ANOTHER NOTE TO TONY:

IT'S BEGINNING TO SOUND GOOD, BUT

REMEMBER THAT YOU'LL HAVE TO DELIVER THE LITTLE STUFF



[from December 1998 issue]


As we write these words we read of your bang-up trip to meet the mayor of Philadelphia and that you'll soon be on your way hither and yon to garner lots of high-profile ideas. Nothing wrong with doing all that ground work, of course--it's a lot more productive that a trip to China ostensibly to bring back another low-paying fast-food chicken joint like your predecessor was bragging about.

But, in all the rush to devote so much attention to cosmic matters, don't forget the garbage and the broken street and traffic lights and the potholes and all those "unsexy" little details that should be easy enough for any government clerk to keep track of and get fixed, but yet seemingly have failed to be able to do over the years. Because, no matter what anybody will tell you, that's what you will be judged on four years from now.

Well, you made a good start by engineering the quick departure of the DPW director. He's been a bust. But, we can't help recalling the nagging fact that it was while you worked so closely with the control board that he was put back into that job. Yet, everyone but you and Dr. Brimmer knew he wasn't up to the task, so why didn't you raise a red flag at the time?

(In fact, we can look at any number of failed Marion Barry cronies that have been moved from the bureaucracy to the protection of control board employment: the former head of corrections is a good example; she's now a confidant of the chief management officer. We wonder why you never said boo about that strange reassignment. And, you apparently continue to be enamored by the dean of all government has-beens, Joe Yeldell; although we do admire your tough stand about kicking Barry off the sports commission--now, why not kick everyone else off and close it down since it doesn't appear to have any useful purpose.)

Possibly you (or your many minions) may recall that last month in this space we gave an example of the little things which go wrong (or are wrong from the get-go) which drive residents schizoid. We refer to the botched start of recycling. To refresh your memory, here's a summary of what we reported:

Throughout the city too many homes and sections of neighborhoods have not received recycling boxes or have not received the proper number. It's very common for row houses to have one or two additional apartments. Each (up to three) is entitled to city trash service. Yet, for the most part as far as we could determine, those houses received only one box rather than two or three. That was, we learned, because the city's list given to the contractor is devoid of that information even though it is known to the real estate tax assessment agency.

We were urged to tell our readers that they could call the DPW director's office and report the need for boxes to be delivered and that they would in fact be delivered. We did our part and we know that calls were made by our readers many, many weeks ago and, yet, to this very date nobody has seen the promised boxes delivered. Whole sections of entire streets are without the needed boxes, but even when assured they would be delivered, they are not.

Street lights and traffic lights can take years, if ever, to get repaired, even when complaints are logged in. What does it take? Someone to get mowed down because the lights are out or malfunctioning? If it's Pepco's fault (we know they have the street light contract), why can't DPW ride herd on performance? Well, that might be a stupid question, since the department has been unable to ride herd on itself. And, who's responsible for repairing malfunctioning traffic signals? There have been numerous press reports about the dangers encountered for the last year-and-a-half around Dupont Circle, yet DPW hasn't been able to fully resolve the problem, even though our neighbors have been promised action.

Now, let's take a moment to talk street repairs. It does seem that we have made a break-through on this problem and that within the next couple of years we will begin to think we're living on a new planet. But, neither you nor anyone else in city government will be able to take full credit. That will have to go to our Congressional Delegate, the indefatigable Eleanor Holmes Norton, who convinced Congress to unleash major federal funds to DC that otherwise would have reverted to the Treasury and been reprogrammed all over the U.S. (Notice how she always gets such a resounding vote of confidence at election time? It's no wonder: she knows how to deliver the goods and we are indeed lucky that she's been working for us these last several years!)

We hope you will install managers as good as DPW's Gary Burch to ensure that these funds are properly allocated and spent wisely. Part of the problem is that decisions are being made about where to re-pave without always knowing where the problems are simply because DPW appears to have no system for keeping track of that information.

For example, last summer an alley off 17th Street near Dupont Circle was beautifully resurfaced, yet the companion alley serving the opposite side of the block's principal street was ignored, even though that one had been in far worse condition than the one that got attention. When inquiries were made, it was learned that the alley that had been repaved was one that was on "the list" from about 1991, and the plan was to do the oldest jobs first. Yet, when asked why there was no record of complaint of serious pavement deterioration on the other alley that had been made to DPW in the late 1980s, there was no plausible answer other than "lost paperwork."

Notwithstanding that the still unrepaired alley represents a serious safety problem for people and vehicles and notwithstanding that it had been brought to DPW's attention that their people obviously screwed up a decade ago, there was no follow-up with the citizen-complainant; no official came forth to even review the situation and discuss what might be done to resolve such a long-standing problem.

This is what we mean when we talk about the "little stuff." These are the sorts of maddening things that make taxpayers hate bureaucrats. Forewarned is forearmed.

As we write these words we read of your bang-up trip to meet the mayor of Philadelphia and that you'll soon be on your way hither and yon to garner lots of high-profile ideas. Nothing wrong with doing all that ground work, of course--it's a lot more productive that a trip to China ostensibly to bring back another low-paying fast-food chicken joint like your predecessor was bragging about.

But, in all the rush to devote so much attention to cosmic matters, don't forget the garbage and the broken street and traffic lights and the potholes and all those "unsexy" little details that should be easy enough for any government clerk to keep track of and get fixed, but yet seemingly have failed to be able to do over the years. Because, no matter what anybody will tell you, that's what you will be judged on four years from now.

Well, you made a good start by engineering the quick departure of the DPW director. He's been a bust. But, we can't help recalling the nagging fact that it was while you worked so closely with the control board that he was put back into that job. Yet, everyone but you and Dr. Brimmer knew he wasn't up to the task, so why didn't you raise a red flag at the time?

(In fact, we can look at any number of failed Marion Barry cronies that have been moved from the bureaucracy to the protection of control board employment: the former head of corrections is a good example; she's now a confidant of the chief management officer. We wonder why you never said boo about that strange reassignment. And, you apparently continue to be enamored by the dean of all government has-beens, Joe Yeldell; although we do admire your tough stand about kicking Barry off the sports commission--now, why not kick everyone else off and close it down since it doesn't appear to have any useful purpose.)

Possibly you (or your many minions) may recall that last month in this space we gave an example of the little things which go wrong (or are wrong from the get-go) which drive residents schizoid. We refer to the botched start of recycling. To refresh your memory, here's a summary of what we reported:

Throughout the city too many homes and sections of neighborhoods have not received recycling boxes or have not received the proper number. It's very common for row houses to have one or two additional apartments. Each (up to three) is entitled to city trash service. Yet, for the most part as far as we could determine, those houses received only one box rather than two or three. That was, we learned, because the city's list given to the contractor is devoid of that information even though it is known to the real estate tax assessment agency.

We were urged to tell our readers that they could call the DPW director's office and report the need for boxes to be delivered and that they would in fact be delivered. We did our part and we know that calls were made by our readers many, many weeks ago and, yet, to this very date nobody has seen the promised boxes delivered. Whole sections of entire streets are without the needed boxes, but even when assured they would be delivered, they are not.

Street lights and traffic lights can take years, if ever, to get repaired, even when complaints are logged in. What does it take? Someone to get mowed down because the lights are out or malfunctioning? If it's Pepco's fault (we know they have the street light contract), why can't DPW ride herd on performance? Well, that might be a stupid question, since the department has been unable to ride herd on itself. And, who's responsible for repairing malfunctioning traffic signals? There have been numerous press reports about the dangers encountered for the last year-and-a-half around Dupont Circle, yet DPW hasn't been able to fully resolve the problem, even though our neighbors have been promised action.

Now, let's take a moment to talk street repairs. It does seem that we have made a break-through on this problem and that within the next couple of years we will begin to think we're living on a new planet. But, neither you nor anyone else in city government will be able to take full credit. That will have to go to our Congressional Delegate, the indefatigable Eleanor Holmes Norton, who convinced Congress to unleash major federal funds to DC that otherwise would have reverted to the Treasury and been reprogrammed all over the U.S. (Notice how she always gets such a resounding vote of confidence at election time? It's no wonder: she knows how to deliver the goods and we are indeed lucky that she's been working for us these last several years!)

We hope you will install managers as good as DPW's Gary Burch to ensure that these funds are properly allocated and spent wisely. Part of the problem is that decisions are being made about where to re-pave without always knowing where the problems are simply because DPW appears to have no system for keeping track of that information.

For example, last summer an alley off 17th Street near Dupont Circle was beautifully resurfaced, yet the companion alley serving the opposite side of the block's principal street was ignored, even though that one had been in far worse condition than the one that got attention. When inquiries were made, it was learned that the alley that had been repaved was one that was on "the list" from about 1991, and the plan was to do the oldest jobs first. Yet, when asked why there was no record of complaint of serious pavement deterioration on the other alley that had been made to DPW in the late 1980s, there was no plausible answer other than "lost paperwork."

Notwithstanding that the still unrepaired alley represents a serious safety problem for people and vehicles and notwithstanding that it had been brought to DPW's attention that their people obviously screwed up a decade ago, there was no follow-up with the citizen-complainant; no official came forth to even review the situation and discuss what might be done to resolve such a long-standing problem.

This is what we mean when we talk about the "little stuff." These are the sorts of maddening things that make taxpayers hate bureaucrats. Forewarned is forearmed.

As we write these words we read of your bang-up trip to meet the mayor of Philadelphia and that you'll soon be on your way hither and yon to garner lots of high-profile ideas. Nothing wrong with doing all that ground work, of course--it's a lot more productive that a trip to China ostensibly to bring back another low-paying fast-food chicken joint like your predecessor was bragging about.

But, in all the rush to devote so much attention to cosmic matters, don't forget the garbage and the broken street and traffic lights and the potholes and all those "unsexy" little details that should be easy enough for any government clerk to keep track of and get fixed, but yet seemingly have failed to be able to do over the years. Because, no matter what anybody will tell you, that's what you will be judged on four years from now.

Well, you made a good start by engineering the quick departure of the DPW director. He's been a bust. But, we can't help recalling the nagging fact that it was while you worked so closely with the control board that he was put back into that job. Yet, everyone but you and Dr. Brimmer knew he wasn't up to the task, so why didn't you raise a red flag at the time?

(In fact, we can look at any number of failed Marion Barry cronies that have been moved from the bureaucracy to the protection of control board employment: the former head of corrections is a good example; she's now a confidant of the chief management officer. We wonder why you never said boo about that strange reassignment. And, you apparently continue to be enamored by the dean of all government has-beens, Joe Yeldell; although we do admire your tough stand about kicking Barry off the sports commission--now, why not kick everyone else off and close it down since it doesn't appear to have any useful purpose.)

Possibly you (or your many minions) may recall that last month in this space we gave an example of the little things which go wrong (or are wrong from the get-go) which drive residents schizoid. We refer to the botched start of recycling. To refresh your memory, here's a summary of what we reported:

Throughout the city too many homes and sections of neighborhoods have not received recycling boxes or have not received the proper number. It's very common for row houses to have one or two additional apartments. Each (up to three) is entitled to city trash service. Yet, for the most part as far as we could determine, those houses received only one box rather than two or three. That was, we learned, because the city's list given to the contractor is devoid of that information even though it is known to the real estate tax assessment agency.

We were urged to tell our readers that they could call the DPW director's office and report the need for boxes to be delivered and that they would in fact be delivered. We did our part and we know that calls were made by our readers many, many weeks ago and, yet, to this very date nobody has seen the promised boxes delivered. Whole sections of entire streets are without the needed boxes, but even when assured they would be delivered, they are not.

Street lights and traffic lights can take years, if ever, to get repaired, even when complaints are logged in. What does it take? Someone to get mowed down because the lights are out or malfunctioning? If it's Pepco's fault (we know they have the street light contract), why can't DPW ride herd on performance? Well, that might be a stupid question, since the department has been unable to ride herd on itself. And, who's responsible for repairing malfunctioning traffic signals? There have been numerous press reports about the dangers encountered for the last year-and-a-half around Dupont Circle, yet DPW hasn't been able to fully resolve the problem, even though our neighbors have been promised action.

Now, let's take a moment to talk street repairs. It does seem that we have made a break-through on this problem and that within the next couple of years we will begin to think we're living on a new planet. But, neither you nor anyone else in city government will be able to take full credit. That will have to go to our Congressional Delegate, the indefatigable Eleanor Holmes Norton, who convinced Congress to unleash major federal funds to DC that otherwise would have reverted to the Treasury and been reprogrammed all over the U.S. (Notice how she always gets such a resounding vote of confidence at election time? It's no wonder: she knows how to deliver the goods and we are indeed lucky that she's been working for us these last several years!)

We hope you will install managers as good as DPW's Gary Burch to ensure that these funds are properly allocated and spent wisely. Part of the problem is that decisions are being made about where to re-pave without always knowing where the problems are simply because DPW appears to have no system for keeping track of that information.

For example, last summer an alley off 17th Street near Dupont Circle was beautifully resurfaced, yet the companion alley serving the opposite side of the block's principal street was ignored, even though that one had been in far worse condition than the one that got attention. When inquiries were made, it was learned that the alley that had been repaved was one that was on "the list" from about 1991, and the plan was to do the oldest jobs first. Yet, when asked why there was no record of complaint of serious pavement deterioration on the other alley that had been made to DPW in the late 1980s, there was no plausible answer other than "lost paperwork."

Notwithstanding that the still unrepaired alley represents a serious safety problem for people and vehicles and notwithstanding that it had been brought to DPW's attention that their people obviously screwed up a decade ago, there was no follow-up with the citizen-complainant; no official came forth to even review the situation and discuss what might be done to resolve such a long-standing problem.

This is what we mean when we talk about the "little stuff." These are the sorts of maddening things that make taxpayers hate bureaucrats. Forewarned is forearmed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
EDITOR'S NOTE: Our Contributing Editor Michael Romanello's December "op-ed" commentary addresses an issue that we at The InTowner feel strongly about and know to be of concern to our Metro-patronizing readership.

NOW THAT THE DC MAYORAL PROBLEM IS FIXED
IT'S TIME TO TURN OUR ATTENTION TO METRO


The Metro system is in trouble.

Hardly a week goes by anymore without at least one calamity involving the Metro system making the news. What many people don't know, is that Metro is experiencing disabling equipment failures on an almost daily basis.

Luckily, most of these problems don't kill people, they only inconvenience the passengers of one or two trains and cause thousands of people to have to climb instead of ride escalators. But, sometimes people do get killed, as happened last month when a woman was strangled when her clothing got caught in the machinery of one of the system's still working escalators.

Now, it seems, there is a new and potentially much more dangerous problem developing within the Metro system than homicidal escalators. In a story published in its December 4 edition, the Washington Post reported that since July, the system that keeps trains which are running on the same track from crashing into one another has failed 60 percent more often than it did during the same period last year.

Metro officials say there is nothing to worry about. The problem has only caused inconveniences, not tragedies. They're looking into the problem.

The Post story quoted Metro's operations chief, Charles Thomas, as saying, "It probably is the sign of an aging system," adding, "It's like an old radio. One day it works, and the next day it doesn't."

Excuse me? Aging system? Metro is less than 25 years old! The system cannot by any standard be termed "aging." What it can be called is mismanaged. Or perhaps, poorly designed. Or maybe even ineffective and inefficient. But, aging? I don't think so.

I do think that it is time for the metropolitan area to take a good hard look at Metro and make some decisions. A mass transit system that is plagued by system-wide equipment problems, increasing crime, and the prospect of only more of the same and worse would certainly seem to warrant attention.

Here are some suggestions from a rider.

Do not wait until something terrible happens. Do whatever needs to be done to permanently fix the safety problems now.

Fix the escalators. If you can't fix them, yank 'em out and install new units.

Hire more police officers to patrol stations and ride trains now while crime is still manageable. Do not wait until people are afraid to ride the system, because by then it will be too late. Don't wait until an incident like the recent, highly unusual shooting at the L'Enfant Plaza station is viewed as commonplace instead of as the anomaly it appeared to be.

Extend the system's hours of operation to 3 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday and until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Instead of moaning about how the system can't afford to stay open that late, hire a good PR firm to help generate late night ridership. If need be, increase the fares.

Expand the system. Lets face it, Metro was designed to bring people to downtown Washington. That was a great idea earlier this century--much earlier--long before Metro was built.

Downtown Washington (North Capitol Street to Rock Creek, Independence Avenue to Massachusetts Avenue) is not the center of everything anymore. Washington is no longer the area's economic or population engine. Downtown Washington is not even the center of government anymore. The region's population, its commerce, and government agencies are now spread out all over the District, northern Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties in Maryland.

It is time for Metro to start focusing its attention on serving its potentially greatest market--the suburbs.

The present system does not meet the needs of city dwellers who need to get to suburban locations other than those immediately around Metro stations. The system doesn't meet the needs of suburbanites who want to get from one place to another without having to transfer in downtown DC. This needs to change.

As long as people in the suburbs have to wait for a bus to take them to the subway, and then wait for a subway to take them to another subway and maybe to a bus from which they have to walk to where ever they're going, and then go through the same silliness again to get home, the roads are going to be jammed with cars. The whole exercise is just too inconvenient and time-consuming.

So, there you have it. Fix the safety problems. Fix the escalators. Extend Metro's hours of operation. Expand the system in the suburbs.

Now, how to pay for all this? That's simple. Washington, DC and the Virginia and Maryland suburbs served by and adjacent to those served by the Metro should enact a flat tax of 25 cents per drink that would be added on the price of alcoholic drinks dispensed by licensed food and beverage establishments operating within those jurisdictions. Surplus funds raised by this very modest "pour" tax could be used to house the homeless and feed the hungry.

Happy holidays!




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