Councilmembers Thomas, Alexander Make Fools of Themselves

Councilmembers Thomas And Alexander Make Fools Of Themselves was originally published on City Desk on Feb. 23, 2009, at 11:00 am

D.C. Councilmembers Harry Thomas Jr. and Yvette Alexander are elected officials. People must have seen something in them that they liked. Maybe in Thomas’ case, it was his famous name. Maybe in Alexander’s case, it was her sunny personality. But since joining the council, both have gained reputations as lightweights.

Last Wednesday, on February 18, Thomas and Alexander earned their reps.

The two presided over an oversight hearing on the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). For the first hour-plus of that hearing, the two focused on the Therapeutic Recreation Center, located at 3030 G Street SE, and the non-profit Positive Nature. This past fall, the non-profit, which specializes in providing services for at-risk youth, moved into the TR Center as part of a public-private partnership with the rec department.

If there was ever a need for a safe place for at-risk kids, now would be it. Child and Family Services is only now climbing out of a backlog with a director yet to be confirmed. Last week, City Lights Public Charter School, which educates troubled kids, announced it was closing. A parent recently won a huge hurdle in his lawsuit against the city over its treatment of his son who needs special-ed services. Of course, there’s Banita Jacks. These are just recent events. Pick any year and you will find many more sad stories about troubled kids not getting the help they need from the city.

Pick a topic: Funding. Education. Therapy. Counseling. After-school support. Chances are the District is falling a troubled kid or a thousand troubled kids in one or all of these areas.

If you happened to attend this hearing or watch it online, you would have thought that there are no at-risk kids in the District. All you would have heard from is an entity known as the Concerned Seniors of the Therapeutic Recreation Center. They were bused to the hearing dressed in brand new matching red t-shirts. They were there to hijack the proceedings.

For that first hour or so, they blasted the hearing with ignorant nonsense. The seniors aren’t “concerned.” They are furious that they now have to share the TR Center. They want their rec center back.

“I have never met any of these people,” testified La Verne Hall about Positive Nature. I guess she missed the non-profit’s open house last fall. Among the grievances Hall lists are the disappearance of the center’s “Boo House” for Halloween and an extra lifeguard for water aerobics.

Of Positive Nature, Hall asked: “What have they offered? So far I have seen little or next to nothing.”

There are few things worse than a senior-citizen turned NIMBY. In Hall’s calculation, troubled kids who have been shuffled through the broken foster-care system or who have been neglected by their mothers or who suffer with learning disabilities aren’t worth a few rooms in a District rec center.

Hall told me in an interview on Sunday that she’d like to see Positive Nature evicted from the facility. She really misses that Boo House. Nevermind that the TR Center still offers programming for seniors. Hall has just never bothered to figure it out. Nor has she apparently bothered to visit the three other DPR facilities dedicated to senior programs in Southeast.

Hall was joined at the hearing by Alice Love, who claims to have organized the concerned seniors group. Love admitted that she doesn’t patronize the TR Center nor live anywhere near the center. This did not stop her from spouting off.

Both Alexander and Thomas then proceeded to gush over these seniors. Alexander showed up late. But this fact didn’t prevent her from commenting on the testimony she hadn’t heard.

“I really take seriously any concern that you have,” Alexander stated, adding later: “Please know you have me as an advocate for you.”

Thomas told Love: “I am so pleased you’ve taken up this charge.”

Then things turned real ugly.

A DPR employee who works at the TR Center had testified that he had received a written threat on his windshield. The threat apparently warned him about speaking out against the non-profit or something like that. There was no evidence that anyone from Positive Nature made the threat.

This did not stop Alexander from putting on her detective’s badge and slandering the non-profit. “It points the finger directly at them whether it was through them directly or indirectly…that sickens me that we have a partnership ….” But she added: “[There's] No evidence that it comes from them.”

No evidence. We also heard Thomas introduce into the record some mysterious checks ($15 from Alexandria? Wha?) that Positive Nature may or may not have received. I wasn’t sure what Thomas was talking about. He never did explain himself. Thomas also mentioned that the city has paid Positive Nature money for services. He just didn’t know what those services were for…. Maybe he should have skimmed this story before holding his hearing.

Maybe Thomas should have talked to one of the city’s social workers. Here is what one told me in an e-mail last night:

“PNI is one of very few providers that offers services to some of the most challenging youth in the city. Not only do they do it, but they do it well. PNI’s level of commitment to each individual child and his/her family is a rarity in service provision today. I have referred several children to this program…children that no one else could reach. They are able to make the connections that are so vital to our young people’s lives.”

Let’s see: the money is payment for running after-school programs for District kids, for taking in kids at 10 a.m. and taking them home at the end of the day, for advocating on their behalf in Family Court, etc. For being there when no one else will.

But then again, seniors vote. What pull do foster kids have with big-time D.C. Councilmembers?

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