February, March and April are an especially busy time at the D.C. Council between performance oversight hearings for city agencies and hearings on the budget for Fiscal Year 2015. Since most residents don’t have time to watch hours upon hours of Council hearings—many happening simultaneously—we thought we’d be your eyes and ears into what’s happening here at the Wilson Building. We present our week in review!
The hearings last week for committees on which Councilemember Grosso sits all took place on Wednesday, February 19.
Perhaps predictably, the Transportation and the Environment Committee oversight hearing with the DC Taxicab Commission (DCTC) got the most attention in the press—including a mention of a recent experience of Councilmember Grosso’s wife with a cab that had no credit card machine. The Councilmember pressed DCTC chair Ron Linton on the topic, who said that perhaps 10-12% of cabs are “resisting” compliance with the credit card payment mandate. Accessibility was another key issue, particularly as the only public witnesses described the findings of the Disability Advisory Committee for DCTC. We look forward to receiving the Committee’s final report and working to ensure that its recommendations are implemented. Additionally, the Commission is set to issue new regulations for hired car services in the coming year and we will be keeping a close eye on that. The Councilmember asked about this and other items in a follow-up letter after the hearing.
Following the spirited dialogue that took place during the DC Taxicab Commission oversight hearing, the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) hearing was markedly lighter. You can read the follow-up letter that the Couniclmember sent to the Department after the hearing.
- DPR touted a 90% customer service satisfaction ranking based on special event and customer satisfaction surveys they received.
- Community advocates praised DPR for their commitment to building new playgrounds and hosting events like the Summer Hiring Fair set for February 22. This effort is the result of a partnership between DOES and DPR.
- DPR is working closely with the community to bring the Friendship Park project to life. This project will include a splash park, a performance stage and more.
- Questions arose regarding delayed facility openings, unexpected closures and how DPR communicates these issues to the public.
- And finally, we learned that DPR Park Rangers are in fact, not a police force. All in a day’s work.
The State Board of Education, the Deputy Mayor for Education and DC Public Library were up in the Committee on Education oversight hearing. From school discipline and early childhood education to facility modernization and maintenance, a lot of issues were covered. Here are a couple highlights from witness testimony and questioning.
- The Deputy Mayor for Education and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education have partnered with the Department of Employment Services to launch a Reengagement Center for disconnected youth this fall.
- There are a great number of schools that have critical modernization needs, such as Powell and Garrison, but Councilmember Grosso pressed the Deputy Mayor to encourage the Mayor, D.C. Public Schools, and Department of General Services to revisit the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and at a minimum move up the modernization plans for several schools that are not in compliance with the Americans With Disability Act such as Banneker and Bruce Monroe at Parkview.
- The State Board of Education will be hiring the new Ombudsman by the end of February. Be on the lookout for that announcement!
- Advocates for public libraries are expanding their focus beyond the existing DC Public Library branches, and are pushing for a general interest library at the DC Jail. Hard to believe they don’t already have one.
Meanwhile, the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was conducting its oversight hearing with agencies big and small—the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB), the Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) and the Alcohol and Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA).
Advocates voiced concerns about noise levels from Dupont Circle clubs—exceeding the highest allowable sound level of 50 decibels. Regulation is a problem because MPD can write a citation with direct evidence, ABRA can enforce noise violations if they come when called, but DCRA is responsible for measuring the sounds waves with one of the TWO meter readers the city owns. ABRA agreed to work with MPD and DCRA to publish reports about noise violation enforcement and look into getting another meter.
A loophole in the Foreclosure Mediation Program allows mortgage lenders to file lawsuits against homeowners in D.C. Superior Court—and avoid the statutory requirement for a Mediation Certificate. The Mediation Certificate is intended to protect the lendee from costly litigation and robo-signing fraud. The certificate is supposed to be required for foreclosures that are non-judicial procedures or lawsuit.
DCRA spent the last year working to modernize their information technology system. “Project Dox” was launched in 2013 and 300 business licenses were issued online (about 10% of licenses issued). DCRA intends to issue at least a quarter of their overall licenses in 2014 online. They are also implementing a web-portal that will allow cross-agency information sharing.
Councilmember Grosso adjourned his first hearing—the Chairman had to jet and we just had too many questions to ask.
Throughout all four oversight hearings, Councilmember Grosso pressed agency heads on transparency and accessibility. He asked each agency about its compliance with federal “508” standards for ensuring that websites are accessible to persons with disabilities including vision impairment. Continuing his effort to ensure information about District boards and commissions is available, the Councilmember also asked each agency about those bodies under its purview. While some agencies are doing better than others in this area, it is clear that our bill to create a centralized list of boards and commissions with all the relevant information is still necessary.
Quote of the Week:
"I won't bore you with the stories of sex on windshields while men enjoy the show from inside their cars, the urination all over our front entrance or the make-shift bar that popped up in the adjoining vacant building’s parking lot for “pre-bar parties” out of a van." –A Dupont Circle resident describing scenes in the neighborhood
Stat of the Week:
In DCPS, less than 50% of African-American boys graduate from high school in four years.