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As the person in charge of ensuring that D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs follows the law, the agency’s former general counsel, Charles Thomas, and its former director, Melinda Bolling, would seem to be natural enemies.
While at the helm of DCRA, Bolling made clear that she was not concerned about violating Freedom of Information Act deadlines and allegedly instructed staff to prepare false sworn statements about how public records were gathered for FOIA requests, according to a whistleblower lawsuit filed last August.
In that case, which is still ongoing, Genet Amare, a DCRA FOIA officer, accuses Bolling of retaliating against her for speaking out against the boss’ orders.
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Last month, Thomas filed his own whistleblower lawsuit, in which he also says Bolling retaliated against him for refusing to comply with her illegal orders and for defending Amare’s claims that she was unlawfully fired. Attorney David Branch represents both Thomas and Amare. He did not immediately respond to LL’s call seeking comment.
Thomas’ complaint lays out instances over the course of a little more than two years when he and Bolling butted heads, including at least two times in 2017 when Bolling either lied or gave blatantly false information to the D.C. Council.
In one of those instances, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson asked Bolling to provide a copy of her agency’s standard operating procedures. Bolling told the chairman that she could not release the SOPs because Thomas was reviewing them.
Thomas’ lawsuit asserts that he did not have the SOPs nor was he directed to review them. Some time after he heard Bolling’s testimony, Thomas requested the documents from the agency’s division heads and assigned Amare to review them.
According to Thomas’ complaint, Amare determined that the documents were not in fact SOPs, and that their release “could have dire consequences for the agency.”
“Amare informed all parties that the documents she reviewed were not sufficient, they needed to be rewritten, and that the SOPs should be written to help not only the public but any lay person understand DCRA and the role it plays,” the lawsuit says.
In another instance of Bolling’s alleged malfeasance, according to the lawsuit, she directed Thomas to ignore an opinion from the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. BEGA had ruled that Dilraj Sidhu, an inspector who contracted with DCRA, could not perform any inspections for the government for one year, due to issues with his work. When Thomas denied Sidhu’s application, Bolling suggested in an email to Thomas that it was up to Sidhu to abide by BEGA’s ruling, not DCRA.
“Charles, I understand that this is an ethical issue for Dilraj. However, he is responsible for following the one year cooling off period,” Bolling wrote in the email. “Why do we have to police him in this effort? In other words, if he does third party work and BEGA finds that it violates the law, then that is his issue.”
The lawsuit details a few petty examples of Bolling’s alleged retaliation, such as cancelling their monthly meetings, overriding his decisions, and attempting to subject him to random drug tests.
Ultimately, Thomas believes that his statements to human resource investigators regarding Amare’s termination are what did him in, according to the complaint. HR reversed Amare’s firing, and three days before she was scheduled to return to work, Bolling sacked Thomas in April 2018.
Bolling parted ways with the District government in November 2018 and shortly thereafter landed a job as head of Prince George’s County’s version of DCRA. Bolling did not respond to requests for comment. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who appointed Bolling, also did not respond to a message left with her office.