Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
Beware the Ides of March. A string of scandals and accusations shakes the mayor’s office in D.C. Maryland lawmakers face tough votes on undocumented immigrants and gay marriage. And Virginia politicians gear up for fights over redistricting. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Ken Ulman County Executive, Howard County, Maryland
- Allen Sessoms President, University of the District of Columbia
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Politics Hour Extra
University of the District of Columbia President Allen Sessoms talks about the recent controversy surrounding travel expenses he incurred on trips for university business. Sessoms admitted that the university’s accounting system is “sloppy” and said that he has been working with university officials to make sure the problems are corrected. He said he expects a new and improved system to be in place by October 2011:
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman talks about why he’s pushing for greater enforcement of speed limits around schools in his area, inlcuding increased efforts by law enforcement officials to catch and ticket speeders. Ulman answers a caller’s criticism of the county’s increased focus on speeding and emphasized that the reasons behind it are ones of safety as opposed to revenue generation:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Another busy scandal-ridden week in Washington starting Sunday with Nikita Stewart's story in The Washington Post about allegations of cash payments from the Vincent Gray campaign. The central figures in the scandal are lawyering up, and a report by the Government Operations Committee of the D.C. City Council chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh. Tom Sherwood, is in no ways tired, though, as a result of all of this. The question, Tom, is, has -- have you seen it all before?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, I've seen variations of this play, but, you know, I have to tell you I am tired. This is a long week. You know, this weekend is the, you know, we spring forward. I was, like, can we just spring forward now, go forward one hour right now, so I can just go home.
NNAMDIAnd go to bed.
SHERWOODThat's right. Now, I spent -- it's a lot of...
NNAMDIIt's been a rough week.
SHERWOODIt's unfortunate that the two months into this -- to the Gray administration, these different things are swirling around. The U.S. attorney is now involved, and it's just an ugly place to be.
NNAMDILet's talk about that. How did the U.S. attorney get involved? Ron Machen?
SHERWOODWell, yes, in part, because when Ron -- I always say his name wrong -- Machen.
SHERWOODMachen. When he took the job, he said that public corruption is a principal goal of his, and he even reorganized, I think, the staff over there for public corruption. Of course -- but once the inspector general -- the D.C. inspector general recused himself, Mr. Willoughby, recused himself because they had had contact...
NNAMDIBecause he had interviewed Suleiman Brown for a job.
SHERWOOD...in January. And so he's -- and people thought -- a lot of people in the mayor's office and other places thought that Mr. Willoughby would recuse himself, not his entire office. So that was a big blow. So nobody at the I.G. could do it. The attorney general said, well, you know, I've been nominated by the mayor, and I haven't been confirmed yet. So I don't think I'll do it. I'll just help the Office of Campaign Finance and Ethics do this review, which is starting. But then the U.S. attorney's people, I think, said let's have the FBI start asking a few people with, you know, serious tones what happened.
NNAMDIAnd Mayor Vincent Gray lawyered up. He got super lawyer Robert Bennett. He's being represented by a lawyer who represented the president of the United States. Also lawyering up, mystery man Howard Brooks. He's got Glenn Ivey, the former Prince George's County state's attorney. What's going on here?
SHERWOODWell, I think it's a smart thing to lawyer up, because, you know, if you're innocent, you need a lawyer to keep you out of the pitfalls. If you're guilty, you need a lawyer to, you know, to climb out of them once you're already in them. So everybody needs legal advice in this case.
NNAMDIHoward Brooks still continues to be a mystery man in all of this. I have been searching high and low, cannot find one photograph of Howard Brooks anywhere.
SHERWOODI know we've all -- I tweeted out and put on my Facebook, I think, I said anybody know -- I've got one picture which I can't -- I don't know if it's him or not, but I'm trying. But he's ducked -- I asked the mayor yesterday. I said, this -- if someone accused me, Mr. Mayor, of these kinds of horrendous things, and I had not done them, I would be out screaming bloody murder. And this guy has avoided all publicity, avoided all reporters. And I don't know where he is, and I'm hoping to post to (unintelligible) Suleiman...
NNAMDIFor those of us who don't know, Howard Brooks was one of the members of the Vincent Gray campaign who is alleged by ex-candidate Suleiman Brown to have not only offered but actually paid him in cash.
NNAMDIHe was the alleged bagman in this situation.
SHERWOODHe should come forward. He should come on "The Kojo Show" and tell us how he's been wronged.
NNAMDIAnd now, there is a report by the Committee on Government Operations chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh, who was a strong supporter of Council Chair Vincent Gray when he was running during his campaign, and that report essentially says that there are eight Gray staffers whose salaries exclude -- exceed the council's cap. But on the charges of nepotism, the report says it hasn't found any evidence of senior Gray officials acting improperly and knows that intra-familial has always occurred in previous administrations. Well, that did not sit very well with at-large Councilmember David Catania. Here's what he had to say.
MR. DAVID CATANIAMy initial reactions are that this is a whitewash, that this is an attempt to excuse away and explain away the actions of this administration over the last couple of months by simply saying, well, we don't know what anybody else did. And essentially, it's the two-wrongs-make-a-right strategy. If it happened in the past, it was wrong. If it happened now, it's wrong.
NNAMDIAnd just in case you're trying to figure out exactly what it Councilmember David Catania is talking about, in talking to our WAMU 88.5 reporter Patrick Madden later on, he was more specific.
CATANIAIt just defies logic that you can have so many people, senior in either the campaign or the executive office of the mayor have such overqualified children who can all of a sudden unanimously at the same time contemporaneously all get hired.
NNAMDIThat about says it all right there, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODThese children -- and I do not know their individual qualifications. Certainly, if I were the mayor in this case, I would put them out immediately for everyone to see -- their resumes, but it is the timing of it is suspect. The mayor says, well, they're all qualified. Well, so what? The issue is do they have an inside track to get to these noncompetitive jobs. And so it's just an unseemly thing. And a good chief of staff, somebody to the mayor, a political adviser to the mayor, aware of these types of things, would say, look, this does not look good. It doesn't look good whether it's legal, whether it's even right. It doesn't look good.
NNAMDIMeanwhile, council two -- Ward Two Councilmember Jack Evans, who's chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, says he is indefinitely postponing the nomination of Lorraine Green as chairman of the Washington Convention and Sports Authority. Lorraine Green not only a close personal friend but also the campaign chair of Mayor Vincent Gray who just resigned from Amtrak presumably with a view to taking this new position.
SHERWOODWell, that's not a full-time position, necessarily, but, you know, Lorraine Green is a -- you can't be any closer to Vince Gray politically personally than Lorraine Green is. She's - she worked during the campaign, not only on the campaign but even before the election was over, she was carefully trying to start putting the administration together so they wouldn't, you know, be surprised after September. And so she's really involved in a lot of things.
SHERWOODNow, she has a lawyer. She's not talking yet. She has denied vigorously any allegations Suleiman Brown has made that she gave him money, or that she authorized anyone else to. But she -- her -- one of her persons is the chief of staff to the mayor. She has her ties all around. She's connected to Mr. Brooks. I'm anxious -- I'm hopeful that she'll come up at some public space and say what she's doing, where she is and what she knows.
NNAMDISpeaking of what she's doing or what he is doing and where he is, just in case you were wondering what former Mayor Adrian Fenty was doing, he showed up on the radio this week on the "Morning Joe" program in support of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, saying that Governor Walker who has -- who is trying to end and now has succeeded with the support of Republicans in Wisconsin, ending the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
NNAMDIFormer Mayor Fenty says he's right on the substance. I tend to agree with him. He's also right on the politics. I just don't understand why the legislature has been given this pass to go to another state and do what they were sworn to do. Just in case you were wondering whether or not he is still interested in matters in the District of Columbia, apparently, not so much.
SHERWOODWell, he -- the unions never did like him for a variety of reasons, but I forgot -- I need -- I think we need to close the loop on the Cheh report, on the hiring of the Gray administration...
SHERWOOD...because I did talk to the staff afterwards. It was very contentious. It shows that the Gray controversies are rending the council members -- Gray -- and I have the report right here. Actually, I've read it. TV reporters don't have to read these long things.
NNAMDINo wonder you're tired.
SHERWOODBut here's the bottom line. After all that -- the contra -- what's the word? (word?) of yesterday. Cheh now says she will hold a separate hearing on the hiring practices of this administration. So we'll see what happens in the next chapter.
NNAMDIThe city's budget is busted. A lot of students who pay tuition for the University of the District of Columbia are struggling to pay their bills, and local officials and UDC students made it clear this week that they are unhappy that the Office of the President spent thousands of dollars on first-class airfare and other travel expenses. Joining us now in studio is Allen Sessoms. He is the president of the University of the District of Columbia. Dr. Sessoms, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
DR. ALLEN SESSOMSThank you for having me.
NNAMDITo be clear, how do you account for those travel expenses, and how do you think a UDC student or a D.C. taxpayer should regard them?
SESSOMSLet me comment on the program in general first. We have had a 14-year relationship in Cairo with the Maadi Modern Academy. We...
SHERWOODWe're talking here about the $7,000 expense to Cairo.
SESSOMSWe have a fund paid for through revenues generated in Egypt for the purpose of maintaining that program. That program is maintained in many different ways. We have faculty who develop course work. We have insurance that the exams we give are the same, but every six months or so, a team is supposed to go over, since they are UDC degrees that we're delivering, to ensure that the program is being treated properly. The students are being treated well. The exams are, in fact, the same. We have quality control and quality assurance, and we have a lot of folks who have been doing this over time.
SESSOMSOne of the issues related to this program is to ensure that it maintains accreditation. We're developing a very strong cadre, a hundred students a year of graduates from this program. So it gives us a rather significant international presence. And the Egyptians and I thought we can do much more for this program for the university and for the Egyptians by making sure, for example, that we have the opportunities for students to go back and forth, for faculty to go back and forth, to really do things in a more broader and international way.
NNAMDII don't think anyone questions the legitimacy of the program you have with Egypt. What they do question is the $8,000 airfare for a first-class ticket apparently purchased on short notice. Could that have been avoided?
SESSOMSIt could have avoided, except I hadn't planned to go, and the Egyptians felt that it was important for me, A, to come and confer the degrees since the president of the university was supposed to do. And, secondly, they wanted to really have a discussion about how we can make the program more expansive. The ticket was bought on short notice because I didn't decide to go until shortly thereafter, but it turns out that three other people went with me and the difference between that ticket I got and the tickets they got were about -- it was about $200. I mean, it's not a big deal. I probably got the last seat on the plane, which is why I got that seat.
SESSOMSWe can plan better. But since I hadn't planned on going at all, this was a short notice thing. But I would point out that the funds for those tickets were all paid for out of Egyptian monies collected in the program. No U.S. dollars, no student dollars, no appropriated dollars at all had been ever used for that program.
NNAMDIAnd the reason there are some of confusion that in a series of reports that aired on Channel 5 WTTG here, the series -- the reason that there is some confusion about that is because of apparent sloppy recordkeeping at the University of the District of Columbia. I have seen you in interviews talk about that, but you don't seem to take ownership of it. If there is, in fact, sloppy accounting taking place at the District of Columbia during your watch, who's responsible for that?
SESSOMSI'm ultimately responsible for everything that happens at the university, but I don't control everything that happens at the university. Sloppy recordkeeping has been a -- maybe even a hallmark of the university for 30 years. We are aggressively, aggressively trying to change that. We're putting in place a new...
NNAMDIYou teach accounting there.
SESSOMSI can't do the accounting. I don't control the accounting.
NNAMDIBut you teach it there.
NNAMDIYou have a course...
SHERWOODWell, let me -- I wanna get -- jump in on this point, because, you know, I have -- as I understand it, the way the process works, the board -- the chairman of the board, the president -- as the president of the board or chairman…
SHERWOODChairman of the board is responsible for setting whatever policy for the university is for your travel, and that he or she, whoever is in the position at the time, approves the policy for your travel, and then he or she must approve the records and the documentation on it. And then the CFO pays the checks.
SHERWOODAnd my understanding is that the submission of documentation of what you spent and how you spent it has never -- has not been nearly up to standards. Submitting an American Express bill, for example, instead of the actual receipts is not an accounting way of saying, I spend X dollars on this thing.
SESSOMSWell, there are some things that we can certainly do better on the accounting side, and I'm taking a closer look at this. I'm not an accountant. I'm trying to, kind of...
SHERWOODBut also fees -- my chair just slipped down.
NNAMDIYeah. I noticed that you're -- you were lowered in my estimation too.
SHERWOODBut these credit card bills -- then there are additional fees if they are not paid right away, so it builds on itself.
SESSOMSAnd we're trying to fix that. The problem is that we have a university stuck in a series of rules that make it like a city agency. Well, city agencies have one source of funds in general. They pave streets that get paid for by the District. We get only 40 percent of our budget from the District. We get significant numbers that -- bless you.
SHERWOODBut -- Mr. President, but it's not about the university funds. It's about whether or not when you -- when I travel, GE -- who used to own us, now Comcast does -- I mean, they are horrendous. I mean, they are on you like a pack of wild dogs if you don't document what you do. I mean, most corporations are that way. It's up to you, the person, and me if it's me, to file appropriate accurate receipts for travel or don't get reimbursed. Lord knows how much money I have not gotten back because I spent the money and didn't get a receipt.
SESSOMSI have a receipt for everything. There is nothing that...
SHERWOODWell, how did you get back from Egypt? That's a big issue.
SESSOMSI got back on the same airplane. Here is what happened. I had...
SHERWOODYou -- But that was a one-way ticket. You bought another ticket?
SESSOMSI think it was a roundtrip ticket.
SHERWOODThere was a roundtrip.
SESSOMSOf course, there was a...
SHERWOODSeven thousand -- I hope it was.
SESSOMSOf course, it was a roundtrip ticket.
SESSOMSOkay. You cannot buy a one-way ticket to hardly any place anymore. You buy a roundtrip ticket...
SHERWOODYeah. That's some TSA thing or something.
SESSOMSYeah. But it's also a visa thing.
NNAMDIBut I think...
SESSOMSSo you have to have a roundtrip. So what I do, when I come back, I handed all my receipts with all the notations on them. I give them to my office and they process it.
SHERWOODDo you keep copies of them?
SESSOMSI give it to my secretary. I don't keep copies of anything.
SHERWOODBut you don't -- your secretary doesn't keep copies of the rest?
SESSOMSShe has copies of everything. And that's the point. But the way it's billed -- we have copies in our office of all the receipts. It then goes to the CFO's office, and they are the ones who manage all the payments because the university can't cut checks. All the checks, independent where the funding comes from, comes through this -- the chief financial officer.
SHERWOODAnd my sources at the CFO or around the CFO, I should say, to actually be more accurate, say that you must have -- the records aren't there. They're not gonna write it. It's a functionary thing. It's my understanding that CFO's office doesn't approve whether you go to Egypt or you go to, you know, Atlanta, Ga. But it says, if you do not have the records properly documented, it won't write a check for anything.
SESSOMSThat's correct, and our records are properly documented, which is why they wrote the check. All of our stuff is properly documented. I'm beginning to think, on this way back, there may have been a boarding pass that was lost. Because what happened was, when I was in Egypt, we had a ticket that allowed us, for example, to get a free stopover in London. We have a very long collaboration with the University of Sunderland, which is the sister city of D.C., by the way. (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWhat's the nature of that collaboration?
SESSOMSWe have had students from UDC spend a semester at the University of Sunderland, several, actually. We have invited students from the University of Sunderland to the University of the District of Columbia. They will -- two of them will be here this summer for a whole semester. We are trying to build joint degree programs. They have some outstanding programs in nursing, in journalism, and they have fantastic facilities. But we have not serviced that very well. We have had them visit us three or four times a year, and I think only once has a president of the university gone over to them. So we're...
NNAMDII got a small picture question and a big picture question.
NNAMDIFirst, the small picture question. If, indeed, the accounting at the University of the District of Columbia in terms of travel expenses is broken, when can we expect it to be fixed?
SESSOMSWe are fixing it right now. We're putting in place a banner system -- I think the American University uses banner as well -- for all accounting for everything, from travel, to student records, to the registrar's office. And that will allow us to coordinate things much better. We've been working on this for two years. Since I got there, I said we are gonna change the system because what we have is antiquated at best. So we're putting that in place now but we have to train people up to use the banner system.
NNAMDICan you give us a time when we can expect the smoothly operating, efficient, transparent system to be in place?
SESSOMSI think that our accounting system will be implemented completely by October on the banner system.
NNAMDIOctober. We'll make a note of that. My big picture question is this. Yes, college presidents do do a lot of traveling. A lot of that traveling is related to raising funds for the university. What can you show us that you have established in terms of fundraising for the University of the District of Columbia as a result of your travels?
SESSOMSWhat we have -- what I have done personally is start raising visibility of the university. When I got to the University of the District of Columbia, it was not one that was held in the highest repute. In order to raise funds -- and we've raised some funds already. We've raised...
SESSOMS...about a couple of million dollars over the past two years. But what...
NNAMDIAs a result of your travels?
SESSOMSAs a result of my travel and my interactions, and mostly talking about the university and making people realize that the university is here. We got a wonderful donation of $1.25 million.
NNAMDICan your accounting office provide evidence of that, the funds that you have raised?
SESSOMSIt's in the foundation. Yes.
SESSOMSIt's in our -- UDC foundation has accounts on all of these things.
SESSOMSBut what is important as a university president -- I don't have to tell you this. You know this. A university president has got to build an image of the institution. Everybody wants the president to talk about the institution, the president's on point, marketing in some major way and in some significant ways, recruiting. What we did, for example, when we separated off the community college, people thought that was a risky move. Spectacular success. When I put in the mission standards and doubled the tuition at the university, so we can actually begin to provide students with the services they really deserved, people thought that was a risky -- really risky move. Spectacular success.
SESSOMSIt was through marketing that people understood this is what we're doing. We're becoming the service university for the District of Columbia. Nobody would have heard of it otherwise if it had not (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWhen you talk about raising the profile of the university internationally, that involves telling people, A, what the university has accomplished and, in particular, what students who attended the University of the District of Columbia have accomplished. Do you do that? Can you name students who have made spectacular accomplishments? Is that a spiel that you can share some of it with us right now?
SESSOMSWell, for example, the superintendent of the school system in Buffalo is a graduate of UDC. The current fire chief, the new fire chief in the District of Columbia is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia. The commander, the major general commander of the National Guard in D.C. is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia. There are dozens of stories of ex -- outstanding graduates of this university who have really made an impact locally and nationally and some internationally.
SESSOMSDenis Antoine -- Ambassador Denis Antoine, who was ambassador of Granada to the United States for 13 years, and is currently director of International Exchanges and Programs at the university, is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODI think this is what...
NNAMDIIt turns out that was a softball. Go ahead.
SHERWOODI think -- well -- no, I think -- well, UDC has been a backwater university. They've had more staff term --you know, the faculty senate issues, the student uprising over the years for a variety of reasons. How -- even your worst critics have not -- have said, you came in -- what was it, two, three years ago?
SESSOMSTwo and a half years.
SHERWOODTwo -- almost three. You took a poorly functioning university. You restructured the degree programs. You had some old battles with people who wanted a community college separate from UDC because UDC was so disrespected. But you prevailed, and you've started that. And so you've done a lot of good things. But that -- for all of those things -- and you've irritated a lot of people who liked the status quo. So that's the good, positive part. The problem is, with the disputes over your personal records, and people look at your SUV, you know, because of the Kwame Brown thing, that kind of created more of a stuff. But, you know, the -- you got a one-time transportation deal when you got the job. You bought that vehicle.
SHERWOODAnd that's what you keep.
SHERWOODSo all of that said though -- but do you recognize that the confusion and the stories about not accounting for money undermines all the good work you've done?
SESSOMSYes, and we're trying to fix that. We're trying to tell the story properly. Everything we've done -- I will say that everything I've done is receipted. Some of it is hard to explain, you know? It's hard to explain what university presidents do. It's hard to explain, except the people in the university environment, that when we're talking about travel, we've got 300 faculty traveling all over the place.
SHERWOODWhat about the baby seat? There was a -- the Fox stories were a little bit hyperventilated for my taste. But, you know, they were there, and they worked a long time on them. There was something about a baby seat, that you rented a baby seat. What did have to do with the university?
SESSOMSWell, I went -- I can't remember where that was -- to a meeting...
SHERWOODYou don't remember renting the baby seat?
SESSOMSI rent baby seats all the time (laugh) for all sorts of reasons. I've got two little kids, and they have to be in car seats. And when I take my family with me -- and I pay for every single thing that my family -- all the transportation all the travel, everything. I pay for my family going. When -- there are some of these events where they invite your family to come along. It's a couple of days. I'm working...
SHERWOODWell, they should pay. Whoever invites the family should be paying...
NNAMDIMaybe they should be paying for the baby seats, huh?
SESSOMSI pay for the family. What happens is...
SESSOMS...you rent the car from Hertz. They give you -- I get one baby seat for free. One baby seat costs six bucks a day. When Hertz comes in to bill, it comes in with the baby seat. So I get a bill saying, okay, you owe me $18 for the baby seat. Fine. Then give me a check for $18 for the baby seat.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, this is the Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst, an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Our guest is Allen Sessoms, president of the University of the District of Columbia. We've been getting a lot of comments and questions for you on our Facebook page or through our Twitter account. Allow me to relay a question from a Facebook user named Fairtuition DC.
NNAMDI"Can you please have Dr. Sessoms answer questions regarding why did he spare the UDC School of Law a 96 percent tuition increase that was scheduled according to the UDC board of trustee resolution? A 20 percent tuition increase in 15 years is unjust. When he raised the tuition for the undergraduate schools, 150 percent, graduate students 87 percent in one calendar year. The rationale behind this needs to be addressed, especially since it essentially now costs more for an undergraduate degree at UDC than for a law degree."
SESSOMSOkay. Let me try to straighten this out now. That statement is not correct. The tuition and fees for the University is $7,000 a year. The tuition and fee for the community college is $3,000 a year. If you're a D.C. resident, tuition and fees for the law school are $8,850 a year, okay? It's $1,800 more. We can raise that. But this is a public interest law school. People graduated from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, go into not-for-profits. They go into government. They go into public services. They don't go into corporate law.
SESSOMSSo we're trying to keep those costs reasonably low. It's one of the best public interest, if not the best public interest, law school in the nation. And we want to attract the best students. If you're not a D.C. resident, you pay almost $18,000 a year to go to law school. I will say that there is no student at the University of District of Columbia who's a resident of District of Columbia who pays more than 40 percent of the cost of their education. Every single student is subsidized. That's what public higher education is about.
SHERWOODYou know, UDC, the law school, the David A. Clarke School of Law, has, in fact, gotten some -- getting some good things. I mean, Eric Holder, the attorney general, came and spoke and then praised the school for its community service hours that are required. All those things are good. But again, to me, it all circles back in a roundabout right back to -- its respond -- your image of the university -- and you're really not that directly involved with the law school, but it's your -- these expenses undermine all of this positive aspect for the university. And I'm just...
SESSOMSWell, it's a reporting on the expenses. The expenses are all legitimate. As I was describing, the expenses of going to this trip, to Egypt, first of all, none of it is university money. It's all paid for by the Egyptian program. And, in fact, that money can only be used to support the Egyptian program. So no matter...
SHERWOODSo is there a receipt that shows that -- what's the name of the university in Cairo?
SESSOMSIt's the Maadi Modern Academy. We...
SHERWOOD(unintelligible), I'm not gonna try to say that. But they -- what...
SESSOMSBut let me say that we've got 250,000 -- since I've been here, we received, on the positive side, $250,000 a year profit from Maadi -- so it's half a million dollars since I've been here to support that program. And we have spent a fraction of that in supporting the program. So we have a fund that's being built up within...
SHERWOODIs that the fund that paid for your trip?
SESSOMSYes. And the trip of all my colleagues, and the money we used to support the programs, yes. Actually...
NNAMDIGentlemen, please put on your headphones, because here is Daniel in Washington, D.C. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELThank you, Kojo. There are numerous additional scandals that began under Dr. Sessoms' watch that have not been addressed at all, including missing student activities funds money, missing grandfathered in scholarships that he promised during the -- two years ago at D.C. council hearing, numerous election irregularities, including thousands of students who've not been allowed to vote for most of the year for student government up until very recently and a tampered election procedures' document that Dr. Sessoms and all these people, all the way up to the trustees have refused to comment on, despite the students (unintelligible)
NNAMDIDaniel, let's take them one at a time. What is your first...
NNAMDIWhat is your first allegation?
DANIELLet's start with the missing student activities funds.
NNAMDIHere is Dr. Sessoms.
SESSOMSOkay. I like to see -- we have heard these stories. We have done internal audit. We have looked at the external audit. There is no evidence whatsoever of that claim. So if you have specific evidence, we would be delighted if you would provide it to us. The allegations don't help. We have looked that the statements are simply not true.
DANIELStudents have said that they have not been allowed to spend their student activities money, that no organizations have actually gotten funding in the last semester despite the fact that students have paid their student activities money. So the question is where is it? Where are those missing student activities funds going?
SHERWOODOh, that's fair. No organization at the school has gotten the student activity funds money. Is that true?
SESSOMSThat statement is not true. What we did -- and this is something that we had to do was there were accusations made that the student government association was misusing funds that were provided to them to fund student government organizations. We have done a very careful audit. And until that audit was completed -- and it took about a month and a half -- we suspended the ability of the student government organization to disperse funds, because the funds are being misused. We don't want them to have it in their hands. It turns out that all the accusations were absolutely false.
NNAMDIYou get one...
SESSOMSWe've demonstrated that. And so those funds now have been restored and the student activity fees are being redistributed.
NNAMDIDaniel, you get one more.
DANIELOkay. The tampered of student election procedures. All six student senators from last year said that after they wrote and ratified the election procedures, the document was tampered with. And they have -- they compared both documents and show the line that was used -- that was actually used to invalidate the election of the Student President Gabriel Ralte, was added after the student senators ratified the document. Now, they have attested to this, and this information has been presented to the trustees and to Dr. Sessoms' office. And Dr. Sessoms has refused comment on how these procedures could have been tampered with and so...
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Dr. Sessoms.
SESSOMSOkay. What happened was these allegations were made. There was a trustee committee that investigated this for a month and a half. There was a student judicial committee that looked at the entire electoral process. None of these allegations were substantiated. Elaine Crider who is a trustee, who chairs the student affairs committee, spent numeral hours studying this very carefully and found that there's absolutely no evidence to that.
SESSOMSOne of the things that I find interesting at the University of District of Columbia is it always easy to make accusations, but it's very hard to document these accusations. And one of the things were trying to do is be fair to everyone and document every allegation and investigate every allegation. There has been no allegation since I have been there that hasn't been investigated.
NNAMDIDaniel, thank you for your call. Tom?
SHERWOODLet me -- for the people who are not that in plugged into the University of the District, maybe who just heard about all the problems. Let's -- very quickly, just tell me, about how many students are enrolled in undergraduate at UDC?
SESSOMSThere are approximately, in degree-bearing courses, about 2,700 students, at the community college -- in the same number -- a little more at the university.
SHERWOODOkay. So about 2,700 students at the university. About...
SESSOMSUndergraduate level, yes.
SESSOMSOkay. In undergraduate level. How many in the graduate level?
SESSOMSAbout 385 in the law school and another couple of hundred in the graduate program.
SHERWOODMaybe 6,000 tops?
SESSOMSSix thousand overall, plus another 2,000 that's all in (unintelligible)
SHERWOODAnd what's the annual budget at UDC...
SESSOMSThe annual budget in the university is about $150 million a year, a little more.
SHERWOODOkay. That will give you an idea of how big it is.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that some faculty members are upset about a proposal you released last week to reduce and consolidate academic programs. Could you tell us exactly what you did propose and your reasons for doing so? The faculty association president says that you did not consult with the faculty or the trustees.
SESSOMSI haven't released anything. What was going on is that there has been a year-long study by external consultants and the faculty itself, looking at all the programs at the university. Every university in the country has been scrubbing their programs to make sure their programs are relevant to the 21st century. We have found programs, for example, that cost a couple hundred dollars a year to run, which graduate one student. So what we...
SHERWOODCan you give us an example of that?
NNAMDIPorquoi? But anyway, go ahead. (laugh)
SESSOMSJe ne sais pas. (laugh)
SHERWOODOh, that's the extent of your knowledge.
SESSOMSSo what we've...
SHERWOODDon't be fooled, listeners.
SESSOMSSo what we've done is we've gone through a year-long study, and those results of that study have been presented to the faculty senate. The faculty senate then studied this in extenso. They then provide their recommendations to the (word?) -- provide their recommendation -- she provides her recommendations to me. I looked at this and make a recommendation to the board of trustees.
SHERWOODAnd when's that gonna happen? When's that process gonna be done?
SESSOMSIt depends on what the faculty senate does in this process. It can take a few months. It could take six months.
SHERWOODOkay. And so this -- oh, it's -- there's no time limit?
SESSOMSNo. They have the ability to go through and study this very carefully as they must. But I have not proposed anything to anyone. I received indications of what the report is. I haven't actually commented one way or another. It goes to the faculty senate for their consideration, and then it goes to the normal academic chain. Every university in the country has done this. For example, some universities have -- that decides they would eliminate 150 majors. They did that in Missouri. They're doing the same thing in Illinois. They're doing the same thing in California, because of fiscal constraints. Our constraints are that our programs haven't been revised in 30 years and that's a problem for the students. They have to get out and get jobs.
SHERWOODSome people in -- person called you the Michelle Rhee of higher education as you came in to blow up everything and reset everything.
SESSOMSThat's not completely fair, and I don't think it's fair to Michelle Rhee either. One of the things that we're trying to do is build a university. And this university, when I arrived, was called a university for dumb children by even some of those who went there. Nobody here says that anymore.
NNAMDIAllow me to relay this question from our Facebook page from Fatima. "I would like to know why students are being made to wait for close to three months to almost a year for a student refund's checks."
SESSOMSThis is the student financial aid problem that we have tackled. You realized that everyone has gone through this. That the federal government went from bank-based lending to direct lending in colleges this year. We were forced to make that conversion. There were a lot universities that had lot of trouble doing this quickly. We were among the ones who had trouble. We work with the Department of Education. But we were certainly not the worst in the country, by the way.
SESSOMSNow, we have dispersed more in the first week and a half of the semester than we did in the final four months of the previous semester. So we're catching up. But we have a lot of learning to do. So Department of Education has been very helpful. They see this is a problem nationally in under-resourced institutions which haven't paid to attention to this. We're getting a lot of help from consultants, outside consultants, who were really getting us to do this. But this is a job that the banks used to do and these universities got to learn how to do it. And unfortunately, some of our staff simply weren't trained.
NNAMDIWe're just about out of time. We'd like you to come back in the future, because Mayor Vincent Gray was very vocal during the mayoral campaign about how he'd like UDC to play an integral role in the city's conversation about education reform. He's been a bit busy during the course of the last few weeks so I'm assuming that you...
SHERWOODYou haven't hired any of his administrator's kids, have you?
SESSOMSNo, sir. We have not.
SHERWOODThat you know of. (laugh)
SESSOMSThat I know of. We have not, as far as I'm aware.
NNAMDIAllen Sessoms is the president of the University of the District of Columbia. Dr. Sessoms, thank you for joining us.
SESSOMSIt's a pleasure to be with you and Tom.
SHERWOODWell, if it's a pleasure, we'll have to work harder next time.
NNAMDIThat's right. It's the Politics Hour...
SESSOMSI dislike you guys.
NNAMDI...Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst and NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, gay marriage in Maryland, they're discussing it even as we speak today. The plan is to vote today on whether to legalize same-sex marriage. It's a divisive issue that's -- that narrowly cleared the Senate in spite thousands of Marylanders to register their feelings with their legislators. The debate started at 11:00 this morning. Only one thing is clear so far and that it's likely to be a close vote.
SHERWOODWell, yes, it's gonna be a close vote. But even more what's clear is that the losers -- assuming that it passes, there's already the -- they are billboarding and shouting the people who are opposing this will take it to a referendum that would appear, I believe, on the ballot next year in 2012. So even if it passes and there's great shouting and hurrahs from the people who support it, I don't know exactly what the legality is if they get it on the ballot, does that suspend it, that's the question I would have to ask. I'm not sure.
NNAMDIIt may get a little more expensive to speed through Howard County. The county executive is advocating for mobile speed cameras to be installed in school zones. He joins us in studio now. Ken Ulman is the county executive in Howard County, Md. He is a Democrat. Ken Ulman, thank you for joining us. Good to see you again.
MR. KEN ULMANThanks for having me. It's always a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIWhy are you pushing for speed cameras and what approach are you gonna use if you can install them?
ULMANWe are pushing for speed cameras because we wanna keep our 50,000 students safe when they go to school and keep them from folks and neighborhood...
NNAMDIWho's been complaining?
ULMANWho hasn't been complaining? If you live in a neighborhood you've complained about speed, and that fact is, we don't have enough police officers to be everywhere. I think we've got a really reasonable approach. The approach is that they will be in school zones only. It will be a $40 ticket, which is a little less than in the District of Columbia, I might add. It is only if you're going 12 miles over the speed limit. They will be well-signed. But we will not have fixed points. We will have mobile vans. We'll start with two and probably keep with two.
ULMANAnd so we wanna create a culture where people slow down and, you know, I've heard a lot of complaints, but, you know, people have concerns about it. But you know what, you know, 12 miles over in front of a school I think that sounds reasonable to me.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Ken Ulman, call us 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. Or go to our website kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. What kind of revenue projections are you looking at with speed cameras? We realized that you say the money is going to safety, but have you crunched the numbers?
ULMANYeah, we have. And it's not much. It's less than a million dollars. And based on our projections -- although frankly I hope it's zero because I hope no one goes 12 miles and over front of a school. What I did was I made our police department gather speed data for a 48-hour period in front of every single public and private school of the 100 schools in Howard County. And what they came back was they said, well, first of all, two-thirds of drivers were speeding. One out of every five vehicles...
NNAMDII'm sorry. What -- how many were speeding?
ULMANTwo-thirds were speeding and one out of every five was going over 12 miles an hour. And again, this is in a school zone. And we are gonna stay to the spirit and the letter of that law. We're not gonna put it on a neighboring highway or neighboring busy road because it's within a half mile of the school. These will be in front of that school or around the corner where students walk on a walking route. And look, I think it's reasonable, but it's before the country council, and they'll take it up as part of our Democratic process.
SHERWOODI want the record to show that I, in the last week, was in Columbia, Md., which I believe is in Howard County, is that right?
ULMANOf course, it is...
SHERWOODOf course, it is Howard County.
ULMANAnd by the way, it's the second best place to live in America according to CNN Money Magazine, just to plug.
SHERWOODWell, let's don't get started on that. (laugh)
NNAMDIOur producer Tara Boyle lives there and she speeds, but that's a whole another story.
SHERWOODWell, you know. But, you know...
ULMANNo, she doesn't.
SHERWOOD...everybody has -- everybody, the mayor of the city, the little community of Chevy Chase right up Wisconsin Avenue from Connecticut Avenue, you know, people complained that this is a money-maker.
SHERWOODNow if you do -- you obviously would hope people don't speed because children's lives and others, parents and everything. But if you do make money, is there any provision that any -- this is not a budget device that you do safety and get some money, would that money be poured back into the program itself?
ULMANAbsolutely. Every penny will be used for traffic safety. And I would say frankly where folks have given this program a bad name without being too critical, although I'm gonna sound like being critical, it's frankly when you put it on Connecticut Avenue or Wisconsin. I mean, I believe the town of Chevy Chase, that's most of their budget. And the state law that authorized them for the state of Maryland said these can provide no more than 10 percent of your total revenue because they were looking at little municipalities who frankly were setting them up as revenue generators.
SHERWOODI will say this, the traffic on Connecticut Avenue is a lot better. I mean, I actually used to live out there, you know, some brief horrible moment in my life for nine months.
SHERWOODI lived outside the city in Chevy Chase. And I moved back to...
NNAMDIOh, I thought you were in Columbia for a while.
SHERWOODNo, no, no, no. But I have to say it, it is safer and it's less stressful if you drive Connecticut Avenue now than before.
ULMANWell, look, not to make too much of a commentary, but at some point, speed limits became optional in people's minds. And, you know, I'm not sure why that is and 12 miles over seems reasonable.
NNAMDIWe have several callers who seemed to think that way.
NNAMDILet's start with Kim in Laurel, Md. Kim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KIMHi. Good afternoon. I'm a resident of Howard County. I actually moved in the southeastern part of the county in Laurel. And the city of Laurel, which the portion of the city of Laurel -- it was not in Howard County -- has implemented these speed cameras in school zones, but they're still active even outside of school hours. And I, myself, have not received a ticket, but I do know people who have gotten tickets in off-peak hours.
KIMAnd it just seems, again, this is another method for local governments, be it county state or a federal for that matter, to try and nickel and dime the citizens out of just a few bucks at every instance. Now D.C., obviously, way more egregious in the amount that they charge for red light cameras and speed cameras and such, but in Howard County, I live here. I'm a lifelong resident. I've never heard of any child or any person being injured, ran over in a school zone, and I just would like to get the county executive's response.
NNAMDIHere is Ken Ulman.
ULMANGreat. Well, thank you. And what I would suggest is to the legislative process next month, you're gonna hear lots of stories of significant injuries in school zones. And I can tell you that, you know, frankly I lost one of my close friends when I was a student at Centennial High School who was killed on her way to Centennial High School on Centennial Lane by a truck that came over the hill and plowed into her and two other friends who were all sent to shock trauma.
ULMANSo there are lots of stories in school zones. And frankly, 12 miles an hour I believe is reasonable. I will tell you regarding the hours, it will be 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The reason -- and that is under the state law, Monday through Friday, no weekends. But, you know, after a school lets out, there are lots of school activities, sporting events and others. And so, look, that's our introduction. There's a legislative process before the council and, you know, that's why we have a great Democracy that Kim get to disagree. But, you're...
NNAMDIKim, thank you for your call. You're the president of the Maryland Association of Counties. Right now, a lot of counties...
NNAMDI...throughout the state are deep, deep into the red, budget wise. What's at stake for the counties right now in Annapolis while the state legislature is in session? What do they have their eyes on?
ULMANBudget, budget, budget. And it's the same way all over the country. And in Maryland, look, the state still has a budget deficit. I think the governor put together a very reasonable approach to the budget. He did not propose to shift teacher pensions to local governments who cannot afford it, so we're happy with that. I will tell you regarding highway user funds, historically, counties and municipalities have gotten 30 percent of highway user revenues because 80 percent of the roads in the state of Maryland are maintained by cities or counties. That was cut by 97 percent two years ago and so over $1 billion, with a B, has been taken from local governments and it's a huge challenge all over the state.
ULMANAnd so, counties and cities have had to backfill from the general funds. Road resurfacing, plowing of snow, those basic services. So look, these are challenges, but we're a great state and we're gonna get through it together. But being president of MACo right now at this time in the budget has certainly been a challenging process down in Annapolis every day.
SHERWOODWhat's your view of the Wisconsin situation and the voting out of collective bargaining rights...
SHERWOOD...for state employees? Is that something you see happening in the blue state of Maryland?
ULMANNo, not at all. In fact, I think, you know, dramatic overreaching. I mean, in my mind, once the unions gave concessions, financially, to roll up their sleeves and be in this together to help Wisconsin get through the budget crisis, you know, I think Gov. Walker had, you know, just a tremendous overreach in showing true colors of just trying to crush the labor movement. I can tell you, in Howard County, we actually have two new bargaining units in the county. We have great relationships, and, you know, we lay out what we can afford and what we can't, and we've had good partnerships.
NNAMDIWhere do you stand now in terms of pay and pension packages for public workers in Howard County?
ULMANSure. I can tell you our pension fund is 93 percent funded for county employees. I think there are real issues throughout the state and throughout the country regarding the sustainability of pensions. But I think, you know, level heads can come together and find sustainable benefits. I think what happens is you pull out the egregious examples of, you know, retirees in whatever that town in California is, where they were -- Bell County or city or whatever it is, where they were, you know, getting $300,000 pensions.
ULMANAnd that becomes the example when -- you know, I tell people, we're talking about a pension for, you know, a guy who -- to the last caller and people in Howard County, when their water main goes out -- the guy who climbs in that hole and fixes that, who makes $32,000 and has the promise of a pension to be able to retire. So...
SHERWOODWhat was the pension for a $32,000 -- that wouldn't be much of a pension to me.
SHERWOOD5 to $8,000 maybe?
ULMANYeah. I mean, I think the average...
SHERWOODIt wouldn't be much.
ULMAN...the average pension, I think, is like $17,000 a year for county employees.
SHERWOODIs it the same for the public -- I hear some of the people who talk about this say, well, it's the public safety people who do the very important work, retire with half their pay, things like that, and some people think that's too expensive.
ULMANNo, no. Look, I think there is a good healthy discussion about what we can afford -- in Howard County, in the state of Maryland, in the country. I think -- and I think those conversations need to happen, and are happening in Howard County or happening in the state of Maryland. The governor put forth a plan to reduce and alter some benefits. And when you vest it in the multiplier, 7 percent versus 5 percent of the contribution from employees, I just think the whole issue has been demagogued by folks who have an axe to grind and wanna destroy public sector labor.
SHERWOODBefore I forget it -- I realized it's kind of odd. I wanna go back just briefly to the...
SHERWOOD...speed cameras to help people out.
ULMANNo, I don't wanna talk about that.
SHERWOODHow many schools are in the county...
SHERWOOD...where there will be these speed controlling devices called radar?
ULMANSure. Yeah, it'll be -- we have 100 public and private schools. Every one of them will be signed, but then we will have only two mobile vans that will set up in different areas. And so we don't believe...
SHERWOODSo you have a 98 percent chance of not going through on it. If you only have two -- one, three, two...
ULMANWe'll move them around. We'll keep you off guard.
ULMANI mean, look, the honest -- we wanna create the culture of people slowing down. It's not a moneymaker. We don't wanna play gotcha. We wanna create a culture where people know that as you drive through -- and it'll be well-signed. You will have to work hard to get a speed camera ticket in Howard County. Let's put it that way.
NNAMDIWe got a comment on our website from Darla or really a question. "I'm a resident of Columbia and have been hearing rumors about Merriweather Post Pavilion closing. Can you ask County Executive Ulman what the future holds for this concert venue?"
ULMANI ran my county executive's race the first time on saving Merriweather Post Pavilion. I fought for it to be saved. The Rouse Company wanted to close it. Merriweather Post Pavilion is booming. It is thriving. Go on to merriweathermusic.com to see this summer's schedule. I know my daughters are excited about Katy Perry coming in June, which is a little scary because they're nine and five and they shouldn't be that excited about this. But, no, Merriweather is here to stay.
SHERWOODAsk Kojo who Katy Perry is.
ULMANI'm not the questioner in this show. I will just answer questions.
NNAMDIThank you so much, Ken Ulman. Getting back to budget issues again, statewide, Howard County is one of the more affluent counties in the state. And at least one delegate in the Maryland General Assembly is talking about reviving the so-called millionaire's tax. Good idea or bad?
ULMANI think bad. I think the millionaire's tax was put into place to help us get through tough economy. And, you know, you try to strike the right balance. We all know people. I know too many people, frankly, who have moved to Florida and spent six months plus one day in Florida, you know. So when you have that competitive environment, it's something you gotta keep an eye on. So, in this case, I think it's a bad idea to have it revived. I think it made some sense to help us get through tough times.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that three delegates from Howard County are sponsoring a bill in Annapolis that would essentially create a single-payer health care system at the state level. Your county has received nationwide recognition for its Healthy Howard program for the uninsured. What lessons have you learned from that, and how would you feel about a statewide single-player kind of system?
ULMANWell, I think -- you know, the one thing I would say, we've had a tremendous success with Healthy Howard, which has been our program to provide affordable access to health care to all uninsured. We've been able to get coverage to half of the uninsured population in Howard County. We've learned a lot of lessons that folks are taking notice of as the clock is running towards 2014 for the federal health care to kick in. I will tell you this, that if you remember, the one sliver of the public option that survived the debate in Washington was nonprofit co-ops.
ULMANAnd we are now doing the actuarial studies, which we'll get back in a couple of months, to morph Healthy Howard into what we believe will be the first co-op in the country. We've been down three times before the federal panel that's now writing the rules on co-ops. There's 7 or $6 billion set aside. And so with partnerships in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery County and Prince George's, we believe we'll be the first co-op in the country to take these lessons on, frankly, focusing on wellness, focusing on preventive care, on primary, actually having a primary medical home, with primary care docs that help usher you through the process.
SHERWOODDo you have an aging population in Howard? I think it will allow young people some jobs and that, but it's...
ULMANWe do. We're the -- yeah, we're the second fastest...
SHERWOODAre you closer to Baltimore or to Washington? I always feel like I'm going to Philadelphia when I drive up there.
ULMANIt depends on where you are in the county.
NNAMDIIt depends on where you are.
SHERWOODOkay. But you're...
ULMANYou know, where the caller was, was in North Laurel, which is on the border of Prince George's.
SHERWOODDo you read the Baltimore Sun or The Post or both?
ULMANBoth, and The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
NNAMDIHere is Red in Gaithersburg, Md. Red, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
REDThank you for taking this call.
REDMy position to any speed camera anywhere in the country or wherever it is, why can't they put a low flashlight at least 100 yards before the speed camera so that the drivers know there is a speed camera, so this is not a moneymaking venture?
ULMANWell, it's an interesting point. And we are planning to have them well signed. You know, again -- and it's probably not good politics for me to say this, but, again, I'm not sure why it became optional for people to go so fast and not follow the laws. But we're gonna do our best to be as open and transparent and let people know that they're entering a school zone.
SHERWOODWell, you know, in the District, we have -- in every school, there's a street there flashing yellow lights 15 miles an hour for school, and people go right through them.
ULMANYup. And we have them in Howard County as well in front of every school during those hours when school is in session, or the beginning of the day and the end of the day.
NNAMDIHere's Barbara in Ellicott City, Md. Barbara, we're running out of time. Please make your comment or question brief.
BARBARAThank you, Kojo. Mr. Ulman, you talk about the successful and healthy culture in Howard County. I'd like to bring up a county employee issue that relates to choosing civility. Last year, several of your longtime dedicated employees in the Office on Aging decided to resign or retire early because of targeted negative treatment and bullying at the hands of supervisors. Your HR office and your administration are well aware of this and are, in fact, aware that morale in that office...
NNAMDIWhat are you going to be doing about this, Ken Ulman? I'm afraid we only have 30 seconds left.
ULMANI know the caller and I know the issue, and it's a shame that we've had some issues at one of our senior centers where a new director took over. And some of the folks were not happy with the direction there, and we're working through it.
NNAMDIKen Ulman is county executive in Howard County, Md. He is a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
ULMANIt's always a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, of "California Girls," "Waking Up in Las Vegas," "I Kissed a Girl and Liked It," which of those Katy Perry songs do you like best?
SHERWOODI have both of them on my iPod.
NNAMDIYeah, right. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Don't question my knowledge. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. (laugh)
SHERWOODYou read that.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo explores what's next for Chinatown residents fighting against a developer who wants to demolish their building.
Is a meal for a special occasion worth hundreds of dollars?
Fairfax County residents will vote on whether to adopt a four percent meal tax ballot measure on November's ballot. We explore why the ballot question has become such a hot-button issue in the county.