An environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech waged a years-long crusade to determine the validity of reports issued by the CDC that downplayed the incidence and effects of lead in the District's drinking water. At a hearing last week, the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Staff vindicated that crusade, confirming Professor Marc Edwards' conclusions that the CDC's reports were flawed. Edwards' investigation had included a drawn-out and expensive dispute about access to District documents containing data on lead in the water; the report produced for the subcommittee includes Edwards' description
The Washington Post editorial board has issued a call for a reform of the open meetings law in the District. The editorial notes that the opening of the Council's budget discussions last week to a television camera was a step in the right direction, but that such accessibility should not be subject to the whim of the Council chair. Washington Post
Following the revelations this week that the teen suspects in the murder of principal Brian Betts have lengthy rap sheets and were in and out of supervision by the District's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Attorney General Peter Nickles has vowed to look into the policies requiring confidentiality of juvenile records. As Harry Jaffe reports in his column for the Examiner, Nickles says, "These records should be made available to the public . . . I would trust the media and the people to interpret the information. We're looking at how to open up the records."
The Washington Post editorial board used the occasion of the exoneration of one suspect in last month's quadruple slayings in Southeast Washington to highlight the problems caused by excessive confidentiality regarding youth offender programs in the District. While noting that the initial charges against the suspect drew a great deal of attention to problems faced by the city's juvenile justice system, the editorial observed that even with the dropping of the charges, problems remain:
Loose Lips Weekly leads off this week with an item tracking down the reason that the District stopped posting documents and video from the Mayor's CapStat agency performance oversight meetings, as it had previously done. The conclusion: Attorney General Peter Nickles describes the materials related to CapStat sessions as the essence of "deliberative process," a privilege exempting internal agency working materials under the District's open records law. Loose Lips then surveys some other transparency problems that have cropped up during this administration. Washington City Paper
A bill sponsored by Councilmember Michael Brown would require that the chief financial officer conduct a study of the impact of any proposed tax abatement or exemption when city officials are seeking to lure a business to the District. The proposal would allow for more rigorous and public examination of the costs and benefits of using such means to bring businesses to D.C. The Washington Post editorial board is in favor, as is the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Washington Post
The Greater Greater Washington blog has included a detailed description of the public bodies and processes that govern zoning in the District of Columbia. The system has some complexity, and this description is helpful when seeking to understand an issue like the one that recently arose in the 14th & U St. neighborhood, where zoning officials have declared that no new restaurant or bar applications will be approved as a result of a zoning restriction that has just been triggered. Greater Greater Washington
As of Thursday afternoon, April 8th, a key part of the mayor's budget proposal package had not yet been made available to the D.C. Council or the public, spurring Council Chairman Vincent Gray to send a letter to Mayor Fenty. The entire budget proposal is required by law to be submitted by April 1st, which starts the Congressionally allocated 56-day review period for Council review and approval. Missing from the Mayor's budget submission so far is the Budget Support Act, a key document that explains the changes in fees, taxes, and legislative initiatives that support the budget. Chairman Gray's letter notes that this is "an issue of basic government transparency," and that the document contains $100 million in taxes and fee increases that need to be made available for Council and public examination. District Wire, Washington City Paper
In a blog entry, education reporter Bill Turque describes the difficulties he's experienced with his latest attempts to get information relating to D.C. Public Schools. Despite assurances that enrollment figures would be available once the Mayor's budget had been submitted, Turque continues to have his requests for that information denied or ignored. He also mentions two other FOIA requests relating to DCPS that have yet to receive a response. D.C. Schools Insider (Wash. Post)
The McMillan Park Committee, a community nonprofit composed of area civic associations and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, filed a lawsuit March 22 under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act to contest the withholding of records related to the redevelopment of the old McMillan Reservoir sand filtration site.
The Committee requested 43 records in February 2009; several hundred pages of the requested documents were released but the deputy mayor's office said that the others it considered subject to the deliberative process exemption. The McMillan Park Committee opposes the redevelopment, and argues that the process for selecting a developer was not transparent. The group wants to know where the project stands and how much public money will be involved. Washington Business Journal (subscription)
The sentencing this week of Renee Bowman, the woman convicted of abusing three foster daughters and killing two of them all while continuing to receive subsidies from the District, has turned a spotlight on the secrecy in which the foster care and adoption systems operate. The Washington Post editorial board, Harry Jaffe in the Washington Examiner, and Matt Fraidin, a UDC law professor with an interest in opening up foster care hearings, have all addressed the issue and called for
In the wake of the investigation surrounding the attempted donation of a surplus D.C. fire truck to a community in the Dominican Republic, Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced legislation that would require greater tracking of the District's surplus property in order to keep other agencies and the public informed about what is available. WTOP (AP)
Bill Turque, the Washington Post's education reporter, notes in his D.C. Schools Insider blog that data supporting a program that pays D.C. school kids for good behavior and grades has not been forthcoming, even though the program is now running short of cash and requesting additional funding from the D.C. Council. In September, Turque filed a FOIA request seeking information about the results of the Capital Gains program, which pays children for attendance, behavior and good grades. The FOIA request has not yet received a response; officials with D.C. Schools say that a researcher with Harvard University, which is also providing funding for the program, is analyzing the results, but there's no indication of when his findings will be made public. D.C. Schools Insider
The Washington City Paper's Jason Cherkis reported on his efforts to obtain data from the D.C. Department of Corrections regarding the number of incidents in which inmates have been stabbed in the D.C. Jail. Over the course of a few weeks, the department replied that they were collecting the data; Cherkis wondered why producing this type of information would take so long. As he reports,
D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh's new website includes links to committee hearing testimony, providing public access to the statements submitted by witnesses in front of the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. To review posted testimony, go to Committee Hearings, then select the title of the hearing. Susie's Budget & Policy Corner