Editorial: Bowser on DGS Firing Scandal: Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here
by Larry Janezich
Don’t get me wrong – I like Muriel Bowser. I just think she needs to check her moral compass.
In September of 2016, after DGS Director Chris Weaver refused, City Administrator Rasheed Young abruptly and in violation of protocol fired two employees of the agency’s contract and procurement division. The employees, Yinka Alao and Carlos Sandoval, alleged the firings occurred because they did not award a major Bowser contributor, Fort Myer Construction, contracts for work at the Buzzard Point Soccer Stadium and St. Elizabeth redevelopment sites.
Councilmember Mary Cheh’s Transportation and Environment Committee held hearings to determine if anything improper had occurred. The staff subsequently wrote a report on the Committee’s preliminary findings, the main points of which are as follows:
- The inquiry did not reveal any direct evidence of political influence.
- The evidence disclosed that Fort Myer Construction does appear to be a favored District contractor.
- Senior Executive Officials took action in relation to the two contracts intending to benefit Fort Myer Construction.
- The Officials’ actions seem to contradict the assertion that preventing delay was their sole purpose in intending to benefit Fort Myer Construction.
- The firing of the two employees was not illegal, but seemed an unnecessarily harsh penalty based on offered explanations, and were procedurally irregular.
- There was evidence that an unknown District employee likely leaked information about a competitor’s bid on the Saint Elizabeth’s contract to Fort Myer, allowing Fort Myer to submit a more competitive offer. “This is a breach of law and ethics, and the Office of the Inspector General should investigate it.”
Seeking support to issue the report from her fellow committee members, Cheh found it only from Councilmember Charles Allen. Three committee members – Evans, McDuffie, and Todd – indicated they would not vote to endorse the report. Cheh then decided to issue the report over her own signature.
As the Washington Post reported on June 15, http://wapo.st/2u8CXYF the Mayor called the information about the alleged leak a “wild accusation” and that she would not pursue an investigation.
This smacks of a cover up. If it were just a matter of one more shady deal, it would be one thing. But the callousness and indifference in disrupting three lives and the apparent breaching of ethics with impunity reveals a sense of entitlement and contempt for justice that lies at the heart of corrupt government.
The Washington Post reported on December 8, 2016 http://wapo.st/2uROJtp that Alao had filed a $10 million against the DC government. Sandoval has filed for redress with the DC Office of Employee Appeals. These proceedings tend to be expensive, take forever, and the odds of success are stacked against the complainant. Whistleblower protections are that in name only, and there are numerous examples of lives and careers ruined by conscientious employees who believed that the law would protect them.
According to the June 15 Washington Post piece, “Deputy Inspector General for Business Management Jaime Yarussi said the office was reviewing Cheh’s report.” That’s not enough.
Once in a while, government officials have to stand for something and show that they are not in it just for themselves, but have some sense of the common good. A good place for Bowser to start would be to let Rasheed Young go and send a message contrary to the one he sent when he fired Alao and Sandoval. As they say, “When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.”
Earlier this month, CM Allen, Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee held hearings on campaign finance reform. DC business organizations turned out in force to assure the Committee that the legislation wasn’t necessary.
A copy of Councilmember’s Cheh’s report may be found here: http://bit.ly/2gTiCn8
And the full hearing record (which is cited in the report) may be found here: http://bit.ly/2tzHKFi
For a previous editorial on this subject from August 27, 2015, see here: http://bit.ly/2bqvKsi