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In the coming months, 322 workers at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) will move into new office space at 941 North Capitol St. NE, where the department will attempt to automate the myriad functions it now does manually. The rank and file can’t wait to clean out their musty cubes at 614 H St. NW and bequeath them to their rightful owners: rats, dust mites, and other vermin.
No one, however, is more excited about the move than DCRA Director Lloyd Jordan. When Jordan meets with staff at 941, his orders will bounce off an office ensemble worthy of Michael Eisner.
The desk, bookshelf, and other accouterments that Jordan ordered for the director’s office, according to DCRA sources, retail for over $60,000although the agency’s bulk discount shaves nearly two-thirds off that cost. Even so, Jordan’s sweet suite will cost taxpayers four times the more modest setups of his deputy directors and administrators.
“He picked the top of the line,” says a DCRA source.
Since he moved from Chief Management Officer Camille Cates Barnett’s office into the DCRA director’s seat, the former St. Louis official has run the agency the old-fashioned waywith no interference from his overseers. At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil, who formerly chaired the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, held few oversight hearings in 1998. And Chief Management Officer Barnett provided even less resistance, perhaps because Jordan had leapfrogged over her to the job.
But now Jordan’s honeymoon has ended. On Jan. 4, Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, one of the council’s most aggressive watchdogs, inherited the DCRA committee from Brazil. And in a press conference this week, Mayor Anthony A. Williams appointed himself city manager pro tem, a perch from which he will frequently run into Jordan’s work.
It won’t be long before City Manager Williams asks Mayor Williams to dump Jordan. LL has a hunch the mayor will say yes.
Of course, when it comes time for Jordan to defend his tenure at DCRA, he’ll have a lot of excuses at his disposal. First off, he stepped into a mess created by former Director W. David Watts, whom Barnett deposed last June. Watts was a video-game savant but proved woefully inept at the helm of a government agency. On top of that, Jordan landed in the worst municipal office building this side of Calcutta, a place he himself has called “horrible.”
Hardships notwithstanding, Jordan has hardly made the most of his five months at DCRA. Jordan was charged with fixing the mess Watts left behind, but to this day, building plans sit on desks for weeks with no action, businesses bounce from desk to desk in search of the right permit, administrators show crack-house operators every courtesy, and the agency has only two employees to enforce zoning rules citywide.
Jordan, of course, tells a different story, citing a customer-service award that the mayor, the chief management officer, and the chief financial officer teamed up to give him during the December waning days of the Barry administration. He also cites the elimination of a four-month backlog in electrical inspections. “We’re more aggressive now in getting things done,” says Jordan.
But Jordan has also added new problems to the ones he inherited. His hands-off management, for instance, has severely hurt the move to North Capitol Street.
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Although the new office space is better equipped to house an Information Age regulatory agency, there is less of it than at the current building. DCRA is leaving approximately 130,000 square feet for 100,000 square feet. To compensate, DCRA officials initially proposed a fixer in short supply at the agency: technology.
Storage for the agency’s estimated 20 million pages of files gobbles up large chunks of the floor space in the current building. To reduce storage needs, DCRA planned to sign a contract with management consultants KPMG Peat Marwick to scan many of the files into the agency’s computer system. But less than two months before the scheduled move, the department has yet to finalize the deal. So in order to hold on to its records, DCRA has to find storage space elsewhere. Warning to developers: Expect longer waits and longer faces when asking department functionaries to retrieve records.
One of the places Jordan could start flexing his muscles is in dealing with DCRA’s fleet of underutilized cars, which are housed in a parking garage near Union Station. Last year, the agency procured about 80 brand-new cars to shuttle its street-level officials around the city. But according to several department sources, only 20 to 25 of the vehicles hit the road each day.
That estimate appeared accurate to LL, who stopped by the garage this week. Rows of late-model sedans sit mothballed in a cavernous expanse at the junction of 1st and H Streets NE, their hoods caked with dust. With a power hose, a few sheets of cheesecloth, and a few flashy banners, DCRA management could turn the garage into a downtown showroom for Herb Gordon’s Auto World. Luckily for DCRA management, though, the fallow assets are hidden from public view by a stone wall and a roll-up garage door that opens only a few times each day.
Jordan refuses to estimate the number of vehicles in use every day. “It depends on who’s in the field,” he says.
Jordan’s underlings say that the reason he’s not doing such great work in his DCRA job is that he has another one. The director also serves as national president of Omega Psi Phi, a prominent fraternity whose members include Michael Jordan (related to DCRA’s director by fraternity bond only) and Bill Cosby. The fraternity has initiated more than 120,000 members, and looking after its businessaccording to DCRA stafferstakes some doing.
Since he started at DCRA last summer, say three agency staffers, Jordan has had a knack for disappearing on Fridays and Mondays. Although some subordinates chalk up his frequent absences to fraternity business, Jordan’s immediate support staff close ranks like, well, a bunch of frat boys. “Nobody has access to his schedule, not even his closest deputies,” says a source who claims he often finds the director’s door closed on Fridays.
Staffers say, however, that Jordan has been sticking closer to the office since Williams took over Jan. 2.
“There’ve been nights when I’ve been here until 12:30 or 1:30 in the morning,” says Jordan. It’s pretty easy to find me then….If anybody has asked for my schedule and has a right to my schedule, they will get my schedule. That’s my business.”
Jordan tells department employees that he’s always available, if not in person, then on his cell phonea prop they claim he uses to cover himself when he jets out of town for Omega Psi Phi functions. And Jordan appears to have acquainted his fraternity staff with his DCRA underlings: Last year, LL called Omega’s Atlanta office in search of a list of events commonly attended by the fraternity’s president. Hours later, a staffer from Jordan’s DCRA office called to inquire about LL’s inquiry.
Jordan gained local fame in St. Louis for making an issue of his work hours. When a city alderman hammered him for slinking around town in a city-provided Mercury Grand Marquis, Jordan snapped, “[H]e ought to know that I work around the clock. I’ve been averaging 14- to 16-hour days and put on about 400 miles a week,” according to a 1993 article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
At least the director’s tastes are consistent: Last year, he authorized the purchase of three Grand Marquis at D.C. taxpayers’ expenseone for himself, one for a subordinate, and one for Barnett. “We had him set up for a Taurus or some sort of sedan,” says a DCRA official. According to local dealers, the Ford Taurus starts at $16,000, but the Mercury starts at $22,000.
Jordan’s stint in St. Louis left behind several conflict-of-interest allegations and a reputation for hardball politics. In 1997, for instance, Jordan managed the re-election campaign for St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley and at the same time served as the first vice president of the local NAACP chapter. Four days before Bosley’s chief opponent, former city Police Chief Clarence Harmon, announced his candidacy, the NAACP issued a report claiming he had mistreated black cops.
As DCRA director, Jordan hasn’t had a platform for the cocksure style of politics he practiced in St. Louis. Instead, he’s been force-fed the acronymic gruel of municipal regulatory reformPUDs, FARs, HPRBs, C of Os, and so onand called upon to remake a troubled agency from the first floor up.
And if Williams transition officials are right, he won’t be doing so for long. During the two-month interregnum, the mayor-elect reportedly checked on Jordan with contacts from his days as director of the Community Development Agency in St. Louis. “He wasn’t too impressed with what he found,” says a transition team official.
In response to a query from LL, Williams dashed speculation that Jordan’s severance arrangements were already under negotiation. “We are working with the agency heads to come up with short-term action plans,” said Williams through a spokesperson. “Where do people come up with stuff like this?”
Maybe by reading the writing on the wall.
THE COWARDLY TIGER
On Jan. 2, Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. handed over power to Williams, completing a transition that Williams said would revolutionize D.C. politics. But this week, Williams discovered what happens when you fail to uproot the Barry regime from every last cubbyhole in municipal government.
The flashpoint was the resignation of Williams appointee David Howard following the scandalous revelation that he used the inoffensive adjective “niggardly” in a meeting with colleagues John Fanning and Marshall Brown, both former Barry staffers. Soon afterwards, rumors swirled that Howard had used the “N word.” “I knew that this story would compromise my effectiveness,” said Howard, who said he had no alternative to quitting. “If people question the decision, they should question me, not the mayor.”
Howard wouldn’t say who spread the rumor but confirmed that he hadn’t told anyone about his utterance. Calls requesting interviews with Fanning and Brown went unreturned.
After accepting Howard’s resignation, Williams stated that no matter what the dictionary said, the word could offend. The statement demoralized campaign veterans by furthering the notion that Williams’ rapprochement with Barry cronies wasn’t just political expediency. Said Williams backer Phil Pannell, “Tony’s reaction is one of a gutless wonder.”
The bye-bye chat must have been particularly uncomfortable for Williams, who just spent three weeks touting Howard as his Wunderkid. “If you want to know who to watch, then watch our guy David Howard,” Williams told LL earlier this month. Howard labored tirelessly on the mayoral campaign, organizing volunteers and sometimes working until 4 a.m.
Racial politics aside, the rumor-mongering was an act of backstabbing against a gracious and generous man. Before Howard ever said the unspeakable, he volunteered for a $10,000 pay cut so Fanning and Brown could receive raises. “I thought that there was too great a discrepancy between the director’s salary and the staff’s,” Howard told LL.
D.C. civil rights icon Julius Hobson famously called the city’s charter for quasi-political independence “home fool.” Hobson dismissed the document as a sell-out that would perpetuate the city’s political servitude. Over a quarter-century later, D.C. Council Head Honcho Linda Cropp has another critique: The home rule charter isn’t gender-neutral.
When the charter’s drafters gathered ’round, they envisioned politicos like Sterling Tuckera man, that isoccupying the head chair on the D.C. Council’s dais. They probably didn’t envision Dave Clarke’s ascent, but at least he fit the official title now held by Cropp: council chairman.
Cropp, of course, poses a new challenge to the charter. She’s a woman, and she’s tired of being called a man. Why else would she have begun her critique of the charter in her Jan. 22 appearance before Congress with the following? “[S]omething as simple as changing the title of the leader of the legislative body from chairman to something more gender-neutral would probably be appropriate.”
Cropp listed other timely charter amendments, like an independent CFO and city administrator, but there was no mistaking her prioritiesdespite her disclaimer to LL: “This is not anything important,” she said. “It’s just something that the citizens can see, that there is a need to make the home rule charter current. I mean, people always come up to me and say, ‘What should I call you?’”
How about “pliant colonial subject”?CP
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