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From the Publisher's Desk...

IS IT INSTITUTIONAL VENALITY, MISGUIDED PRIORITIES, INCOMPETENCE, OR JUST A CULTURE OF MEANNESS PERVADING DC GOVERNMENT FROM THE TOP DOWN?

The reports keep flooding in describing the most astonishing and despicable things about how citizens are being treated by their own public servants. There’s always been problems in the way this city’s bureaucracy has interacted with us lowly taxpayers — the very people who make possible the fat government salaries that so many recipients seem to think is just outright owed to them.

Anyone reading this commentary doesn’t have to look very far to be confronted with some egregious examples; in fact, look no further than our lead story on the front page reporting on the recent federal court ruling against the city and certain named officials for having committed an inexcusable violation of one of the Constitution’s basic civil rights protections — the Fourth Amendment’s right to be secure in one’s home and free from arbitrary searches and seizures.

That this could have happened in this city of all places is simply beyond the pale. We suspect that the actions by these employees would never have come about but for some set of signals from higher authority that their agency and the regulatory board that their agency serves believes in the old “end justifies the means” adage. Well, folks, that just can’t be allowed to fly in a democratic society and we think it was a good thing that a federal judge issued a stern rebuke; we only hope that the mayor and the members of the city council take notice and understand the ramifications of allowing things like this to ever again be visited on citizens.

But it isn’t only our front page story that reveals serious attitude problems within the bureaucracy. Simply turn to page 3 and read the Community Forum piece by Larry Ray, a thoughtful attorney and mediator who is active in civic affairs up in Columbia Heights. He has shown us a truly disturbing picture of how conscientious residents who are trying to help improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods and follow through with enforcement agencies downtown suddenly find themselves charged as wrongdoers subject to punitive action. No matter that they are doing exactly what the mayor has been encouraging residents to do to help the city become a nicer place to live.

Yet, notwithstanding the mayor’s encouragement for residents to be pro-active in helping to improve their neighborhoods, Larry Ray reports that one of these hapless do-gooders was told by a public works department supervisor, “If you complain to DC government, be certain you are in compliance because we will be looking at you.” Yikes! Larry Ray asks, “Does this make sense? Does this encourage DC residents to become involved in their community?” Our answer is, of course not and if the bureaucrats are taking this position then we would urge everyone to keep away from them and just let things go to hell in a hand basket because it is not worth doing one’s civic duty only to end up having to hire a lawyer!

But we are not the only newspaper in the city reporting on bureaucratic meanness and venality. All one has to do is read local columnist Marc Fisher’s report in the January 10th Washington Post regarding the elderly couple being forced to live in a basement room of their Walbridge Place house — unfortunately for them located in the Mt. Pleasant Historic District — because it is only from there they can come and go (but through a dark alley in the rear) since they are too feeble to be able to cope with the steps leading up to their porch. It is the Historic Preservation Review Board that has insisted that they may not make any alterations to their front porch so as to be able to install a handicapped lift on the basis that to do so would violate the architectural integrity of the entire row of houses.

But what has been worse is that the Board’s chairman has taken the position that the city is not required to adhere to the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, notwithstanding that it is a civil rights enactment which, like other civil rights laws, takes precedence over local law. Thankfully, the U.S. Justice Department has recently gotten involved on the side of the homeowners. Why, we wondered back when we reported on this case last year (“DC’s Historic Preservation Process, Policies Debated at Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Forum; Residents Protest Program is Too Inflexible,” April 2007, page 1) wouldn’t the preservation bureaucrats suggest a compromise along the lines of install the lift but retain the portions of the porch structure (railings, etc.) that would be dismantled for use in having that porch totally restored with the lift being completely removed following such time as the elderly residents no longer are living in their home?

Then there was the sickening report in the Post just the day before Marc Fisher’s column about the horrendous conditions at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital which clearly contributed to the deaths of several patients — conditions of willful neglect and truly cruel lack of attention; some of those patients no doubt spent their final days in pain. Why, because, as the report makes clear, neither hospital management nor individual nurses gave a damn. We are now informed, according to the news report, that DC Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles assures us that “where there were problems, we have terminated and/or suspended the nurses involved for failing to provide the kind of care we expect.” Is that it? Nothing more than a bland, bureaucratic response to horrible deaths? We think people who bring about results like those reported at St. E’s should be prosecuted and sent to prison!