Suppose you were told there would be a council hearing where Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee would explain the new, far-reaching teachers union contract to council members who must vote it up or down next week.
And suppose you trundled down to the council chambers for the 10 a.m. hearing on Monday, hoping to hear Rhee and any pointed questions that were directed her way.
Now never mind that the hearing started 20 minutes late. That’s a common complaint about the council -- members of the public sit and twiddle their thumbs as legislators wander into the chambers when they’re good and ready.
Incredibly, after the delayed start, this hearing by Council Chairman Vincent Gray went on for five hours before Rhee was called to the witness stand.
Rhee sat in the audience in a front-row seat the whole time. She listened to sundry witnesses, including financial officials who repeated that the contract meets all the legal requirements. That issue essentially was settled weeks ago.
Then the city’s pension officials talked about how they weren’t certain exactly how pension funds would be affected. But that wasn’t flagged as a serious problem.
Then there were more than a dozen “public” or citizen witnesses who signed up for what was supposed to be their three minutes of allotted testimony apiece. The only problem was that the hearing ran on and on and on as Gray lost control of the clock.
Nearly every witness spoke for five, six, eight or more minutes and then consumed even more time answering questions.
One witness took her three minutes just to outline what she was going to testify about. And Gray, who chairs the committee charged with education matters and is a candidate for mayor, sat passively as that witness elaborated in detail on every one of her talking points.
One witness complained about the news media not taking him seriously. But Gray didn’t steer him back to the subject at hand. And so on.
It was a timekeeper’s nightmare.
Had routine rules and time limits been observed, the hearing would have been maybe two hours old before Rhee took the stand. Not five.
But Gray plodded on. He didn’t even take a break himself until four and a half hours had passed. As he got up, he announced that Rhee would be his first witness when the hearing resumed. But when he got back, he discovered that one or two other public witnesses had since arrived. So Gray asked Rhee to leave the witness stand and to resume her seat in the audience.
We could go on and on, too, but then we’d be guilty of the same thing.
• Fact-finding nugget.
At least Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas, speaking during the aforementioned hearing, focused on whether the contract is properly funded. Thomas has a lot of educators in his ward, and he’s no huge fan of Rhee. He got the financial folks to agree that more adjustments to school spending --- or “reprogrammings” -- will be needed to pay for the contract.
• Eric Holder on “doing time.”
We’re not talking about criminals serving a sentence; we’re talking about law school students serving their community by getting involved in community legal service.
The subject came up during last week’s Joseph Rauh Lecture at the University of the District of Columbia. The lecture is a highlight of the year at the David A. Clarke School of Law, and we're sorry we missed it.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, this year’s speaker, didn’t disappoint.
In his address, Holder praised the law school’s emphasis on community service and related requirements for law students.
"I agree with the assertion by UDC's leadership that all publicly funded law schools should look to the Clarke School of Law for inspiration and consider a similar service requirement,” Holder said in prepared remarks. “That would be a profound and powerful change. And it would lead, no doubt, to a more just nation and world."
The Clarke law school has been recognized nationally as a leader in community-service training.
“Imagine, for a moment, if every law student in the country were to give back, as UDC students do, while earning their degrees,” Holder said, noting there are about 150,000 law students in the United States at any one time. “That would mean about 100 million hours of clinical services combined."
• One "no" vote.
For the first time in 20 years, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans voted against the city’s annual budget. Evans chairs the council’s finance committee. He’s a supporter of Mayor Adrian Fenty.
But he says he’s not a supporter of the budget proposed by Fenty and then passed by the 12 other council members.
“We continue to spend down [our reserves], we are borrowing an additional $47 million … and on top of it all, we’re raising fines and penalties on residents and small-business owners,” he said.
Evans has warned that such spending will bring back the control board. D.C. chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi won’t go that far, but he’s also warning against too much spending and borrowing.