). These National Night Out events took place at locations throughout the city.

I had a great conversation with Sgt. Nicole Webster (picture above, click to enlarge), from the Internal Affairs Division. It is often rumored that officers are regularly pulled off the street due to frivolous police abuse claims filed by criminals, but Sgt. Webster said that police officers are given desk duty only in cases where there is reasonable cause to believe that abuse might have occurred.

Although the officers were great, event planning is always a challenge: Councilman Thomas made an appearance, but no other familiar 5c-02 residents attended the event, aside from Citizen Advisory Council member Tom Usselman, Michael Henderson, and new resident Crystal Chavez (pictured here with Officer Wytch (left) and Officer Miles). Overall, it was a productive event that could have been even more productive with the advance involvement of community leaders.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

New Chancellor Aims to Change Culture of DC Public School System

Michelle Rhee, the new Chancellor of the always-troubled D.C. Public School System shared her solutions for DCPS at the Ward Five Education Town Hall Meeting held earlier this evening at McKinley Technology High School and hosted by Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr. A Washington Post article offers a detailed analysis of the situation: "The system is among the highest-spending and worst-performing in the nation."

Rhee should be held to a very high standard, for at least the reason that her $275,000 salary (
article) must be justified. After hearing Rhee's speech and her responses to questions, I am cautiously optimistic that finally some progress will be made. Her theme: "We need a wholesale culture shift in this District." Amen.

Rhee vowed to instill a system of accountability, beginning with the DCPS Central Office, and is convinced that the answers can be found at some location other than 825 North Capitol Street N.E. Rhee said that what she has found so far at the Central Office is "beyond disturbing." She walked around the building asking employees "What do you do," and several could not describe what duties their jobs entailed. Calls from students and parents are being "treated as a nuisance" when in fact "these are our customers." The Central Office culture has resulted in principals calling 14 times for toilets to be fixed, rather than having time to serve the students and teachers.

When 5C-02 resident
Ted McGinn, who served as a panelist, asked a question about the per-pupil funding mechanism and whether Rhee would work to increase funding, her response exhibited strong fiscal responsibility instincts. She spoke of a "need to streamline the Central Office so we can push more money down" to the schools. She added that "before I ask the Council for any money, I need to make sure that every single tax dollar is well utilized." That analysis is being done by consultants. In the meantime, there is a restriction on the hiring of any Central Office employees.

Why did it take so long for the District of Columbia to take this approach? It is long overdue. As a Commissioner with many schools packed in his single member district (more than the other 11 ANC 5C districts put together), I am encouraged that Rhee appears determined to change the course of DCPS. Time will tell whether rhetoric translates into results.

* * *

Prior to the forum, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Councilman Thomas, and scores of residents gathered to acknowledge the development of the new sports field at McKinley Tech. I had the opportunity to meet the new principal, David Pinder, and later chatted with the former principal Dan Gohl, who has been a true asset to the community. Commissioners John Salatti and Alison Defoe attended, and the ever-resourceful Michael Henderson recorded the scene (click photo to enlarge).

(Rhee photo credit: Preston Keres/Washington Post; Commissioners photo credit: Michael Henderson / Edgewood Civic Association).

CityPaper Article Highlights Need for Extension of North Capitol Pedestrian Fence

An article in this week's edition the Washington City Paper concerning Quincy Lewis Gatling ill-fated hike across North Capitol Street highlights the need for the meridian fence to be extended further north on North Capitol Street. The article takes note of the episode I recounted a few days ago on this blog. Although the reporter notes that some folks will even hurdle the iron fence, I do believe that extending the fence is a wise use of government funds.