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Sherwood's Notebook: Let There Be Light... Bulbs!

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Sherwood's Notebook: Let There Be Light... Bulbs!

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■ Let there be light... bulbs! For those who shop in Roy Rodman’s one-stop "drugstore, beer and wine store, fresh vegetable market, household goods, grocery, health aids, pharmacy and candle" emporium on Wisconsin Avenue, you might have missed something.

Cheap light bulbs.

For the past few months, there have been in-store displays selling energy-efficient, long-lasting light bulbs for as little as 49 cents. That’s 49 cents for a compact fluorescent light (CFL) light bulb that normally costs $8 to $10. And there are other similar savings on other-sized bulbs. One sign said "cool bulb, hot price."

We first thought the brown containers of bulbs were an overstock or other discount item.

We were wrong.

The light bulbs are part of an energy conservation program sponsored by the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU). About 40 retailers have participated in the light bulb program, selling about 45,000 bulbs at sharply discounted prices.

"We have great relationships with our retail partners," DCSEU’s Hanna Grene wrote us.

You can find a list of stores on the website, dcseu.com. Search for "Find a Retailer."

Promoting cost-effective light bulbs are only a small part of what DCSEU does. The office, which is under contract with the D.C. Department of the Environment, helps homeowners, small businesses and nonprofits find the best ways to reduce energy cost and use.

Former Washington football star Darrell Green has been a promoter. He and many others have helped install solar panels for 87 low-income households with no upfront cost for the homeowners.

Grene said that lighting normally accounts for about 20 percent of annual household electricity bills. Keep that in mind when you pick up one of those cool, low-priced light bulbs.

■ Your ethics office. Former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti is ramping up the new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. It’s now informally called “BEGA,” but we’ve used up our patience with abbreviations in the item above.

More importantly, the office is starting to get several complaints a day from tipsters anxious to report waste, fraud and abuse.

"We have about two dozen or so investigations either ongoing or just concluded," Spagnoletti said on the WAMU 88.5 "Politics Hour" last Friday. "But they come in every day. And as a result of the word getting out about what we do, more complaints are rolling in."

The ethics office has a big hammer. It can initiate investigations, do the investigations and sanction wrongdoing it finds with penalties up to $5,000. It also can refer cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecutions.

The ethics folks also have begun writing letters to city workers and officials who ask for opinions on what may be proper or not. All of those opinions are being made public but many have a big hole in them. Unless the requester has agreed, most of the pertinent information is crossed out. They are essentially unreadable and a waste of time to the public.

Even though the office is just getting up to speed, Spagnoletti and the other two board members (Laura Richards and Deborah Lathen) already are looking to maybe expand their investigative power.

Spagnoletti said a lot of the tips involve the government’s contracting policies. While there is a Contract Review Board to handle big disputes, Spagnoletti says he wants to be able to look at smaller contracts and subcontractors, where much of the favoritism and corruption can occur.

The ethics chair said the board discussed at length last week whether to seek more power, but no decision was made.

When Spagnoletti was named chair last year, there were some concerns that he had represented Mayor Vincent Gray in his old dispute about a fence at his home. In addition, Spagnoletti served on Gray’s transition committee after the 2010 election.

Would the young lawyer be subject to conflict and maybe going easy on the mayor and his administration? Would the Gray administration seek to nudge ethics decisions?

No, on both counts, Spagnoletti says.

On Friday, Spagnoletti reiterated that he would rather not have the job than to risk his personal and professional reputation. Those who know him say he means it.

And as for any casual or improper influence from government officials, Spagnoletti was blunt.

"We have experienced no pressure, no attempt to influence our decisions," he said. "I can say categorically that it has been hands-off."

The next public meeting of the ethics board is April 4 at One Judiciary Square. The agenda will be posted in advance at bega.dc.gov. We hope nothing in it will be crossed out.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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