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Appearing in The Washington Post's District Extra - Notebook, March 11, 2004

Food Activists Assail Mayor

First, Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said he didn't believe answers he was getting from D.C. State Education Office officials during a hearing of the D.C. Education Committee last week. Then Chairman Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) threatened to subpoena documents about federally funded nutrition programs that the office implements.

Things quieted down when testimony began -- some in support of C. Vannessa Spinner, the head of the office -- until anti-hunger activist Kim Perry had her turn to speak. She had an unusually tough take on Spinner's performance and the role of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) as her supervisor.

Perry and other anti-hunger activists are upset at how the education office implements nutrition programs in the city. There was so much flak last year about the summer feeding program that Williams set up a blue-ribbon task force to recommend changes in the way the city deals with the programs.

Planning for the 2004 Summer Food Service Program is underway, but Perry and other activists say the planning has not been extensive or thorough enough.

Perry, a member of that task force and head of D.C. Hunger Solutions, a project of the Food Research and Action Center dedicated to fighting hunger in the city, made it clear that she thinks the mayor made a mistake by recently giving Spinner a positive job performance review.

" Since Mayor Williams decided to renew the State Education Officer's contract for another year, even though her performance has shown no positive results, been publicly scrutinized and proven incompetent, our comments and questions should be redirected to the mayor," she said. "The public strongly believes that [the mayor's] action of renewing the contract of a low-performing appointee, translates into [him now having] new accountability for the program and its performance."

Tony Bullock, the mayor's spokesman, said: "The mayor is responsible for anything that happens ultimately, and he would never tell you otherwise. . . . The mayor has, by forming the task force, identified problems and wants the task force to generate some real solutions to the problems we've been having. We could benefit from [Perry's] saying what we should be doing."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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