Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 02/09/11

By Tom Sherwood
|  Wednesday, Feb 9, 2011  |  Updated 6:36 AM EDT
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Pepco: "Working as Hard as We Can to Restore Service"

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A D.C. Council hearing this week added more proof of a disturbing conclusion made in the wake of the recent snow and ice storm that paralyzed the city.

“It’s unnerving that our whole city could be shut down like this,” said Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells.

Wells is the new chair of the council’s Committee on Public Works and Transportation. His hearing drew officials from Metro and the city’s transportation, public works and emergency management agencies.

None of the officials who spoke was able to give a clear idea of how or whether the agencies coordinate their actions. It’s clear they talk a lot. It’s clear there are written plans. But it wasn’t clear that anything collaborative or cohesive was getting done for the public during the storm.

Local governments should be glad that Pepco is taking so much heat for its failures. Otherwise, more reporters would be focusing on the government's failures.

It still seems to come as a surprise -- now two weeks later -- that there ought to have been a coordinated effort to make certain the city’s 17 principal evacuation routes were moving better than other roads.

Our irreverent suggestion to City Administrator Allen Lew after the storm was simple. We told him to just speed the cars over the bridges and roads into Virginia and Maryland and then let those suburbs handle the result. But, of course, we really think that there ought to be regional coordination.

“It seems we were unable to evacuate the city,” Wells said.

To be fair, the storm was fast and furious, changing from rain to ice to snow very quickly while rush hour was beginning.

But isn’t planning for the worst what city officials are supposed to do? As we wrote last week, what if it had been a terrorist attack? We’re not sure the city’s evacuation plan even takes into account the “shutdown” that the U.S. Secret Service would put in place around the White House. Nothing will move there.

And down Pennsylvania Avenue, you can be sure the U.S. Capitol Police will throw up their street barriers, blocking major roadways like Independence and Constitution avenues.

If this city and this region can’t get it together for a snarling snowstorm, what hope do we have in a worse situation? It’ll be every person for him or herself. Kind of like the snowstorm. Good luck to everyone.

• “Merry” Valentine’s Day

OK folks, time for my annual rant.

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so could you please take down your Christmas decorations? Those of us who have to drive by wilted wreaths, burned-out bulbs, and big bright ribbons and bows would appreciate it. You can put it all back up in just a few months.

Thank you.

• Furloughed for sure

Speaking of holidays, Mayor Vincent Gray made a point of noting that he would also be taking the four furlough days being imposed on city government workers.

“Like other employees, I believe it is only fair that I, too, share the sacrifice,” Gray said in a press release. “It’s the right thing to do.”

As mayor, Gray earns a salary of $200,000 a year. And there are other perks of the office, like expense accounts and a driver.

But it is a good gesture for him to take the furlough days. He had to sign a waiver to have his salary officially reduced.

The unpaid holidays include Washington’s birthday on Feb. 21, D.C. Emancipation Day on April 15, Memorial Day on May 30 and the July 4 Independence Day holiday. The budget folks estimate the furloughs will save the city about $19 million.

We just have one question: Do you still call it a “holiday” when you don’t get paid? We don’t think so.

• July elections?

Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh is considering a bill to move the city’s primary elections from September to July. It would help the city conform to federal law that says jurisdictions must give overseas military personnel time to cast ballots.

But would July be the best time? In the middle of summer? Cheh and others are still noodling this around, but it has to be done for next year’s elections. The city got a waiver from the feds for this year.

• A final word

There was sad news this week that popular D.C. Council staffer Jeff Coudriet died of cancer. He was just the kind of person you want working for your government, someone who knew what he was doing, was sensitive to politics and, best of all, enjoyed the work.

“He was a true public servant,” said Council Chairman Kwame Brown, “who dedicated his career to improving the lives of District citizens.”

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