Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 4/9/09

Fire truck issue tip of new iceberg?

We’re thinking about getting out of the news business and into the self-protection business.

Internet postings and the woefully shrunken classifieds sections of the big papers list many “security” jobs. Lots of people are looking to work in the field, with pay scales of $16 to $20 per hour or more. My firm would be called Sherwood Sheriffs.

And if Congress dumps the city’s tough handgun and assault weapon restrictions, we see a great business opportunity. We talked about it Friday on Kojo Nnamdi’s “Politics Hour” on WAMU.

We’d open a Capitol Hill gun shop. It preferably would be on Pennsylvania Avenue, America’s main street, no more than a block or two from Congress. We’d adhere to any historic-district restrictions, but we’re thinking our building would be painted blood red.
If zoning allows it, there’d be a flashing red arrow in the shape of a handgun pointing to the front door. The gun nozzle would be flashing like it’s being fired. Think how cool that’d look at night.

And specials? Wow, would there be specials. We wouldn’t have just the humdrum Saturday night specials. We’d have a gun-a-day discount like the daily specials at a restaurant.

Bullets would be our bread and butter. Every gun sold would be loaded for free before it goes out the door, complimentary, just to get you started. And we’d have a frequent-bullet-buyer program to keep your ammunition clips full.

Don’t forget the kids. We’d also have lots of real-looking toy guns to hand out to tourists walking toward the Capitol grounds.

Of course, guns and even look-alike toy guns are prohibited on the Capitol grounds. It’s just in your city neighborhood where they’d be allowed if the National Rifle Association gets its way.

• Second Amendment Watch

Now we’re sure some folks will think our little plan above is a slap at the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that tossed out the city’s handgun ban. But that’s not it at all.

The court ruled, and it’s up to the leaders of the District to make the law conform to the court ruling. Period. It shouldn’t be up to a rifle-association-sponsored amendment to the voting rights bill -- or any other bill in Congress. Let’s let the city have its little slice of democracy.

• I’ll See Your Fire Truck ... And Raise You An Ambulance

NBC4 on Monday was the first news station to show video of the mystery fire truck and ambulance that are now safely back in Washington.

You’ve heard about them. The vehicles somehow wound up being declared surplus property and turned over to the community group Peaceaholics, which in turn tried to ship them to a beach town in the Dominican Republic. When news broke about the donation, the vehicles were recalled from a Miami port. (Who paid for all that transport is just one of many unanswered questions.)

We followed D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, who chairs the judiciary committee, on Monday as he sought out the vehicles. That made for some fine video as the normally mild-mannered Mendelson stalked past surprised security guards.

Meanwhile, back at the Wilson Building, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh’s hearing on the mystery donation revealed that the gifts apparently originated in Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office. Fenty’s legal counsel asked for the special Peaceaholics provision.

David Gragan, the city’s chief procurement officer, apparently signed it without asking any questions.

But he’s had a change of heart. “I’m as curious as you all are,” he told a skeptical Cheh and Mendelson. “And we’re going to find out what the details are -- the wheres, the whys and the wherefores.”

Well, he could have just asked his chief of staff, Wilbur Giles, about it. Cheh said she was told Giles handled the mystery donations. But when Cheh and Mendelson asked to have Giles brought before the hearing Monday, he declined to attend. The council said Attorney General Peter Nickles had told him not to testify.

Oh, by the way, everyone was told that the fire truck was declared surplus because it had 197,000 miles or more on it. Mendelson said that while in the driver’s seat on Monday he noticed the odometer read just over 55,000 miles.

More questions are being raised than answered. It’s a wonder the mayor’s office is letting this incident drag out over days rather than just clearing it all up. “Tip of the iceberg” for a property management and travel scandal? Who knows?

One council member said it appears the vehicle donations are just part of an elaborate connection to the Dominican Republic that we’re just finding out about.

Mendelson and Cheh asked the inspector general to investigate, and he is. Attorney General Nickles issued a report last week saying everything was proper.

But apparently that won’t be the last word.

• More Scandal?

Cheh was upset that another city agency is spurning her request for information.

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer, recently raided by the FBI, has used the incident to avoid answering even mundane administrative questions. Cheh has gotten subpoena power from her committee members.

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