Thursday, March 31, 2011

Three More Things We Can Do To Secure Local Employment

Yesterday evening, I was asked by a gentleman what I would do to ensure that District residents - particularly Ward 8 residents - were hired to work on the Department of Homeland Security redevelopment of St. Elizabeth's campus. Most of my answer focused on training, because I noted that this redevelopment was a federal project (and thus outside the reach of the Council to legislate), but this answer was not radical or visionary enough, in retrospect.

There are several more radical approaches we can take to assure that District residents are hired to work on this redevelopment.

First, the Council should pass legislation mandating to construction companies that if they build in the District, they must train and hire District workers or they will find it almost impossible to win future city contracts. Such a bill would amend our contracting procedures in a way that would explicitly reduce the viability of any future bid for city contracts submitted by any contractor who performs construction in the District, but who fails to employ District residents in half of the new positions created to complete that project. This economic incentive will force construction companies around the world who want to compete for our city contract dollars to train and hire District residents for all of the projects they undertake within the District.

Second, I would write a letter to the Office of Attorney General and our local U.S. Attorney requesting an investigation into whether the contractors who are leading the DHS redevelopment project are following all applicable federal laws regarding subcontracting with local small and disadvantaged businesses and encourage the EEOC to vigorously investigate any claims that the project as a whole is engaging in any form of job discrimination when considering applicants. Further, I would urge the Office of the Attorney General to research every legal avenue at the District's disposal to ensure that our local businesses and residents are not shut out of this project when they have the ability to perform.

Third, and most radical, if the above two steps fail to secure any significant hiring of District residents, I would urge local community organizations to consider nonviolent direct action to force the redevelopment contractors to deal with this issue. Nonviolent direct action ended Jim Crow and a series of other abuses in this country and - if all else fails - it will secure District residents employment on this and other large projects in this city.

A vote for me on April 26th is a vote for visionary solutions to seemingly intractable problems like local unemployment. So, four weeks from now, vote Alan Page, number 1 on the ballot and the number one fighter for the ordinary folks in the city struggling to improve their lives, the voice for the voiceless and a servant for the people.

(Photo by Antonia Coles)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Speaking Truth To Power On First Source Law

I got to speak on policies that can spark an increase in District employment at a candidate forum in Takoma recently. The audio for the entire forum can be found here.

To expand on my answer (and for those who don't have time to listen to the entire forum at this moment), let me also address my points on one policy area that can generate increased employment in DC immediately: proper enforcement of first source law.

First source law mandates that any company working on a city contract or through a beneficial tax arrangement (tax incentive financing or a tax abatement) must hire District residents for 51% of the new positions created by the contract or tax-incentivized project. We have a great first source law on the books and an update to strengthen it has been proposed this Council session. If we could stringently enforce this law and have businesses agree to train and hire District workers as they should, to comply with the spirit and letter of this law, District unemployment would drop precipitously.

It's up to the Council to exercise oversight over the Department of Unemployment Services and the Office of Contracting to insure that first source law is vigorously enforced in the District.

As a Councilmember, I would additionally propose new legislation to create a carrot-and-stick approach to first source law. The carrot - or incentive to follow the spirit and letter of first source law - would be comprised of assigning a plus to any bid from a company whose prior city-financed or tax-incentivized projects led to the hiring of a workforce 51% comprised of District residents and that (in addition) had maintained that ratio of District resident employees from the start of their last first source project to the time when that company puts in a new bid for a subsequent city contract. Likewise, companies that honored first source law in prior first source-required projects should be given priority by the Council when seeking tax incentive financing or tax abatements. The stick - the penalty for failing to comply with first source law - would be a ban from contracting with the city for a year on a first citation for violating first source law, for five years on any second violation, for the life of a company (as well as any company on which executives employed by the three-time offending company are employed in the future). Additionally, civil fines should be levied against companies on their third offense, with funds set aside a designated fund for workforce development. This type of stringent three strikes approach - combined with an incentive - will encourage compliance citywide.

We have to speak truth to power to companies that contract with the District or seek favorable tax arrangements: follow the law and employ District residents or find somewhere else to do business.

(Photo by El-Shamesh Photography)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New feature on!

I will be an independent voice on the City Council because I am outside the two-party system. I do not accept corporation donations. My campaign is grassroots-driven and will be responsible only to the people. I am an urban dad myself, with a daughter in DCPS. I am beholden to the children of this city, to safeguard their future, and to the people in this city, to fight for them now.

Check out the rest of the feature here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Need For Solar Power

Yesterday, I testified before the City Council (specifically the Committee on Public Services & Consumer Affairs) at their public hearing on the Distributed Generation Amended Act of 2011. The Act would impose a requirement on local power companies that they purchase SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) from local solar providers in the city, for up to 2.5% of the power they provide to District residents by 2020. This Act would not cost a single tax dollar, but would spur innovation and create green jobs by creating a definable market for solar entrepreneurs in the District, not to mention spurring use of solar as a source of energy in the District (this will lead to the local creation of green jobs, environmental benefits associated with lowered burning of fossil fuels in the five major power plants within the city limits and will eventually make solar panels cheaper to install due to economies of scale and increased competition). This is a fine example of legislative policy creating a socially and economically beneficial market incentive. My testimony to the Committee is below:

Solar Power Testimony
Before the DC City Council
March 2, 2011

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Alan Page and I am the DC Statehood Green Party candidate for the At-Large City Council seat up for election on April 26th. Thank you for allowing me to testify.

The Distributed Generation Act is a key step forward in bringing the District closer to the green power revolution we must undertake to keep Earth livable for us all. Relying on fossil fuels primarily for our power in the District is destructive to the environment we depend upon to live. As a coastal city that contains two rivers in its borders, changes in water levels projected to occur as a result of global climate change could devastate the District if we do not do our part now to reduce carbon emissions and cut fossil fuel usage.

I advocate even more radical change than the Distributed Generation Act takes, but this is a key first step that must be supported. The Act seeks to have the District increase its reliance on solar energy to 2.5% of the energy consumed in our borders. This amount should be as high as 10%, but this is a positive step towards a stronger commitment to using renewable energy in the District.

There are several key reasons why we must reduce our reliance on carbon and increase our usage of renewable, natural energy sources like solar. One, our initial investment of $200 million to create an expanded solar grid will generate energy projected savings of $70 million a year starting in 2020 and every year afterwards. Why? Because solar energy does not have to be purchased. Unlike fossil fuels, it is provided for free by nature and requires no money to “extract” from the earth or transport. Two, increasing requirements regarding how much District energy must have a solar source will lead to the creation of up to 2,000 green jobs in the District created by solar firms laying the necessary panels to collect the newly mandated solar energy. We should also ensure that solar firms that enter into city contracts with the District commit to train and hire District residents to fill 50% of the employment slots created in conjunction with city-contracted projects. We commit to solar energy and solar firms should commit to our workers.

We can radically change the future of the District today, create much needed new jobs in fields that are projected to grow economically for decades, and improve the environment for our children. Make the right choice today. Vote yes on the Distributed Generation Act. The children are watching. And so are we.

Thank you.

(Photo by Martin Junius. Used under Creative Commons license)

Rethinking Education

Last night, I attended "Your Role in Education Innovation", sponsored by Young Education Professionals DC and Young Nonprofit Network Professionals Network*. I had a great experience at the event listening to educational professionals (including interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson) discuss the future of education in the District. Henderson concisely summarized the argument that compensation should be results-driven instead of seniority-driven (a concept that Washington Teachers Union initially resisted, but agreed to incorporate in recent teacher contracts). She also spoke about how public school education in the District went from having no oversight, to a military-style oversight and "needs to return to the middle". I definitely think there were some disaffected stakeholders in the early stages of reforming education in the District and we need to move forward together; with Henderson, I think we're on a good path towards moving forward on one accord.

According to a recently released report, enrollment is projected to go up 3.5% in the 2011-2012 for DCPS and DCPCS combined. This is a great vote of confidence in the education reform that has taken place to date. Henderson expressed interest in being willing to try any educational model with proven results that shows similar results here in the District; if it works elsewhere and works here, our children will be able to benefit from it. This best practices-driven willingness to try new models, evaluate them carefully, and decide to abandon or proceed them with them based on actual educational results on the ground is key. Ben Riley of New Ventures School Fund emphasized that testing alone was not sufficient and suggested regular unannounced classroom visits and other methods to augment evaluation (the current model, I believe, calls for five classroom visits). Newer tech-based methods were also discussed as ways to improve instructor performance, such as allowing mentors to give real-time teaching advice to struggling teachers via Bluetooth device cordlessly attached to their ear as they taught their classes.

We definitely have to push for the best education models to take public education to the next level, both at traditional public schools and our charters. Continued evaluation of these models should enable us to find out what works and hopefully scale successful models to help more children succeed. We're all in it together.

The event hashtag on Twitter was "eduvation". Education + innovation = eduvation. Let's keep moving onwards and upwards.

* Search for the hashtag #eduvation for live tweets made during the course of the event.

Addendum: Special shoutout to DC Statehood Green Party visionary David Schwartzman for pointing out to me this brilliant article proposing one hour of real-world application of math and physical sciences concepts within the school day, by Marion Brady.

(Photo by George Ellenberg. Used under Creative Commons license)