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The Rev. Catherine Bego may be just the sort of D.C. government employee At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz had in mind last year when the mayoral wannabe pushed her whistle-blower protection bill through the D.C. Council. Schwartz had tired of watching courageous bureaucrats fingering their superiors for malfeasance and getting cashiered for their actions. Her bill outlawed all manner of retribution, including reassignments, demotions, and firings.
In recent weeks, Bego, a veteran worker at the D.C. Department of Health’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (APRA), has felt as if she were facing retaliatory strikes worthy of Slobodan Milosevic. According to an April 1 complaint filed by attorney Stephen C. Leckar, Bego’s superiors bounced her from her position as APRA’s deputy administrator to a no-title position in another office after she brought allegations of wrongdoing to the attention of the city’s inspector general.
Bego’s charges involve an alleged profiteering scheme that’s just trivial enough to warrant a pass from downtown prosecutors. Last November, Bego was working at a city-owned substance-abuse treatment facility on 24th Place NE that was operated by the University of the District of Columbia Aftercare Clinic, then an APRA contractor. “Evidence surfaced suggesting the Clinic had placed vending machines in the premises and had received revenues from those devices,” says Leckar’s complaint to Bego’s bosses at the Department of Health. (Bego refused to speak for the record on the case.)
Bego raised the issue with Dr. Irvin Gordy, who was then the director of the clinic. Gordy responded that APRA Chief Operating Officer Keith Vance had authorized him to collect proceeds from the vending machines and “spend the money as he chose to,” according to a Dec. 8 memo written by Bego. In the same memo, Bego alerted her superiors that clinic officials were “receiving monetary payments from various fellowship groups for use of the facility.”
At the time, Vance told Bego that her allegations warranted a referral to the inspector general, which he vowed to handle. As of late March, though, Vance “admitted he had not fulfilled his commitment,” according to Leckar.
So Bego did it herself. On March 29, Bego informed APRA Administrator Dr. Deidra Roach that she was headed for an interview at the inspector general’s office on the vending machine inquiry and other matters.
When she got back, Roach summoned Bego to her office and reportedly reassigned her to a position in the Medical Assistance Administration under Deputy Director Paul Offner. Offner and Roach had previously discussed transferring someone from APRA to Offner’s office, but Leckar sees the action as impromptu retaliation against a good employee and argues that the transfer took Offner by surprisea charge that Offner himself does not entirely dismiss.
“I didn’t ask specifically for this [transfer], because I had never met this individual [Bego]….I am hoping to find out a little more about her,” says Offner, who nonetheless insists he was consulted about getting someone from APRA transferred to his staff. The reassignment, says Offner, was triggered by the mayor’s Medicaid expansion plan, which would shift $4.1 million in APRA funds to Offner’s jurisdiction in order to provide some substance-abuse treatment under Medicaid. “We need to have someone here who understands treatment,” says Offner.
In his letter to Health Department brass, Leckar dismisses the Medicaid talk as a bureaucratic alibi for retaliation. Bego, he wrote, could have assisted Offner from her APRA post.
Health Department officials downplay the matter. “This is a routine, internal personnel matter which will be treated by management with the utmost confidentiality. Therefore, there is no further comment,” says Nathaniel Massaquoi of the department’s office of communication and community relations.
Leckar requested that the department rescind its personnel action against Begoa step that the authorities reportedly declined to take. Leckar now has no choice other than to file suit against the department. In doing so, Leckar and his client are discovering the limits of Schwartz’ legislation: Although it enjoins D.C. officials from retaliating against their subordinates, it creates no mechanism to handle complaints.
Perhaps Bego’s best course of action is to skip the courts and stick to a more direct route: lobbying the D.C. Council. Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allenwho oversees the Department of Healthreports that she has been cornered twice in the past week by recovering substance abusers pressuring her to save Bego’s job. “They were all pro-Bego,” says Allen.
EVANS’ GENDER GAP
Branded as a shill for the city’s vested interests during his well-funded 1998 campaign for mayor, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who faces re-election next year, is repositioning himself as a hard worker for everyday constituents. Earlier this year, he backed Dupont Circlites in their perennial fight against even more bars, supporting renewal of a moratorium on new liquor licenses on the 17th Street strip. Then he stood with downtowners who opposed the gargantuan Solar Building project, which would add a parking garage and three stories to a K Street office monolith.
Now Evans is shielding his constituents from the most daunting menace yet: homeless women.
In a letter to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Evans last month lashed out against the relocation of a women’s homeless shelter from its former site near Mount Vernon Square to 4th and L Streets NW. Construction of the new six-square-block convention centerwhich Evans pushed through the councilforced the shelter’s move. “I strongly criticize the process, or more accurately, the lack of process that went into this relocation,” says Evans’ letter. “Neither my office, nor the Shaw community, received any official notice prior to the relocation.”
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Citing a petition signed by 100 Shaw residents, Evans staffers say the councilmember’s objections sprang from public safety considerations in a community “struggling to stabilize itself.” “Every day this shelter remains at 4th and L Streets NW, is another day my constituents report to me they do not feel safe,” the Evans letter says.
And just what are the dangers? “These people just roam the streets,” says Lydia Goring, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area, whose concerns Evans’ letter mentions. “They come and wander up and down, and you just don’t feel comfortable with a shelter in the neighborhood.” When asked to identify breaches of public safety caused by the shelter, Goring does not come up with a single instance. Evans, however, proffers an explanation: “There are numerous men loitering outside the shelter regularly, and as a result, this frequently brings the added problem of alcohol and drugs.”
Last Saturday, LL was able to leave his bulletproof vest at home while he assessed the area. A group of mostly frail and elderly women huddled on the shelter’s porch, awaiting the 7 p.m. opening of its doors. Several of them chattered incoherently on porch benches, perhaps plotting their next assault on Shaw neighbors. And a loner sat outside against a chain-link fence, eating a bananaa fruit that, with a casual toss onto the sidewalk, could become a dangerous pedestrian hazard.
“Come on, you know, how can you attack homeless women?” asks Shaw resident Richard Rogers. “That’s a cheap shot, and it just shows that Evans doesn’t care jack about this neighborhood.”
Or at least the dispossessed. Evans is a devoted councilmember and an effective advocate for his backerswhether they be big-time developers or earnest civic types in Ward 2 neighborhoods. There’s apparently no room in the Evans coalition, however, for the voteless, who apparently merit as much consideration as signposts and other debris pocking the convention center site.
The councilmember attempted to lay the relocation issue at Williams’ feet by ginning up an angry letter attacking the mayor on process grounds. The facts, however, place it squarely in Evans’ own lap: Ever since planning for the convention center began, Evans staffer June Hirsh has held a seat on the project’s advisory board, a panel that considers the local impact of construction, among other issues. That Evans never bothered to inquire where the homeless women would find a new home says more about his priorities than the “process” that he now attacks.
By the way, the new shelter sits astride the preferred downtown site for the much-hyped D.C. baseball stadium and an overflow lot for downtown tour buses. Evans supports both projects.
Last December, Ethel Harper, proprietor of the Ohio Restaurant, at 1380 H St. NE, met with local advisory neighborhood commission (ANC 6A) Chair Daniel Pernell about some difficulties with her liquor license. Harper came to the meeting armed with answers to common neighborhood complaints about people loitering out front and the parking problems caused by her customers.
But all she really needed, she says, was her checkbook.
Pernell started the meeting by “elaborat[ing] on his powerful influence and tremendous outreach powers,” according to a memo written by Harper and her goddaughter, Mary Williams, who was also on hand. Then he lamented that his substantial juice was impaired by the commission’s sorry financial state, pointing to letters requiring stamps for which “no allocations or funds are given,” according to the memo. Next came the pitch: “Mrs. Harper, how much is your license worth to you?” Pernell asked, according to the memo, which was sent to 6A commissioner H.J. Amons.
Harper says she pleaded poverty, noting that the restaurant’s ceiling had fallen, and said she could afford only a $20 donation. She asked to whom she should make the check payable. “Leave it blankI’ll fill it in,” Pernell replied, according to the memo.
Two weeks later, Harper received the canceled check. It appeared that Pernell had put his own name in the blank space. “He just deposited it in his account,” says Harper. Pernell acknowledges writing his name on the check, a move that he says comports with ANC regulations. “We can take checks in our names; we’re allowed to do that,” Pernell told LL.
In fact, they’re not: “Contributions are permitted, but they must be deposited into the ANC’s checking account,” says D.C. Auditor Deborah Nichols. “That’s the rule.”
Pernell denies having asked Harper how dearly she valued her liquor license and scoffs at the suggestion of a quid pro quo. “I want to make it very clear for the record that she gave the donation to the ANC for stamps and fliers,” he says.
“It’s real sad, because I’ve been here 40 years, and this is a dirty deed,” says Harper. “And he said we were interfering with parking outside, but there are just meters out there.”
“We can’t have this happening to our merchants,” says Anwar Saleen, chair of the H Street Merchants and Professionals Association. And Amons says the ANC has enough money for the stamps and fliers in question. “I’m trying to figure out why he asked her for any money,” says Amons.
LL happened upon a Pernell-run ANC meeting in February. The proceedings followed standard protocol for disheveled commissions: The representatives argued over parliamentary procedures for a couple of hours, in a debate that climaxed with Pernell’s proclamation, during a parliamentary skirmish, that he himself had written Robert’s Rules of Order. Then commissioners pointed fingers over shoddy bookkeeping, shouted at one another, and finally took some meaningless votes.
In the midst of it all, one of the ANC officers reported that At-Large Councilmember David Catania was performing a citywide review of ANCs and noted with pride that ANC 6A was not a target of the probe. Catania might want to take a second look at the finger-pointing in ANC 6A.
Like all politicos in D.C., former At-Large Councilmember John Ray banks on the short memories of city residents. After stepping down from his council roost in 1996, Ray has taken to lobbying for top-dollar development projects across the city, including the Correction Corporation of America’s proposed Ward 8 prison complex.
Last Saturday, Ray showed up at Lincoln Middle School to cheerlead for a strip-mall proposal on behalf of developer Saul Centers Inc. of Chevy Chase. Projected for an undeveloped parcel in the heart of Columbia Heights, the project, said Ray, would bring back the boom times of his childhood days, when he could “walk up to 14th Street and buy everything I need.”
In the same breath, Ray sought to distance his baby from all those dastardly ’80s real estate deals. “This is not a large-scale project,” he said. “This is not a 400,000-square-foot office building that gets built with a lot of promises and all those promises fade away.”
You mean all those buildings that were pushed through the council with the heartfelt support of….John Ray? Back in the ’80s, those faded promises Ray mentioned often had to do with building downtown housing and other resident-friendly amenities. Just what was the former councilmember’s position on those?
“Ray, [then-D.C. Council Chairman John] Wilson, and several others failed to enact a housing trust fund,” says downtown activist Terry Lynch. “When we pushed for the fund, they looked the other way.” CP