THERE'S BAD NEWS AND GOOD NEWS AS
DC GOVERNMENT REFORM LURCHES ALONG
[from April 1999 issue]
One of our community's ever-vigilant activists, like so many DC citizens and business owners, was looking forward to seeing the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs DCRA) finally get relocated out of its 614 H Street slum-like offices to spanking-new quarters on North Capitol Street. Everyone who's ever done business with that agency has been hopeful that relocation would not only boost morale, but also boost overall efficiency of operation.
Major Alley Repairs to Start;
DPW Seeks Residents' Input
Well, we're not going to give up on this hope, but from what our activist-informant had to tell us about the way DCRA brass arranged for the agency to be incommunicado for the entire week following its move, we are left wondering if Mayor Williams has yet to instill his enthusiasm for "customer" satisfaction with that agency's management.
We'll let our informant describe the situation:
"When one witnesses a home in an historic district undergoing a complete `gut' job with nary a building permit posted, a responsible citizen would place a call to the building inspector. While that certainly happens in every other city of the free world, the responsible citizens placing calls here in the District during the last week of March were facing myriad disconnected numbers due to an office move. Two houses in the city's newest historic district, the Greater U Street district, were totally gutted apparently without any building permits or design review, while neighbors desperately tried for more than a week to reach city building inspectors, the Historic Preservation Division staff, and even the DCRA phone operator; all of whom had no working telephone numbers.
"The reason? The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and its associated agencies, including building inspectors and the historic preservation division, finally moved out of the embarrassingly decrepit building at 614 H Street, NW, to 800 North Capitol Street, NW. That's the good news. The bad news is that, despite a planned move for years, it seems nobody bothered coordinating with the telephone company. Calls placed to the old building inspector numbers on Monday, March 29 were met with a message that the phone had been disconnected. The following day, callers were notified that a new number had been assigned, but as of April 5, the numbers remained non-operational. And calls placed to the Historic Preservation Division at its new number on April 5 got a recording announcing its mailbox was full. Full of angry residents demanding action be taken to protect their historic resources, no doubt."
Talk about a government that doesn't like to answer phones! Is it possible that nothing has changed after all? Time will tell.
Then there was that long, sad story about the failure of the Department of Public Works to follow through with citizens about alley repairs which we reported on in both our December and February issues. That story was in the bad news category until we received a submitted commentary from at-large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, who chairs the public works committee. We invite our readers to check out her report immediately following this commentary.
What Mrs. Schwartz tells us should be welcome news to all taxpayers; it's too bad the underlings in the department couldn't have conveyed that information to the citizens who filed the original complaints and who left their phone numbers. We're also surprised that, given the negative press we gave the mayor on this matter during the past few months, his office didn't jump at the chance to let us know that the problem was getting solved on his watch. He could have garnered some points.
But we know we can always depend on Councilmember Schwartz to follow through. And, we were pleased to find out, through her, that the alley program will be under the supervision of one of the department's truly outstanding managers, Gary Burch.
Maybe that's the good news here: That our city government has managed to retain some of its best, long-time people. Mr. Burch is not alone, of course. We have previously singled out sanitation inspector and enforcement officer Tom Day as someone who gives 110 percent above and beyond the call of duty. And, a few months ago we had occasion to discover a lady by the name of Hallie Clemm in DPW. Luckily for taxpayers, she's the new chief of recycling with the "can-do" attitude who is clearly ready, willing, and very much able to cut through red tape and solve problems. We know she's got her hands full, but when confronted with a citizen's frustration she will personally make things right and fix the larger problem.
Now, it seems that we've started down a slippery slope here of singling out individuals by name who are worth their weight in gold. There are really so many we have come into contact with over the past few years who have stayed on to serve us all. A few who deserve special mention include John Fanning of what is now the Office of Public Advocate (he formerly he served as the mayor's Ward 2 coordinator), Suzanne Ganchienietz and Steve Callcott who are architectural historians with the preservation division of DCRA, Roxanna Deane and Matt Gilmore at the DC Public Library's Washingtoniana Division, and many more too numerous to mention in this space. In all of these people we pin our hopes for it is they who have to do the heavy lifting.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Following is the submission by DC City Councilmember Carol Schwartz referred to above.
By Carol Schwartz
The writer is a senior member of the DC City Council, now serving in her second term as a member at-large (her first term was from 1985 to 1989, following which she retired from politics until 1996). Prior to Council service, Mrs. Schwartz had served two terms as the Ward 3 representative on the DC School Board.
As Chair of the District of Columbia Council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment, I have noted with interest recent accounts in The InTowner regarding the resurfacing of alleys in the District of Columbia. [Ed. note: See, "Public Works Dep't. Still Not Working," InTowner, February 1999, page 7; see also, mention near end of December 1998 editorial, "From the Publisher's Desk," page 2.]
I write with good news, as well as a request for help from city residents.
InTowner readers will be interested to learn that for the first time in years, the Department of Public Works has money budgeted for alley repaving. Contracts on $6 million worth of alley repairs should begin to be advertised this spring, and some of the required work should begin in late summer. The alley that has been reported on in this newspaper, which runs between 17th Street and New Hampshire Avenue and parallel to Corcoran and Q Streets in Northwest, is on DPW's list of alleys to be resurfaced.
Because of the city's dire financial straits, little more than patchwork repairs have been made to our alleyways for years. And with such limited funds, our 1,000 miles of streets and our 271 bridges naturally took precedence. We are still playing catch-up when it comes to road repaving and reconstruction, but residents should be heartened to know that DPW will begin or continue work on $228 million worth of road repairs and improvements during the current fiscal year. That $228 million includes $169 million in federal dollars.
Next year, the total federal share of our roads budget will jump to $224 million, thanks to $90 million in federal money that had been earmarked for the poorly conceived Barney Circle connector road project in Southeast. The hugely expensive Barney Circle scheme was rejected by the Council because of strong community opposition and compelling evidence that it would do little to solve our traffic woes and might even have compounded them. We then led, with the help of our Congressional Delegate, a successful drive to have much of the federal money allotted for the Barney Circle project reallocated for local road, bridge, streetscape, sidewalk and alley projects across the city, many of which would otherwise not have been eligible for federal funds.
The majority of the District's alleyways have concrete bases with asphalt surfaces. We also have a number of alleys that were originally cobblestone or brick, most of which have at some point been covered with asphalt, gravel, or a combination of the two. The $6 million earmarked for alley repairs includes some funds for restoration of the old cobblestone or brick alleys in residential neighborhoods, although it is anticipated that such work will take longer to get started because design studies and other evaluation processes will be required before such work can begin.
The public's help is needed as DPW's Division of Transportation compiles and prioritizes its list of alleys slated for repairs or, as the case may be, restoration. The best way to alert DPW about an alley in need of repairs (or to request that an alley originally constructed of cobblestone or brick be considered for restoration) is to write a letter with the alley's specific geographic location and a brief description of its condition to Gary Burch, who is Chief of Design, Engineering and Construction for the Department of Public Works' Division of Transportation. His address is 2000-14th Street, NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC, 20009. While a letter will not guarantee repairs, Mr. Burch assures me that each alley brought to his attention will be evaluated.
Since assuming the chairmanship of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment in January, I have toured numerous DPW operations, both announced and unannounced, and held more than 10 oversight hearings. I am setting high standards for the Department, as is our Mayor. I must admit, though, that I was disappointed with the Mayor's low funding proposal for Public Works in the budget for fiscal year 2000. I hope to find additional funds in this important area before final approval of that budget in May.
As DPW's Division of Transportation goes about the task of rebuilding our bridges and highways, our neighborhood streets, sidewalks and our alleys, they have my confidence. They also know I will be watching and questioning, and that I expect them to deliver the good and timely services that the citizens of the District of Columbia pay for and deserve.
EDITOR'S NOTE: While we are considering matters involving "public works," we are reproducing a Letter to the Editor and the editor's response as an example of the sort of priorities that public works (albeit, in this instance, not DPW) bureaucrats can demonstrate. Admittedly, our response is somewhat sarcastic, but it is a "tongue-in-cheek" response borne of a certain sense of puzzlement.
Water & Sewer Authority Seeks
"Y2K" Help From Our Company,
InTowner Publishing Corporation
Because your newspaper has previously played an important role in dispersing vital public service announcements regarding the water supply, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) is seeking assurances that your newspaper is prepared to provide uninterrupted delivery of services to the community in January 2000 and beyond.
WASA expects to achieve Y2K compliance of mission-critical systems and equipment on or before July 1, 1999. A critical component of this effort is assessing the ability of vendors, suppliers, public utilities and other agencies to provide the goods and services upon which WASA's continued operations depend.
Year 2000 compliant means information technology that accurately processes date/time data, including, but limited [sic ?] to calculating, comparing, and sequencing from, into and between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and the years 1999 and 2000 and leap year calculations. Year 2000 compliant also includes the requirement that information technology, when used in combination with other information technology, must accurately process date/time data if the other information technology properly exchanges date/time data with it.
We request that an authorized representative of your company send, on station [sic] letterhead, a written response that: (1) briefly describes your newspaper's Year 2000 readiness status; (2) summarizes how/whether the paper could continue operations in the event of a loss of external power supply; and (3) indicates the date by which the paper's operations will be Year 2000 compliant.
We would appreciate a response within 30 days of the date of this letter. . . .
WASA is working hard to ensure that our community has a safe, reliable water supply well into the next millennium. . . .
Year 2000 Program Manager, WASA
Editor's Note: This letter was dated March 10 and we are publishing this on April 9. Thus, we appear to have met the response deadline, even though not on our letterhead as required; but our masthead is printed on page two and that ought to be adequate.
The president of InTowner Publishing Corp. offers these observations in response to the three-part inquiry: (1) according to our technology vendor, Bill Gates, we are assured that the products for which he is responsible are indeed Y2K compliant, and, if not, we will sue him; (2) in the event of a loss of external power supply we would likely arrange emergency production utilizing cutting edge duplicating technology from the earlier part of the century--to wit, hand-operated Underwood typewriters and Mimeograph machines, and, in addition, we will sue Pepco for not having been prepared to deliver its services to us; (3) again, according to our vendor Bill Gates, our technology was originally designed to be Y2K compliant and, therefore, we assume it is so at this time.
The president of our company also passes on the following observation: Instead of your agency seeking assurances from us that we will be Y2K compliant, should we not have assurances, beyond the bland statement contained in your letter, that WASA will be compliant? If our water service fails, causing us to be unable to clean off the awful ink messes commonly associated with the older, but reliable, Mimeograph technology, we will seek to sue you.