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MARY M. CHEH: The Nastiest and Most Disagreeable Council Member In DC History


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The Nastiest and Most Disagreeable

Council Member In DC History





By: Gary Imhoff


Dorothy Brizill


Under the chairmanship of Vincent Gray, this is the worst city council that the District of Columbia has ever had -- and we remember the abysmal city councils of the 1970's and 1980's. But even in those days, when city council members were irresponsible and several of them were seriously stupid, at least they understood how to run public hearings, and they realized that public hearings were intended to give citizens of the District an opportunity to speak with their elected public servants. Their meetings maintained a certain minimum level of civility, decorum, and respect toward citizens. By contrast, this council is angry and mean. It is contemptuous of and hostile toward citizens and its members don't want to hear anything that differs with their preconceived opinions. Last week, columnist Adrienne Washington described council members' misbehavior during their hearing on Mayor Fenty's school takeover bill: "witnesses, especially Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, were berated, badgered, interrupted, and not allowed to answer questions during a kangaroo-court-style inquest" (http://washingtontimes.com/metro/20070201-105011-2766r.htm).


But the hearing last week was just a warm-up for the disgraceful behavior of council members today. The public witnesses today were overwhelmingly opposed to Fenty's takeover, though there were some takeover supporters who were warmly welcomed by the council members. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who is rapidly shaping up to be the nastiest and most disagreeable councilmember in DC history, made a point of assailing every witness who opposed the takeover with the dishonest argument that if they didn't support Fenty, they supported the status quo and didn't want the schools to improve. She deceitfully argued that the burden was on those who opposed the mayor's takeover to explain why they did not support it. Council members Barry, Thomas, and Catania weren't far behind Cheh. They tried to outdo each other in their rudeness; they yelled at witnesses, misrepresented their testimony, refused to confront or even admit their arguments, and refused to let witnesses respond when they mischaracterized their testimony and subjected them to personal abuse. Council Chairman Gray's chairing of the hearing set the atmosphere and encouraged the hostile attacks on citizens. Gray tolerated the most vicious of personal attacks from the council members upon those who dared to testify, and he denied anyone who had been attacked, or whose testimony had been distorted and misrepresented by council members, the right to respond.


The council is shirking its job. It's not doing its own research into the failures of urban school systems that have had mayoral takeovers; it's deliberately turning a blind eye to the failure of the Bloomberg takeover in New York City; and it's ignoring the many examples of urban school systems (for example, Charlotte, Austin, and Houston, among others) that have progressed and improved markedly under independent school boards. It has refused to seek the advice of the numerous educational organizations headquartered in Washington, because it doesn't want to know the facts. Instead, it's ignoring and insulting citizens, students and their parents, teachers, and anyone who knows anything about the school system, and rushing headfirst into a debacle -- all because it wants to control the money and the contracts and the land that the Board of Education controls now.


This meanness of the council and its mistreatment of citizens will have long-term consequences for the government of our city. The degradation of public hearings of the city council is designed to discourage citizen participation in and control of our government -- just as the takeover of the school board is designed to eliminate citizen participation in and control of our schools. The behavior of these council members is not just a disgrace; it is a deliberate attempt to denigrate, if not destroy, an important component of our city's governing process.

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