Kent's responses to the DC for Democracy Questionnaire

DC for Democracy wants a world where every person has a voice and plays an active part in making the community more inclusive, democratic, and just. They organize, educate, advocate, and campaign so that ordinary people are empowered to take meaningful action to build that world.

 

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Campaign finance reform

1) If elected, will you commit to fully fund and oversee implementation of the Fair Elections Act?

I am committed to fully fund and oversee the implementation of any legislation that becomes law, including the Fair Elections Act. I am equally committed to providing oversight for laws to ensure that the goals and desired outcomes of these laws come to fruition.

The primary goal of the Fair Elections Act, in my view, is to give D.C. residents a bigger voice in city decision making, by eliminating corporate and special interest money in our elections. In the case of the Fair Elections Act, it will provide a 5-to-1 tax financing match on small-dollar donations to D.C. candidates.

Some are of the opinion that this act will ultimately not achieve the intended goal, is a poor use of tax money, and may result in giving more power to the already powerful. It has been said that a tax-funded system can create a significant incentive for candidates to cheat the system, with examples being cited in New York City, Los Angeles, and Arizona, where similar systems are in place. I don’t believe this would be the case in the District of Columbia.

As a councilmember, I would ensure the D.C. government monitors our Fair Elections Act to ensure that the problems of other jurisdictions are not replicated here, and that we be willing to amend, refine, and strengthen the law in the future as needed.

To compliment the Fair Elections Act and make our elections more competitive, I would advocate for fundraising limits on D.C. electoral races. For example, having different limits for Ward level council races, At-large council races, and other elected offices in the city could go a long way in creating fairer elections with better outcomes.

2) Developers and large corporations dominate the campaign donor base. What is your position on legislation that would prohibit businesses that make campaign contributions from having or seeking DC contracts/grants that exceed a specified amount and for a specific time period?

Limiting pay-to-play culture and ensuring that our representatives are not bought or have conflicts of interest is an excellent goal. Depending upon the definition of business entities, the amount of the contributions, the “specified amount” of the contracts or grants, and the “specific time period” this sounds like a practical approach. It is certainly an idea that should be vetted, debated, and explored. 

 

Worker Rights

3) The Council passed the Universal Paid Leave Act in 2016 and funded it in the FY18 budget. Explain your position on pending legislation that seeks to significantly change the law.

I supported and continue to support the Universal Paid Leave Act (UPLA). UPLA should be signed and implemented.

We must never forget that the District of Columbia is part of a large regional metropolitan area and that the other jurisdictions which make up our urban fabric do not always have the same goals or play by the same rules. We need to champion the cause for UPLA in Arlington, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties as well. Furthermore, the District of Columbia’s special circumstances create unique challenges that force us to make difficult decisions that other cities have not had to make. Much of the debate before the Council has not been about the merits of UPLA, but rather how to pay for it. The resulting bill, which became law in April 2017, is the only such law in the nation placing the burden on employers rather than employees. That concern about the burden on our businesses, and especially our small businesses, is precisely why the Council is now considering not one, but five bills seeking to amend the Universal Paid Leave Act.

Of the amendments currently under consideration, Council member Cheh’s proposal to assess a “fee” instead of levy a “tax” to fund the program is worth exploring. It is an excellent idea that would bring D.C.’s paid leave law into alignment with laws already implemented in other jurisdictions – the very laws that were frequently cited to illustrate the merits of paid leave in the District. This approach would also result in a shared contribution by both employers and employees. While this approach is not supported by some Council Members who believe that the assessment of a “fee” would not pass legal muster or Congressional review, why should we shy away from this approach?

4) What is your position on the Fair Scheduling bill, which seeks to give workers more predictable work schedules?

Giving hourly-employees a more predictable work schedule is beneficial, would improve workers’ overall quality of life, help them budget, schedule child care, plan for transportation, and even coordinate schedules with school, classes or other jobs if they are working parttime.

The Council’s decision to table the legislation in 2016 due to concerns with its impact on costs to employers is valid, however, we must continue to balance our efforts to improve working conditions with what is needed for small and local businesses to thrive and grow. We need healthy and vibrant businesses to create the jobs that unemployed Ward 1 and District residents need and rely upon.

A way to get the Fair Scheduling bill back on track for a vote could be to reduce the mandate that employers give notice of employees scheduled hours from two weeks to one week, or even possibly 10 days. Another approach would be to review all the challenges and regulations currently creating barriers and unnecessary expenses to businesses with the 2018 Democratic Primary Questionnaire Ward 1 Council - Kent Boese Page 2 goal of reducing the cost of doing business in the District. By doing this, we balance the financial concerns our businesses face and create the capacity for them to support efforts like Fair Scheduling without creating a severe impact to their bottom line. By working with small businesses and labor advocacy groups, I believe we can create a consensus on this issue.

 

Tax & Budget

5) What is your view of the Council’s vote in 2017 to cut the estate tax?

Even with our healthy economy and growing tax base, the District has many unfunded and underfunded needs. It is hard to fathom why our government would purposefully reduce its annual dedicated funding stream when we are struggling to provide the funding we need for education, homeless services, and other social programs. I am intrigued by Councilmember Charles Allen’s recent introduction of legislation to decouple DC’s estate tax rate from that of the Federal Government; and would like to see how much additional tax revenue, for much needed social services and housing, would be generated.

6) What is your position on the Council’s vote on the $82 million in tax-increment financing for the Union Market development, as well as the vote on the amendment proposing to use $18 million of those funds for affordable housing.

Tax-increment financing is an excellent tool for leveraging future expected tax revenue increases to reinvest into our communities. I support the Council’s decision to use this tool for Union Market. Of the $82 million TIF, $46.4 million would fund infrastructure improvements, which all agreed was needed. The controversial aspect of the Union Market TIF is the $36 million that would fund parking for the market – especially as the Chief Financial Officer testified that the TIF was not necessary for this development. With this in mind, the amendment proposing to use $18 million of the TIF funds for affordable housing is a reasonable effort and a benefit to the community and city as we continue to see rising housing costs in every neighborhood.

I would advocate for the District to consider Neighborhood TIFs in Ward 1, especially areas like Columbia Heights and lower Georgia Avenue. Both have newly established Main Street organizations that would benefit from a reliable revenue stream, and TIFs could be instrumental in moving these neighborhoods forward by supporting long-time businesses that help to grow our communities.

 

Environmental Issues

7) What is your position on the Carbon Fee Rebate proposal?

I fully support the Climate and Community Reinvestment Act. The proposal requires fossilfuel companies doing business in the District to pay a fee for every ton of carbon dioxide they put into the atmosphere. The policy would then rebate the overwhelming share of the collected revenue to D.C. households and small businesses such as those in Ward 1. As the Ward 1 Councilmember, one of the things I would look for in any legislation is how it impacts and benefits residents and businesses in my community. I am impressed by the thoughtfulness of the Climate and Community Reinvestment Act. What is compelling to me is that Ward 1 businesses such as Cork and Pleasant Pops are behind this bill – great local businesses with engaged owners who understand what it takes to thrive in D.C. while serving as a community partner.

The key elements and goals of the plan are:

  • Companies that buy and sell fossil fuels in the District would pay a steadily-rising fee on each ton of heat-trapping pollution they cause;
  • A 23 percent drop in D.C.'s carbon emissions, which would mean less carbon wrecking our lungs and our atmosphere, more investment into energy efficiency solutions, and a faster transition to clean, renewable energy sources;
  • To boost incomes in the District through a universal “carbon rebate” paid to every resident on a quarterly basis, including an enhanced rebate to low-income District residents; and,
  • Use a share of the carbon revenue to focus on energy efficiency and supporting greener buildings and local businesses.

Improving the environment of the District of Columbia is an essential part of our city’s future, and finding a solution that does not increase the financial burden that residents and small businesses face must be a fundamental part of that plan. In every decision we make, we must work with our residents and small businesses to improve our quality of life in a way that is beneficial to the entire community.

In order to make the plan better, I would support partnering with the surrounding jurisdictions of Arlington, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties to make sure all are working together on this effort. At this time, these jurisdictions are not considering this proposal which will limit its overall effectiveness on our environment.

8) If elected, will you assist the DC Reinvest campaign by supporting the passage of both the Sense of the Council Resolution regarding divestment from Wells Fargo as D.C.'s bank of record and the Strengthening the Community Development Amendment Act of 2017?

I believe the Strengthening the Community Development Amendment Act of 2017 makes sense. When the District must work with businesses and corporations that are headquartered outside the District of Columbia, we need to ensure that those entities and their operations are aligned with our D.C. values and do not have policies or practices which have harmed or can harm District residents. With regards to working with banks to manage the District financial interests, we need to ensure that those financial institutions have not engaged in discriminatory lending or mortgage practices. The discriminatory practice of redlining in D.C. has contributed to the challenges faced in Ward 1, as we struggle to preserve and create affordable housing and the opportunity to build equity through home ownership. Policies like this one moves the District and its residents backwards and have no place in our City.

I find the Sense of the Council Resolution regarding divestment from Wells Fargo problematic, though not for the position it takes. One concern I have is that I have been unable to get an answer on whether or not Wells Fargo has failed to comply with any of the terms of its contract with the District. Presuming it is in compliance, I would like to know what the cost of divesting from Wells Fargo to the District would be, not wanting to further enrich this financial institution. I presume, as Councilmember, I would be able to get this information and use it, in consultation with the community, about how to best move forward.

Another concern is that the current council action is a “Sense of the Council Resolution.” I find this to be mostly for show rather than action. If divestment from Wells Fargo is good for D.C., we shouldn’t waste our time on a “Sense of” resolution. We should be prepared to take real actions with real outcomes, and this resolution does not achieve that outcome.

 

Housing

9) The purpose of DC’s rent stabilization program, known as Rent Control, is to preserve the affordability of about 80,000 units in buildings built before 1976. However, rents in these units have risen so rapidly that long term tenants are being priced out of their apartments. To prevent further loss of affordable housing, two legislative fixes are before the DC Council. B-0025 will limit annual rent increases to an amount equal to the Consumer Price Index. B22-0100 will prohibit agreements between housing providers and tenants that call for rent increases for future tenants. In June, 2017, the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization held a hearing on both bills, but they have not yet been voted on. What is your position on these two bills?

With the ever-increasing cost of housing in the District of Columbia, it is critical that every reasonable effort be considered to maintain D.C.’s older and more affordable housing stock and apartment buildings. One person displaced by rising rents is one person too many. I’m particularly concerned with residents who are seniors, on fixed incomes, or have lower salaries. Both bills help restore our rent control laws to their originally intended purpose, Specifically, B22-0100, which addresses the ability of a landlord to get around rent control rules by obtaining a voluntary agreement from at least 70% of a building’s renters in order to raise rents for new residents, is a loophole that must be closed immediately.

Under current rent control laws and regulations, landlords can increase rents above the annual allowable rent increase when a rental unit becomes vacant. The increase in the rent upon a vacancy can be:

  • 10% more than was charged to the former tenant, or 
  • Rent for a comparable rental unit, but not more than 30%.

Once there has been a vacancy increase in rent, the housing provider cannot make another increase in rent for 12 months, even if another vacancy occurs.

Because the rent control law already outlines how much rents may increase for new residents in rent-controlled buildings, closing the loophole of voluntary agreements makes sense.

10) The Office of Planning (OP) is leading the periodic amendment cycle for the Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan). OP has proposed significant revisions to the Plan, loosening density definitions and emphasizing that the Zoning Commission should interpret Comp Plan provisions as suggestive rather than prescriptive, thereby placing the Commission’s authority above that of the Comp Plan, which is District law. Do you support these changes?

I do not support anything that will weaken the Comp Plan, especially as it is the guiding planning document for our city by District law. Understanding that it is impossible to plan for every scenario in a growing and changing city, it is still important that the Zoning Commission continue to meet the goals and intent of the plan rather than use the plan as a guiding document that can be dismissed. I was actively engaged in the recent Comp Plan amendment process submitting 64 text amendments and 2 map amendments for consideration. While many other residents did the same, no other candidate for Council in Ward 1 participated. The overall high engagement in the Comp Plan Amendment process speaks to the value that residents place in the Comp Plan, and the importance of it being a prescriptive document that is amended when necessary.

 

Criminal Justice

11) What is your position on the possible construction of a new jail in DC? Will you commit to ensuring that a) the project is financed through public funds (subject to interest rate limits) as opposed to through a public private partnership (“P3”) (where interest rates can exceed 30% per year), and b) that the public is involved from the beginning to ensure those awaiting trial are treated more humanely?

I would welcome the construction of a new jail in the District. The closing of Lorton and reliance on the Federal Prison system or Private Jails is not the solution. We need a local facility, financed through public funds and with local control to ensure that the prison is serving those who are serving out sentences and their families. We do nothing to maintain the bonds of family when District residents are sent hundreds of miles away to serve their sentences, and we lose control of maintaining adequate standards of treatment and respect when private companies are subcontracted to oversee this work. This is a case where the District needs to be involved and ultimately provide for its residents.

12) The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act prioritizes community-led, public health focused approaches to public safety, rather than further militarization of the police. Unfortunately, despite unanimous passage in 2016, the NEAR Act was only fully-funded last October, and several of the most important provisions of the law are still not implemented.

If elected, what will you do to ensure that the life-saving and community-empowering approaches in the NEAR Act are fully, faithfully, transparently, and successfully implemented by the administration?

Please be specific regarding how, if elected, you plan to utilize the Council's oversight and budget authorities, as well as your personal voice, to ensure that the Mayor and administration fully and effectively implement this law.

We need and deserve the holistic and comprehensive approach to public safety that the NEAR Act prioritizes. For healthy communities, we need to recognize that there is a bigger picture that includes police, social service agencies, and others to collaborate for the benefit of all. In Ward 1, we have locations where threats to public safety are deeply entrench. Despite overall neighborhood progress, some blocks have not changed in 20 years – blocks where poverty, substance abuse, and hopelessness lead to overdoses, shootings, and homicides. These locations are well known to MPD and they have done everything in their power to address them, however we are never going to arrest our way out of the problem. The cycle of hopelessness needs to be broken.

Public safety is important to me, and where I will be a strong advocate is in the following areas:

Supporting Social Services: For us to have social service partners, we need to fund and staff the agencies that are best capable to engage on homelessness, addiction, and 2018 Democratic Primary Questionnaire Ward 1 Council - Kent Boese Page 7 domestic violence. The Department of Behavioral Health, for example, is a small staff with limited funding – yet must serve the entire District. They do not have the support they need to make the difference in neighborhood safety they otherwise could. We must provide the support and staffing they need, and other agencies like them, if we are going to make the personal connections necessary to provide hope and a better life for those requiring support.

Collaboration: We need to create a framework where calls for domestic violence, for example, result in both a police response and a social service response. It is impossible to tell which service is required more when calls come in and it doesn’t serve us well when we don’t have the correct support response. We also need to strengthen communication between the agencies, so that all who are engaged to improve a community’s public health have all the relevant information they need to do so. The Council must examine the challenges that are preventing our social service professionals from success, and find ways to empower them for better outcomes. Community Policing and Police in the Community: We are fortunate that much of Ward 1 is served by the Third Police District. These officers are responsive and have proven to be good community partners. This is what we need throughout our neighborhoods. We must find ways for more police officers to afford to live and work in our communities so that we know them as neighbors, creating a stronger relationship and better understanding of community challenges. Our officers should be walking our neighborhoods, talking to the community, and getting to know us on a personal level. While we are not there yet, we do have examples of officers who have taken initiative to be a community friend and protector rather than just the person who is unknown and present solely to arrest.

For example, in the Third District, Officer Eastman worked the midnight shift for many years. He would not only police the community, but become part of the community by distributing coats to those in need, largely unknown to anyone other than his coworkers on the midnight shift. When he passed in October of 2017, officers of the Third District held a coat drive to honor the memory of Officer Eastman. Officer Eastman’s children, who live in Howard County, also assisted MPD in a coat drive at their elementary school. This year’s first coat drive resulted in the collection of 140 articles of clothing, which have been distributed to those in need and to residents in Faircliff, Urban Village, and Park Morton. This impressive grassroots effort should be occurring throughout the District to strengthen the relationship between MPD and the community.

Transparency and Redistricting: Another big challenge I am currently working on is the way data is reported by MPD and the issue of Ward 1 being in two police districts.

The easiest way for many of us to get crime data is through the DC Crime Map application. Yet, the way the application supplies data doesn’t always allow a resident to have an accurate understanding of crime trends in a neighborhood. For example, Columbia Heights and Park View neighborhoods are in both the Third and Fourth police districts. There is no convenient way to retrieve data for those specific neighborhoods without doing a custom search, and even then, it is impossible to capture a complete picture. We need to create a more transparent way to retrieve crime data so that we fully understand the challenges each community faces. While this can be accomplished electronically, we must review how police districts are drawn, and whether those boundaries are helping or hindering our efforts when it comes to public safety.

 

Education

13) After 10 years of mayoral control, we still face significant challenges in our public schools, as evidenced by the recent scandal of absenteeism and students graduating despite not meeting requirements. What is your position on maintaining mayoral control, versus returning authority to an elected school board?

There is no question that reform of our public-school system was necessary to bring about the modernization and repairs to long neglected school facilities; and rebuild a central administration that was unable to serve the best interest of our students.

However, I believe that the current revelations and multiple investigations regarding chronic absenteeism and students that have graduated despite failure to meet graduation requirements, presents a twofold problem. Graduating students with chronic absenteeism having not met graduation requirements leaves them ill-prepared to be successful in life, and secondly, it lowers the value of a D.C. Public School education for those students that have met the necessary requirements to graduate.

Much of the problems associated with recent DCPS scandals originate with the last Washington Teachers Union (WTU) contract, directly linking rising test scores and graduation rates with raises and/or continued employment for teachers and principals. In a high stakes game of move the numbers at all costs, we have lost sight of the fundamentals of educating our students. Part of the solution may be expanding the authority of our elected State Board of Education (SBOE) and Office of the Education Ombudsman to independently verify that schools are not graduating students that have not met the graduation requirements set by the SBOE.

14) If elected, what legislation do you support or propose to hold charter schools to the same standards as traditional public schools, particularly with regard to special education and the Freedom of Information Act?

Charter schools, by their very nature, enjoy a certain level of autonomy, but this should not be mistaken for complete independence. Access to high quality education is a fundamental civil right, and no child should be turned away from a school or encouraged to enroll elsewhere based upon special needs. All institutions supported in full or in part with District of Columbia tax dollars should be compliant with all D.C. Human Rights and FOIA laws. Recognizing the unique relationship that individual charters schools may require more assistance from the D.C. Public Charter School Board to comply with D.C. FOIA laws, I would support additional resources so that all Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are fully compliant.

15) If elected, will you commit to push for an immediate markup and passage of the Language Access for Education bill, which has been bottlenecked in the Council for three years? Why or why not?

I fully support the markup and passage of B22-0075, the Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2017 (carried over from Council period 21), which requires public schools, including public charter schools, to provide essential language translation services; and expand the number of District Government agencies that are covered by the law.

Equally important as the Bill itself, I am committed to providing the necessary oversight to ensure that the language access needs of our community are met. The current Chair of the Council’s Committee on Human Services, Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, has not provided the adequate oversight on this issue and failed to attend the April 24, 2017, Public Hearing on B22-0075, in which testimony was shared that Bread for the City has filed more than 10 language access complaints with the Office of Human Rights against the Department of Human Services for failure to provide necessary services. In all cases, the Department of Human Services has been found to be in violation, yet the Office of Human Rights has no authority to fine or penalize the Department of Human Services or make them comply with the law. Because of the lack of enforcement authority of OHR rulings, Bread for the City has had to file a lawsuit under the D.C. Human Rights Act to seek corrective action by the Department of Human Services and secure just compensation for their clients whose rights were violated under D.C. Law. The failure of oversight on this issue is clear, and a troubling indicator that passage of the Language Access for Education bill will not be enough to make language access a reality. Legislation, no matter how well-meaning, requires constant oversight, follow-up, and follow through to ensure desired outcomes are achieved.