Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 06/22/11

By Tom Sherwood
|  Wednesday, Jun 22, 2011  |  Updated 6:29 AM EDT
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Criminal Charges Loom for D.C. Council Member

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Pregnant D.C. Firefighters Put Out by New Unpaid Leave Policy

A new policy forces pregnant D.C. firefighters onto unpaid leave after 30 days of light duty.

Criminal Charges Loom for D.C. Council Member

The D.C. attorney general is asking the U.S. Attorney's office to look into criminal charges for Council member Harry Thomas, Jr.
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Didn’t we already fight this fight?

Women once were told they couldn’t be police officers or firefighters or go into combat. It’s not ladylike. They need to be protected, not put in harm’s way. They might get pregnant and disrupt the workplace. And blah, blah, blah.

We raise this point because of a troublesome issue that’s now affecting the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and its policy toward pregnant firefighters.

In a move to cut overtime and other administrative costs, the department is now limiting pregnant firefighters to only 30 days of light duty or desk duty during a pregnancy. After that, the employee must use accrued sick leave or annual leave to cover the rest of the pregnancy and any post-pregnancy time off.

Anyone who doesn’t have the time saved up is out of luck.

“The current policy is wrong; the current policy needs to be reversed,” said an angry Phil Mendelson, chair of the D.C. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

Under the old policy, a pregnant firefighter might work several months on light duty until she was due to give birth. Under the new policy, the firefighter could face several months of no pay at all.

“I won’t have enough leave … . I have to work,” said six-year firefighter Jessica Wooton. She talked with NBC4 along with Shalonda Smith and Melissa Davis, both firefighters for four years and now both pregnant for the first time.

“They sprung this on us,” said Davis.

Mendelson, the workers and Local 36 of the firefighters’ union say the fire department may have the right to enforce the tougher policy, but Mendelson is asking D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan to review it. In any event, Mendelson said the department also has the right to be more respectful of the employees by allowing them to keep working as long as they can.

He said if the department doesn’t reverse course, he’ll bring it up with the council before the summer recess begins.

Only a few of the department’s 2,200 firefighters and administrative staff are pregnant at any one time, officials say.

• Resign already.

Although Mayor Vincent Gray and members of the D.C. Council are treading lightly around the scandal involving Ward 5 member Harry “Tommy” Thomas, there’s no hesitation from the D.C. Republican Party.

“It is not enough that Councilmember Thomas resigned his Committee Chairmanship,” said GOP chair Bob Kabel in a release. “Anything less than a full resignation from the DC Council is an insult to District residents."

It’s not likely Kabel’s words will have any direct effect, but they do point out how mealy-mouthed the council members have been on Thomas, who is being sued by the D.C. attorney general for allegedly misappropriating $300,000 in city tax money and grants for his own personal use.

Thomas is liked by many of his colleagues, but surely they don’t like the scandal he’s brought upon their house. But so far, the criticisms -- at least in public -- have been mild. Only in private do several members say they are astonished at the allegations and that, if they’re true, Thomas is in real trouble.

• Why go there?

We couldn’t make the National Forum for Black Public Administrators’ eighth annual Barry K. Campbell Hall of Fame and Scholarship Awards dinner and casino event last week. It’s a good event that honors city workers, and it’s named after a former city executive who died way too soon.

But we’re not sure we would have gone anyway. The event is nice, but it was held on the Navy Yard federal property in southeast Washington. That means that no city sales taxes were collected at the event.

It’s beyond us why D.C. organizations and groups retreat to federal facilities to hold their events. Maybe the tax-free places offer cheaper accommodations? Maybe parking is better? It seems the last thing we ought to do when honoring city workers is abandon the city.

• Another place we didn’t go.

We loved the U.S. Open this past week, but we didn’t make it out to Congressional. We never finished reading the long list of prohibited items, and we didn’t like the idea of going almost to Baltimore to take a shuttle to the course. (We admit that last part is a little exaggeration, but not the long list that began with cell phones and included lawn chairs and “no weapons regardless of permits.”)

We can do without the blanket of security bureaucracy that smothers such events. Thank goodness for our big-screen TV.

• No medallions for you.

Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells won’t hold a hearing on a bill that would require D.C. cabbies to have city-issued medallions.

Many of the city’s independent cab drivers fear that well-financed companies could buy up the medallions and corner the market. That’s what was allegedly at stake in the 2009 taxicab scandal that’s still being investigated by the FBI.

Local journalist Peter Tucker (thefightback.org) deserves credit for the work he's been doing for months to explore and explain the cab industry.

There are many things that may be wrong with the industry, but no one has yet explained why medallions would be a solution rather than another problem.

• A final word.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., mercifully resigned from Congress last week. He had one last inexplicable moment, calling a final news conference before a screaming mob of reporters (who shouted bawdy questions at him). He apparently was addicted to the media as much as he was to his widely distributed photos. Even Viagra couldn’t save this Weiner.

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