Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 08/10/11

Tom Sherwood’s Notebook

Last week came a little-noticed news release from U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen.

Cheryl Ferrara, a former deputy assistant inspector general, was sentenced for falsifying residency documents and bank accounts to get a friend hired in her office and for personally spending about $20,000 in funds from the national Association of Inspectors General, for which she was treasurer.

Ferrara received a year of probation and a suspended sentence of 180 days, and she was fined $1,000 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.

And, of course, the 46-year-old defendant lost her job and is no longer treasurer of the national association. She also had to resign from her most recent government job as a special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

She also must notify federal agencies that granted her previous security clearances (you know what that likely means), as well as inform “the appropriate agencies” that granted her certified public accountant license.

In short, to foolishly help a friend fake documents and bank accounts to get a job, and for violating her fiduciary duties as treasurer, her career and life are in tatters.

The case is one of any number of lower-level crimes of government workers pursued and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. (We’re on the email list and a week doesn’t seem to go by without some local or federal government worker in trouble.)

We mention all this as citizens continue to speculate about the fate of Ward 5 Council member Harry “Tommy” Thomas, Council Chairman Kwame Brown and Mayor Vincent Gray, all of whom have active cases pending in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in one form or another.

As we wrote last week, Thomas’s case is the one most directly involving city money. He settled the civil case against him by agreeing to repay the District $300,000 in grant monies that D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan said Thomas used for his personal benefit.

Thomas settled the civil suit without denying or admitting guilt. At this point, that’s an important legal nicety but will have no bearing on what U.S. Attorney Machen decides to do in that case as he explores criminal charges.

If we were Thomas or any other public official facing a criminal probe, we would be very nervous at the conviction record Machen is amassing. Those who believe the feds are going to take a whiff on the worst cases of alleged corruption since the awful Marion Barry years of the 1980s ought to be on the mailing list for the drumbeat of announcements coming out of Machen’s office.

• Bike helmets?

We did a story on News4 a few days ago on the wildly successful Capital Bikeshare program. In less than a year, the use-a-bike-when-you-need-it system has recorded 800,000 individual bike trips on the red and yellow bikes.

As we stood at Dupont Circle -- site of the busiest station -- person after person praised the bikes. The only complaint was a wish for even more bike stations.

But we were there because very few of the rental riders actually wear bike helmets.

For years now, there has been a drumbeat of safety folks urging all cyclists to use helmets. (The law in the District mandates only that children 16 and younger must have a helmet.)

Chris Holben, a D.C. Department of Transportation administrator who works with the bike program, said “we’ve had trouble” balancing the bike helmet issue with rental bikes. Few people want to carry around a helmet all day just for a few minutes of use. And tourists aren’t likely to bring a helmet with them.

So the Transportation Department is beginning a pilot program to make 500 bike helmets available to the most frequent users of the bike system. And it also has hooked up with the five Kimpton Hotels in Washington to offer loaner helmets to out-of-town visitors.

It’s only a scratch-the-surface effort to explore better bicycle safety, but it’s a good start.

Holben had some good news about the rental bikes. He said they are a bit “clunkier” than regular bikes you often see. He said that tends to slow down the bikes and helps keep them from weaving into and out of traffic as much.

Holben also said of the 800,000 recorded rides, there have been only 13 reported bike wrecks or serious incidents.

• Sidewalk sanity.

This week is the 50th anniversary of sidewalk cafes in the District. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when such cafes were prohibited as potential problems for sanitation and for passersby on sidewalks. (Hadn’t anyone ever been to Paris?) It also was a time when you couldn’t take a beer from a bar stool to a table without a waitress or waiter carrying it for you.

We’re glad that sidewalk cafes are now an integral part of city life, but if anyone was sitting at one during our recent wave of high-90s temperatures, we feel sorry for them.

• Fudging the issue.

This has nothing to do with local politics, but we were amused by a press release received last week from U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).

Fudge announced she had introduced “wide-ranging legislation aimed at combating childhood obesity.”

So, we mentally wrote the headline, “Fudge Fights Fat.”

If only it were so.

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