Speakers Table

This is art by those who have lived it

July 11, 2011

In and around the nooks and crannies of D.C., art is everywhere -- from Dupont Circle’s “First Friday” (every 1st Friday of the summer months), to galleries, sidewalk sales, and of course, the many museums.  Until recently, however, only a few thought of visiting the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt  Home (LLDH).

Tucked away off Military Road in Friendship Heights, is one of the District’s finest institutions. LLDH is an exclusive home for indigent and modest-income senior residents.  It provides not only a home for seniors but also health and life-services. To cut corners, they could stop there. But they have gone full speed ahead.  With vision and drive, the organization and generous donors persist in keeping a special in-house program thriving: the Resident Art Program.

Jackie Kelly (Photo by: Walter Grio) Jackie Kelly

Founded in 2007 by Bonnie Grover, Lisner’s Resident Art Program sought to provide residents with a new, engaging activity. Polly King Evans, the program’s first teacher, helped participants’ find their inner creativity by teaching the art of expression and communication through various mediums, colors and technique.

Today, one can see examples of the program’s success throughout the city; both Sushi Ko restaurants (Chevy Chase and Glover Park) display numerous pieces as well as the Capital Breast Care Center.

Mary Jones (Photo by: Walter Grio) Mary Jones

The residents and their talent have generated such a creative stir that a number of fellow local artists gathered together in support of the home’s 3rd annual art show and sale held this past spring.  F. Stone Roberts developed a documentary for the program which ran throughout the evening. Singer-songwriter Sheena Alexis performed in the drawing room.  Walter Grio, Don Patron and Megan Harrington lent their talents to create a collage of sorts for each artist.  Grio, founder of “Shoot for Change”, took every participant’s portrait, which was then used by Patron to show his perception of the individuals in watercolor.  Harrington wrapped it up by interviewing each participant and writing a short essay about her subjects and their masterpieces.

Jeanne Robinson working on artwork (Photo by: Walter Grio) Jeanne Robinson working on artwork

If you missed the show last spring, don’t fret yet.  We’ll cross our fingers for an encore next year.  In the meantime, you can visit Sushi Ko, The Capital Breast Care Center or stop by Lisner.  It’s probably on your way somewhere sometime and well worth it!  Call ahead to Debbie Lyle, executive assistant to the CEO and development coordinator, at 202.966.6667, ext 3373 or email her at dlyle@lldhhome.org, OR, join the “Meet and Greet” on July 26, 2011 at Sushi Ko  at 5455 Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase, MD.

Article by Katherine Hoffman

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Kwame Brown must temporarily step aside

July 7, 2011

Last month, Ward Five Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. relinquished his chairmanship of the Council’s Economic Development Committee.  The action came two days after D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan revealed scathing allegations about Thomas’s use of more than $300,000 in taxpayer money to fund a luxury SUV, golf outings, hotel stays and other personal extravagances.

Chuck Thies (Photo by: Chuck Thies) Chuck Thies
Just yesterday, the DC Board of Elections and Ethics struck out against Council Chair Kwame Brown with serious allegations of election misconduct.  What began as an audit of Brown’s 2008 at-large Council reelection campaign by the BOEE has snowballed in a matter under review by the U.S. Attorney.  The well documented allegations include: failure to report 210 contributions totaling $102,000; failure to report 53 expenditures totaling $169,000; an undisclosed bank account on which Brown’s brother, Che, was a signatory; inability to substantiate $174,000 paid to a company owned by Brown’s brother, and more.

In the face of these allegations and the very serious District and federal investigations, it is time for Brown to take a page out of Thomas’s book and cede his authority as Council Chair until the allegations are cleared up. While we presume innocence, Brown is in a highly influential position. He has taken control of the Committee on Economic Development, he chairs the Committee on Education and holds sway over virtually all legislative matters conducted by the Council.  Wielding such power while at the same time under investigation by local and federal authorities is inappropriate.
With a simple stroke of the pen Brown can hand over his authority as Chair of the Council to the current president pro tempore, Ward Three Councilmember Mary Cheh.   Brown needn’t resign and forgo his vote or his paycheck.  However, this powerful action would show that he puts the integrity and of the body ahead of his personal, political stature.  If vindicated, the role and responsibilities of Chair will be awaiting his return
Brown hasn’t helped his own cause. Office of Campaign Finance officials have noted the Brown campaign’s unwillingness to provide requested records. This stonewalling an investigation is conduct unbecoming of an elected official.  Also, Brown has offered no plausible explanation for the allegations. Statements made by Brown have been contradictory and his oft-used “administrative errors” excuse is flimsy, at best. Indeed, Togo West, Jr., chairman of the BOEE said, “We think there's criminal activity here,” to justify his vote to refer Brown’s case to federal authorities,

If Brown doesn’t immediately announce his willingness to temporarily step aside, the Councilmembers who earlier had leaned on Thomas to give up his chairmanship must do the same with Brown. While taking on Brown – viewed by some as petulant – comes with it inherent risks, it is the right thing to do.
Voters didn’t elect the Council to simply pass laws and spend money; Councilmembers were elected to lead and rise to challenges.  This is one such challenge (and really, seeking to temporarily clip Brown’s wings is hardly an act tantamount to a profile in courage, given the nature of the charges and investigations facing him).

In all likelihood, though, Brown will dig in his heels. Pressure from his Council peers may be necessary, as it was in the Councilmember Thomas case.  But this last resort will, if necessary, force Brown to do what he has failed to do so far: promote and protect the integrity of the D.C. Council.


Chuck Thies is co-host of WPFW's "DC Politics" show and a resident of Mt. Pleasant. 

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Better and fairer alcohol control

July 5, 2011

By the time Charles Brodsky was forced to resign as chairman of the DC ABC Board in late May 2011, we had come full circle with regard to the board’s bias in pro of business interests at the expense of the District’s residential communities.  Because alcohol sales is a billion dollar industry that contributes to our economic viability, the District needs to figure out how to issue ABC licenses and arbitrate disputes in an timely, equitable and fair manner without negatively affecting the quality of life of DC residents.   

Former ABC member Laurie Collins (Photo by: facebook) Former ABC member Laurie Collins
Largely unpaid ABC Board members currently meet once a week, not counting holidays. So, the board actually meets part time, barely two months each year.  Meeting only once per week requires that its heavy caseload calendar be spread out over several months. On top of that, board members don’t show up, come in late, leave early, and some are greatly dependent upon the views of the chairperson who, more often than not, is biased and/or controlling, while the board attempts to carry out one of the city’s most important regulatory and licensing functions.

Community leaders get their asses kicked, as a result, by business establishments and their high paid lawyers, when neighborhood residents often rightfully protest licenses and licensees for good cause. They are then blamed for holding up the business licenses, when the real cause of the holdups are the board’s long calendar delays in scheduling protests and other adjudication hearings. These delays can amount to well over a year in some cases.

How can we make this process better?

I personally experienced the machinations of at least five politically appointed ABC Boards and their chairpersons—from the outside as the head of a neighborhood organization and later when I was appointed to the ABC Board by then Mayor Anthony Williams. What I saw and experienced during my time served in front of and before these boards raised serious concerns. 

The Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) has a couple of million dollars in its operating budget and a small staff which faces a billion dollar liquor industry, and the politically appointed members of the ABC Board who have oversight over the agency’s director, its budget and its enforcement employees. These are the same individuals who don’t show up, who leave early and who more often than not depend on the board chair for direction.  An inherent element of conflict of interest is created when an agency of government is structured to operate in that fashion.

I’d suggest that the District seriously rethink how it controls liquor licensing and its regulatory enforcement process, beginning with the ABC Board as currently constituted. The politically appointed ABC Board may need to be abolished in its present form and ABRA removed from the board’s supervision, so that liquor licensing and arbitration of disputes can occur in a fair, equitable and timely manner.

ABRA needs to operate independently of politically appointed board members. It needs a director who answers only to the Mayor. And it needs a professional arbitration board that meets on a full time basis. It should be the board’s function to adjudicate cases only.  It should be the ABRA director’s function to run the regulatory agency without interference from a board, to issue licenses, and only refer cases to the board that require arbitration. ABRA would need at least three staff attorneys or individuals whose expertise is either in DC law, regulation, or arbitration and mediation to sit on an ABC arbitration board, comprised of government employees without an ax to grind or money to be made from the sale of alcohol, entertainment or hospitality services.

I believe that adopting these changes would go along way to expedite the ABC licensing and arbitration process in a fair, equitable and timely manner. 


Laurie Collins

….is a former ABC Board Member who served under Mayor Anthony Williams

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