Community Palette

The Mayor vs. the Council Chair

April 22, 2012

A healthy dose of skepticism between the Council and the Mayor’s Office is good but the relationship doesn’t always have to be adversarial and acrimonious.

A big question is what role the Council Chair sees for himself? It often appears that he wants a more adversarial one. It seems that he and his staff are looking to grab headlines rather than working with the Administration to do what is right for the people of the District. Two years ago, the D.C. City Council had one of the highest positive ratings of any legislative body in the nation. That wouldn’t be the case today.

Recently the Council Chair introduced emergency legislation requiring the Mayor to notify council members of any capital budget reprogramming requests of less than $500,000 so they are aware of any funding they lose from projects in their wards and it would give the Council the opportunity to stop the action. The mayor sent a letter “strongly opposed” to the move because it could delay “the timely implementation of projects.” Councilmember Wells wisely warned that the Council was taking an “offensive act” and it may be prudent to take a step back on the action which ultimately the Chairman did and withdrew the proposal on the dais.

The entire dance played out over the supplemental budget was seen by most as a political game. Spending pressures calling for a supplemental budget are not unusual but what everyone needs to recognize is that under Mayor Gray these pressures are at the lowest they have been since the Control Board took over the City’s finances. We are in good financial shape in this City and political gamesmanship is not good government.

The mayor proposed that we pay city workers for the four days they were furloughed last year. He did so because the furloughs went into effect based on indications that the city needed money to balance the budget. Since this turned out not to be the case he wanted to give that money back to the workers. The premise being that is the fair thing to do and that workers will be more responsive to such requests in the future if it is really needed. Some Council members had other things they wanted to do with the money and some even suggested that because some city workers don’t live in the District they shouldn’t get this money. That is absurd. If you are eligible to be hired to work here you should be viewed like every other worker and judged on the job you do not where you live. As of now, this part of the Mayor’s supplemental budget, along with money for D.C. Public Schools and other needed funds has not been passed.

The Council should debate what the Mayor has suggested in his budget but can’t fault him on how he succeeded to bring balance to the District’s budget and ensure that the rainy day fund spent down by the last administration has been replenished.

It is time for the Council Chair to take a step back from the adversarial way he is working with the Administration and move forward rather with a skeptical eye to the future. The Council needs to debate and approve a budget, introduce legislation and continue strong oversight of city agencies. If they focus on those things without all the sturm and drang, they could again gain the public’s confidence and support.

 


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Strange Interlude: Must See

April 11, 2012

An evening with Eugene O’Neill is always interesting and I recommend that no one miss this great production of Strange Interlude at the Shakespeare Theatre.

When he wrote Strange Interlude and it appeared on Broadway it was as a six hour play with a dinner intermission. It won rave reviews, a Pulitzer Prize and played for over 400 performances, unheard of at that time. Now a six hour production would be hard to do in today’s theatre world. But Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre and director extraordinaire has trimmed it down to a more manageable length, keeping the story intact and providing for a totally engrossing evening, well worth the investment of your time. 

It is the story of Nina Leeds’ (Francesca Faridany) life and loves, often unfulfilled, that keeps you enthralled. Faridany is passionate and brilliant in the role.  The story covers 25 years of Nina’s life and begins when her father (Ted van Griethuysen) revealing that he was against her marriage to Gordon, never seen but who left for the war without marrying her and whose plane is shot down at the beginning of the play.

This event leads to Nina’s changing her life, becoming a nurse, leaving the comfortable cloistered life she was born into, and entering a period of promiscuity before determining to look for “happiness” via a new marriage and children.  Nina’s life for the next twenty five years revolves around her four men; her husband Sam (Ted Koch); Ned (Baylen Thomas) her doctor and lover; old family friend Marsden (Robert Stanton) an author with Victorian views and a clear lack of understanding of even his own needs and desires, and her son Gordon (Jake Land).

The audacity of this evening in the theatre comes from Michael Kahn’s willingness to stage this play, which he has pondered for literally decades, and bringing his passion for it to today’s audiences. Times were very different when it was first staged nearly 100 years ago. But Kahn’s genius is making it work today and finding an amazing cast (including; Rachel Spencer Hewitt, Tana Hicken, and Joe short) who bring the characters to life in a way that we can relate too. It is Freudian and serious, and with Michael’s shrewd direction the humor that is part of these characters and their lives is brought out fully. By evening’s end you realize that at different times you loved and hated, understood and were appalled by everyone in it. Adding to the production is the great but spare set design by Walt Spangler and costumes by Jane Greenwood.

Added to my experience with Strange Interlude was having drink’s with the cast after the show and finding out how much they appreciated the opportunity to act in this O’Neill masterpiece and how they all felt that Michael Kahn brought out the best in their performance.

Don’t miss this amazing night in the theatre. It may be many years before Strange Interlude is presented again. It will be at Shakespeare Theatre’s beautiful Harman Hall until April 29th.


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13 Little Chancellors

March 27, 2012

The D.C. Council once again is interfering in the education of our children by passing legislative mandates that usurp the authority and role of the Mayor and the Chancellor.

This kind of meddling has never been productive and won’t be now. What it does is set up a situation where the responsibility for education moves solely from the Mayor and the Chancellor back to being shared with 13 individuals who don’t all have expertise in education. While they may all be well meaning that isn’t enough. They aren’t educators.

The Council recently passed legislation calling for all high school students to take the SAT or ACT college entrance exams and to apply to college or another post-secondary institution in order to graduate. While this may sound like a great goal the question has to arise that with a current drop-out rate of close to 50% shouldn’t the first goal be to keep children in school? Shouldn’t we leave it to educators to make the determination on what mandates to require of students who are in high school and ready to move on to higher education? In addition to the required testing the bill the Council passed also stated that all 3 and 4 year olds be ready for kindergarten. What does that actually mean? In 1989 George H. W. Bush convened an Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia. He invited the nation’s Governors and business leaders and they came up with six goals. The first being; ‘All children will enter school ready to learn’. While not many of the six have been met that was one that clearly then and now still causes the most problems. The reason being that this has to do much more with families and outside influences than it does with schools and educators.

The Council has a short memory. What they agreed to only a few short years ago was that they have the right to vote to approve the Chancellor but beyond that they would stop micro-managing the schools. In abstaining from voting on the bill one member did remember that. It was reported that Councilmember Tommy Wells said, “I agree with the measure’s goals, but I don’t believe that the city council should be taking on the role of the school board. I think that it’s too possible to politicize school policy, and so in general I believe there should be a very bright line…”.

Councilmember Wells is right about this. There has to be a bright line and the Council appears to have crossed it in a way that will not benefit our students or the system. In addition the Charter School Board executive director, Scott Pearson, testified that the bill was ‘overreaching’ and did not have the support of the charter school community which today enrolls nearly 40% of D.C. public-school students. 

Hopefully the Council will step back and remember what they agreed to as we move toward raising the standard of public education in the District. Unless they do this could be the first step in what could become the road back to a dysfunctional school system with too many cooks in the kitchen.


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