On July 25th, 2018, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, received a response from DCPS to a letter he sent to D.C. Public Schools Interim Chancellor Dr. Amanda Alexander with several questions following up on questions asked at the June 13, 2018, public oversight roundtable on graduation accountability. The purpose of the roundtable was to get an update from OSSE, DCPS, and PCSB on the implementation of Alvarez and Marsal’s recommendations on improving graduation accountability. The response is below, along with the original letter Councilmember Grosso sent to DCPS.
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Today, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, received a response from DCPS to a letter he sent to D.C. Public Schools Interim Chancellor Dr. Amanda Alexander with several questions in advance of the upcoming June 13, 2018 public oversight roundtable on graduation accountability. The purpose of the roundtable is to get an update from OSSE, DCPS, and PCSB on the implementation of Alvarez and Marsal’s recommendations on improving graduation accountability. The response is below, along with response follow up questions from DCPS on questions asked at the May 10, 2018 roundtable.
For Immediate Release
March 15, 2016
Contact: Keenan Austin
Grosso Introduces Legislation to Ensure Public Access to Government Buildings
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced the "Ensuring Public Access to Government Buildings Amendment Act of 2016." The bill directs the Department of General Services ("DGS") to establish regulations that outline how policies are made for access to government buildings. Currently, for most buildings, DGS follows federal guidelines set by the Interagency Security Committee for entry protocols. Grosso's legislation mandates that the agency look at best practices in other local and state jurisdictions to ensure that residents who must enter government buildings to conduct routine business have the fullest access possible.
"Over the years, we have seen increases in policies that limit access to government buildings in the name of security, without any actual evidence for such policies," said Grosso. "This security theater greatly frustrates me, and it has a disproportionate effect on some of our most vulnerable residents including those who are homeless or undocumented immigrants. If a person who is homeless and has lost all their belongings has to get a replacement birth certificate from the D.C. Department of Health, they have to show identification to get into the building even when the reason for their visit to the building is to get identification documents."
The legislation also clarifies the policy for entrance to the John A. Wilson Building, the seat of the D.C. Council and the Mayor, where residents currently must show a photo I.D. or sign a log book to enter. The bill prohibits those practices that limit access to the building, while allowing for other security measures such as metal detectors.
Committee report on the Summative of Evaluation of the Public Education System in the District of Columbia
On June 3, 2015 and June 22, 2015 the Committee on Education held a two-part public roundtable on the "Summative of Evaluation of the Public Education System in the District of Columbia," as required by PERAA. This report is a summary of those gatherings, prepared under the direction of Committee Chairperson Grosso.
Today, the D.C. Auditor and the National Academy of the Sciences published a summative evaluation of the progress made in D.C. public education since the 2007 Public Education Reform Amendment Act, which fundamentally transformed education in our city. You can read and download the report below, and watch the hearing held by the Committee on Education on the report.
Councilmember Grosso often sends letters to agencies with additional questions after their performance oversight hearings. On March 4, 2015, Grosso sent a letter with questions about residential and commercial property tax assessments to the Chief Financial Officer, and received a response on March 26, 2015. We thank the CFO for the quick response, and both letters are below--first the Councilmember's followed by the CFO's response.
While preparing for a December hearing to consider nominations to various Boards and Commissions, Councilmember Grosso noticed something— there were far more men than women under consideration for appointment. We found ourselves wondering if this was a coincidence specific to that day and those specific Boards, or if there was a broader trend of gender imbalance. We reviewed the memberships of all the Boards before the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs (BCRA) and then the 150 plus Boards and Commissions citywide. Our question was answered—there are significant and often egregious gender disparities.
During our research, another problem presented itself. Much of the information we were searching for, we could not find. If information is not publicly available then how can residents know who is on Boards and Commissions and what they are doing?
Looking at the broader list of the Boards and Commissions with information available online (more on that below), almost a third of the memberships are dominated by men, including several powerful entities:
- Alcohol and Beverage Control Board– 6 men, 1 woman
- Business Regulatory Reform Task Force – 11 men, 6 women
- Commission on African American Affairs – 11 men, 4 women
- Housing Production Trust Fund, Board of Directors – 6 men, 3 woman
- Interfaith Council – 23 men,2 women
- Streetcar Financing Task Force – 13 men, 1 woman
Disappointingly, Boards and Commissions covering topics that are historically associated with gender stereotypes are especially prone to such imbalances:
- Advisory Panel on Special Education – 4 men, 15 women
- Board of Industrial Trades – 7 men, 1 woman
- Board of Nursing – 0 men, 7 women
- Board of Social Work – 0 men, 5 women
- Constructing Codes Coordinating Board – 11 men, 0 women
There are, of course, male nurses and female construction workers, but according to these numbers, their perspectives are marginalized. D.C. prides itself on being forward thinking, but the reflection of sexism in these leadership positions contrasts starkly with our vision of a city that stands for equality. And this discussion does not begin to consider other measures of diversity.
Public Access and Information Sharing
What was equally disturbing and frustrating was the amount of information that we simply could not find online. We were looking for details about the membership of these entities. We hoped to find a list of names. Maybe some biographical information. Figure out when the next Board meeting would be and when the last one was held. Who attended? Did anyone take notes? Did anything happen?
The District’s Office of Boards and Commissions (DOBC) has a list of the Boards and Commissions, but it does not provide enough information about what they do and who sits on them. Sometimes, the Board or Commission is housed under a local agency and that agency is responsible for listing the information. However, it did not matter if we were looking for information at DOBC or the agency’s website because the information often was not there.
While most of the Boards and Commissions could be found online, at least 30 percent are unavailable. Those that are online provide inconsistent levels of information, some of it woefully outdated. Some examples of entities that have little or no information online include the following:
- Advisory Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect
- Board of Behavioral Health
- Board of Consumer Claims Arbitration
- Board of Dentistry
- Commission on HIV/AIDS
- Commission on Latino Community Development
- District of Columbia Statehood Commission
- Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board
- Washington Convention Center Advisory Committee
As Councilmember Grosso noted in comments before the BCRA Committee, this represents a failure of government transparency and accountability. Additionally, the lack of information can be construed as a violation of D.C.’s Open Meetings Act (OMA). OMA mandates that these government affiliated bodies publicly advertise their meeting times and locations, as well as provide meeting minutes.
These public bodies in D.C. have an important role to play—they are making decisions about the granting of licenses to local business, setting policies and procedures, or giving a voice to our city’s diverse community. This is why it is vital that their information is open to the public. Unfortunately, some of the city’s current set of Boards and Commissions do not serve any good purpose or have remained dormant for years. Mayor Gray called in December 2012 to reform the problem by abolishing 30 of the least functioning of them. A bill is currently before the Council, but has not yet been brought up for a vote. Passing such legislation would be a step in the right direction, but it will not solve problems of transparency or gender imbalance.
Reviewing other jurisdictions around the country shows that publicizing information about these public bodies is not hard to do. Baltimore, San Francisco, Nashville, and Denver—cities of similar size to D.C. but diverse in location and reputation—all have easy to find, centralized lists of Boards and Commissions accompanied by basic information such as membership and meeting times. What’s more, they include information about how to apply to join these public bodies—encouraging residents to engage with local government is critical to a vibrant and functioning city. Greater community engagement improves government accountability, and vice versa. So, what should D.C. do?
In December, Councilmember Grosso called on the Mayor’s Office to make the membership and other key information about Boards and Commissions available and published online by the end of January. This would require that the DOBC collect this information with the help from individual agencies and then have the Office of the Chief Technology Officer aggregate the information in one centralized location on the DOBC website. If the Executive branch cannot accomplish this task, Councilmember Grosso is prepared to introduce legislation to make the government operate in a more open and accessible manner. It would be similar to San Francisco’s law that requires the government to make this information easily accessible online. These bodies make vital decisions and recommendations, and residents of D.C. should know how to voice their support or air their grievances. The Boards that grant professional licenses or have a direct say in how government works should be balanced, open, and available to the public.
Making this information public and easily accessible will also, we hope, encourage more District residents to apply for openings on Boards or Commissions that fit their skill sets, areas of expertise, or interests. Asking residents to participate in government is how we make the city function through heightened participation. We want all residents to know what any given Board or Commission does, when it meets, and, most critically, what impact it has on the District.
*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.
This is first in a series of posts by Councilmember David Grosso on “Good Government.”
Today was the most frustrating day at the D.C. Council since I was sworn in as an At-Large Councilmember last January. From the vote to postpone the elected Attorney General to the continuous meaningless votes on government contracts. I asked myself, over and over again, how is what we are doing here making our city a better place? What are we doing to improve the lives of D.C. residents or even to make the government operate more smoothly? These thoughts caused me to reflect on what it means to create a “good government.” In fact, what is a “good government?” What does it mean as the legislative branch to work towards good government?
Any discussion of this issue must include transparency, openness, thorough work product, and ultimately accountability. Certainly accountability to the people of the District is our primary duty that should guide us to govern the city in a way that makes our city a better city. A “good government” includes: ethical leadership; effective and efficient agencies; engaged and active residents; thoughtful benchmarking of ideas; smart lively debates; compromises; principled stances; a constant quest to do what is right to gain credibility; and smart voters.
I don’t know all the aspects of what it takes to create a “good government” but I do know that today at the D.C. Council I felt that we were not heading down the right path. Members were caught up in vote trading of the worst kind and self-serving votes that leave the city worse off than it was prior to the votes. It is time for a “new day” on the D.C. Council. It is time for a positive turn toward a “good government.”
Share your thoughts with me in the comment section or over email (firstname.lastname@example.org) on what it means to create a “good government.” I too will be researching this issue and thinking about how my actions and votes can be used to move our city in the right direction.