Friday, March 20, 2009

Error, Gross Negligence, or Corruption?

In reading the e-mail traffic on the Shaw neighborhood group (also on renewshaw), I came across an interesting post today. I'm reposting it below for broader readership:

On perusing the DCRA's Winter 2009 Vacant Property Listing and the online Real Property Assessment Database, I found that six of the seven vacant properties owned by Shiloh Baptist Church (or agents of the same) in Shaw are no longer classified as vacant (Tax Class 3) but are instead now classified as Tax Class 1 or 2 (Residential or Commercial, respectively) . Below is a breakdown of the classifications from the online Real Property Database.

Property Address Tax Class
1543 8th Street, NW 001 - Residential
1600 8th Street, NW 003 - Vacant
1526 9th Street, NW 002 - Commercial
1528 9th Street, NW 002 - Commercial
1532 9th Street, NW 001 - Residential
1533 9th Street, NW 001 - Residential
1534 9th Street, NW 002 - Commercial

By all appearances, all seven properties remain vacant (they are all boarded up) and not marketed for sale or lease. I can think of no justification for their tax classifications to have changed. Accordingly, I think this is an error (if not the result of gross negligence or corruption) and could result in lost revenue for the city. Further, it undermines the equity and effectiveness of the Class 3 tax class.

Shiloh should pay the Tax Class 3 tax on all seven vacant properties they own as if this mistake never happened and should not benefit from whatever has caused this reclassification.

Let me absolutely clear here -- these properties have been vacant for 30 years and they are still vacant. The owner's refusal to sell, lease, rent, renovate or do anything with the property leaves Shaw with an island of urban blight. Not too long ago, the city took the positive step of condemning them in order to force repairs, as the historic properties were in danger of being lost.

Recently, the DC Council increased the vacant property tax rate to approximately 10x the occupied residential rate (previously, it was 5x the residential rate). Obviously, Shiloh did not want to pay what would be a massive amount of new taxes on this span of vacant property. Did they find someone at DCRA willing to switch the numbers for them from Class 3 (vacant) to Class 1 (residential) or Class 2 (commercial)? Did they find some valid exception?

The neighborhood, and all DC taxpayers, deserve an explanation.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thomas Attacks

I first read today in The Mail some very disturbing news. There's more detail in The Examiner.

Apparently, Councilmember Harry Thomas (Ward 5), threatened a community newsletter, the Brookland Heartbeat, after they ran an article entitled, "Few Gains for Ward 5 in 2009 Budget," criticizing his record.

Thomas responded by sending an open letter to the Brookland Heartbeat and Ward 5 residents, which concluded with an explicit threat to the newsletter and its advertisers.
"I request that the Brookland Heartbeat publish and distribute a retraction to its readers. In addition, Long and Foster will be held accountable for its role in underwriting the Brookland Heartbeat, as well as the businesses that support the publication."
What the?

Thomas's statement reminds me of the Bush Administration official who threatened law firms providing pro bono representation to Guantanamo detainees by reading off the names of several of the firms and then suggesting that their corporate clients take their business elsewhere.

"I think, quite honestly, when corporate C.E.O.’s see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those C.E.O.’s are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out," then-deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, Charles Stimson Stimpson said in a radio interview.

After all, supporting the right to an attorney and the writ of habeas corpus, both enshrined in the constitution, are deserving of retaliation.

Thomas's statement is quite Stimpsonesce, suggesting businesses retaliate against those exercising their First Amendment rights, in this case, freedom of the press.

Stimpson later apologized. A month later, he resigned.