LL has an idea for the cash-strapped D.C. Housing Authority: Bring in some bright lights, mic up the staff, and let the cameras roll. The District’s biggest landlord could certainly use the extra revenue that an unscripted DCHA drama is sure to rake in, considering its derelict properties and waning federal support.
There’s even a frame for the pilot episode: DCHA Director Tyrone Garrett’s sworn deposition in a whistleblower lawsuit his former second in command, Chelsea Andrews, filed last year. Andrews claims she was fired after raising concerns about the procurement and authenticity of masks bought to protect DCHA employees during the pandemic. Garrett claims he had lost trust in Andrews and that she openly mocked his vision in front of subordinates.
During his six-and-a-half hour testimony, delivered on Jan. 14, Garrett accuses Andrews of “berating” a DCHA board commissioner into changing a vote, he tussles with Andrews’ attorney, Carla Brown, over Andrews’ efforts to empower women in the agency, and he describes seemingly innocuous interactions with Andrews over office space, tickets to Michelle Obama’s book tour, mistakenly sent selfies from a night out, and his support (or lack thereof, depending on your perspective) for Andrews’ internal leadership initiative.
All of it, in Garrett’s mind, was evidence of a plot by Andrews and two former members of his senior staff, deputy general counsel Ed Kane and chief development officer Darrell Davis, to stage a coup.
In his deposition, Garrett says his human resources director, Natasha Campbell, told him about a conversation where Davis “referenced two teams at the organization: the Chelsea team and the Tyrone Garrett team.” According to Garrett, Davis told Campbell that he, Kane, and Andrews were “ready and prepared” to take over DCHA.
Garrett acknowledges that he never talked with any of them about Campbell’s disclosure. All three deny they plotted to overthrow Garrett’s reign over public housing in D.C.
In a statement to LL, Kane writes that “the appropriate place to address and/or publicly adjudicate the specific, patently false, and frankly absurd claims and mischaracterizations made about me is in the ongoing litigation.” But, he adds, “I categorically deny any knowledge of, or participation in, any purported coup or other attempt to usurp or undermine the executive director’s authority.”
Davis writes in an email to LL that to buy into Garrett’s characterization, “one would have to believe that I would be dumb enough to plan a coup and then go to HR to discuss it.” He writes that anyone familiar with DCHA, “knows that [DCHA Board Chairman] Neil Albert controls the DCHA Board and Tyrone’s fate. The day Chairman Albert gets tired of Tyrone’s antics he will be packing his bags. If I were interested in planning a ‘coup’ I would have been talking to the Chairman, not Chelsea.”
Davis acknowledges he spoke with Campbell on multiple occasions about dysfunctionality within DCHA and about factions within the agency.
“I told her that for us to accomplish anything, we first had to come together as a team,” he says via email. “We had the talent to accomplish big things but DCHA was a toxic work environment, and no one trusted anyone.”
That his conversations with Campbell were “twisted into some sordid tale about an attempted coup is a perfect example of the toxicity at DCHA,” he adds.
Andrews, for her part, calls Garrett’s accusations defamatory and said in an interview last week that they amount to further retaliation against her.
“I don’t even understand what that means,” Andrews told LL at the time. “I have no idea how you stage a coup or overthrow the executive director who is appointed by a board. It sounds ridiculous. And it goes without saying, but let me say it: It is completely false and without merit and ridiculous.”
In Garrett’s telling, Andrews’ attempts to undermine him and her alleged attempted overthrow started showing about a year into his tenure at DCHA.
In November 2018, former first lady Michelle Obama brought the tour for her memoir, Becoming, to Capital One Arena. Andrews told Garrett ahead of the event that she’d received tickets through a friend and planned to invite DCHA’s female employees. She recalls Garrett suggesting that male agency employees might also want to attend. Garrett says in his deposition that Andrews believed women in the agency needed to be empowered.
“What’s wrong with that?” Brown, Andrews’ attorney, asks in the deposition.
“Nothing, but I believe the whole entire agency needed to be empowered, men and women,” Garrett responds.
“Right, all lives matter?” Brown prompts.
“No ma’am, don’t — no. We are talking about two different things,” Garrett says. “We’re talking about me running an agency and trying to keep a cohesive team right? And what was being said and what was being touted was that there was going to be division between men and women within my organization. You cannot function when you have that type of divisiveness.”
Andrews ultimately used the tickets as she intended. She adds that Garrett purchased copies of Becoming for all the attendees and included a handwritten note in each one.
“This was around the #MeToo movement, I’m the No. 2 leader at the agency, and I’m a woman,” Andrews says of her thinking. “And it dawned on me that this was a great opportunity to lift up the women and hear a very inspirational speaker, the first lady.”
Garrett also attended the event. In his deposition, Garrett says he and Larry Williams, senior VP for property management and a main character in Andrews’ lawsuit, bought their own tickets, though he says they did not attend the event together.
Garrett denies Brown’s assertion in the deposition that he does not believe women at DCHA need to be empowered.
“Did I tell Ms. Andrews she was incorrect for attempting to empower women? No,” he says. “I did not say that, and I would never say that because I don’t believe that. But I do believe when you’re a leader of an organization, you have to empower everyone.”
Another example Garrett gives of Andrews’ alleged attempts to undermine his authority involves office space. Andrews asked to switch offices soon after Garrett named her general counsel in 2019. At first, he denied her request to move her team to a larger space that DCHA’s Office of Administrative Services occupied at the time. In his deposition, Garrett says OAS Director Lorry Bonds complained to him about Andrews’ attempts “to take over space in another department and move the department to another area, which was not condoned by me, not supported by me.”
Garrett says he offered to build out Andrews’ office as a compromise, an offer she says she declined. Garrett says the discussion is an example of how Andrews undermined his authority because “even after I stated that that was not going to take place or should not take place, the discussion continued.”
Andrews says she made the relocation request because the general counsel’s office was not big enough to comfortably accommodate her staff. Brown, Andrew’s attorney, says Bonds, in her own deposition for Andrews’ lawsuit, disputed Garrett’s characterization. According to Brown, Bonds testified that Garrett approached her about Andrews’ relocation request, not the other way around. Andrews and her staff ultimately stayed put, she says.
Garrett’s third example of Andrews’ alleged plans to take over DCHA involves photos from September 2019. In his deposition, Garrett says he received selfies from Andrews of her and other DCHA staff members hanging out at a restaurant after work, which were mistakenly sent to him.
Asked in his deposition how the selfies indicated an attempted takeover, Garrett says he just had a feeling.
“Again, it goes back to the creation of division of the organization based on, you know, my experience with various personalities,” he says. “And, again, the concept and idea of passive-aggressive approaches to leadership and styles that I was sent this picture to show that ‘I have the women supporting me in this organization.’ That’s based on my opinion.”
He adds: “I believe it was a form of recruitment, ma’am. To push back against me.”
Andrews says the selfies are from an evening when several colleagues took her out after she finalized her divorce. She meant to text the photos to the group to thank them for the support, but she accidentally sent it to a group chat that included Garrett. Andrews denies she sent the selfies as a warning that she was gathering support for an alleged coup.
“It wasn’t about him at all,” she says. “It was about me, and the message that I sent literally started with ‘ladies,’ so it was thanking them for the support they were providing to me.”
Garrett acknowledges in his deposition that he has no evidence that the women who appeared in selfies with Andrews were attempting to overthrow him, nor did he speak with Andrews about his concerns, according to his testimony.
In Garrett’s fourth example of Andrews’ alleged takeover, he falsely states that Andrews “badgered” a DCHA board commissioner to change her vote. A transcript of the meeting does not support Garrett’s characterization.
The board narrowly approved a plan in December 2019 to redevelop its headquarters at 1133 North Capitol St. NE. Commissioners then called an emergency meeting in January 2020 to ask more questions and possibly reverse their approval of the plan. In his deposition, Garrett says Andrews tried to strongarm Commissioner Aquarius Vann-Ghasri into changing her vote after voting, which would have killed the redevelopment plan Garrett put forward.
“I don’t want to say she berated her, but she continued to ask her the same question repeatedly,” Garrett claims in his deposition. “After Ms. Vann-Ghasri had already voted, affirmed her vote, Ms. Andrews continued to … I’ll use ‘badgered,’ her to, you know, change her vote, basically push her in a position where she would have changed her vote publicly.”
He also says that another DCHA attorney, Ken Slaughter, told him that Andrews “had a sidebar” with Vann-Ghasri.
Andrews denies having a side conversation or trying to coerce Vann-Ghasri to change her vote. She says her role as general counsel was to ensure the commissioners understood what they were voting on. At one point during the emergency meeting, Garrett asked Andrews to explain the motion before the board voted.
Vann-Ghasri voted against the redevelopment plan in December 2019. But she contradicted herself during the emergency meeting by voting “no” on a motion to rescind the board’s approval of the deal.
“The question that was being asked was a different question,” Andrews says. “Like voting ‘yes’ meant ‘no’ before, so it was kind of confusing. I was informing the board what the outcome of their votes would be, and I did that in a professional manner, and had no stake in the outcome of that vote except to ensure that it was clear so that we would not have to have another special board meeting to clarify if someone knew what they were voting on at the time they were voting.”
The motion to rescind failed, 3-3.
Garrett points to a leadership initiative that Andrews began as a final example of her alleged betrayal. He says Andrews created the program “not for leadership of the organization, but I believe it was to create dissension … within the agency, to create teams, so to speak. Your team, my team, and whatever other team was out there.”
During one of the program’s monthly sessions, Garrett describes how he was made to sit in the middle of a circle while Kane, the former deputy counsel, “berated” and criticized his leadership style. Kane declined to comment beyond his written statement saying Garrett mischaracterized the event.
“Ms. Andrews was … coordinating this whole effort and this program itself where I was put in basically what we would call a bullpen and openly critiqued, where people were given the authority or emboldened to openly critique my leadership of the organization in front of everyone,” Garrett says.
Andrews says she started the program to develop DCHA employees’ leadership skills, not attack Garrett. The program featured various guest speakers that Garrett signed off on, she says. The monthly events included a talk on emotional intelligence, one on how to be a change agent, a tour of public housing properties, and a visit from a former Washington Football Team player. The program required a budget that Garrett had to approve, Andrews says. “He was seemingly supportive of it,” she adds. “Financed it and participated.”
She says she was unaware of Garrett’s feelings about the program until his deposition. According to Andrews, every employee took turns sitting in the circle and receiving feedback.
“We were all moving toward ‘let’s let bygones be bygones,’” Andrews says. “The facilitator even gave this whole story about how ‘sometimes you just have to get it all out so you can start anew.’ She was really just trying to do what any facilitator who is doing a team-building activity would do.”
Garrett never intended to fire Andrews, he says in his deposition. The whole thing was a miscommunication with Campbell, his HR director.
Garrett claims that he intended to let Andrews’ contract expire at the end of September 2020 and instructed Campbell to give Andrews’ a 60-day non-renewal notice, as her contract required.
Andrews questions that interpretation and points out the 60-day notice wouldn’t have kicked in until July, two months after she was fired. Her contract allows for her to hand off her duties and responsibilities to ensure a seamless transition, she says, and instead, her phone and email were abruptly disconnected and she was escorted out of the building.
She began raising concerns about the sole source procurement and authenticity of masks that DCHA purchased in April. She describes in her lawsuit how her poking around angered Williams, the senior vice president for property management, and Bandele McQueen, Garrett’s chief of staff. Garrett recruited both men to work for him at DCHA. He says in his deposition that he considers Williams a personal friend, and he attended college at the University of Virginia with McQueen. (He says he and McQueen were not roommates, as LL previously reported.) DCHA procured the masks through an acquaintance McQueen knew from his time working on Capitol Hill, according to Garrett’s deposition.
Andrews believes she was fired because she raised concerns about the masks, to Williams’ and McQueen’s frustration. Garrett claims his issues with Andrews had been percolating for some time before that and that he began looking for a new general counsel in January 2020, months before Andrews was fired in late May.
The case is inching toward trial. D.C. Superior Court Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo dismissed three of the five claims in Andrews’ lawsuit, including the count under the Whistleblower Protection Act, in November.
None of the current DCHA employees mentioned in Garrett’s deposition responded to LL’s emails seeking comment. Instead, DCHA spokesperson Tony Robinson sent an emailed statement that notes Puig-Lugo’s dismissal of Andrews’ whistleblower claim and other claims directed against Garrett as an individual.
Andrews filed a motion for reconsideration last month and is waiting on a decision from Puig-Lugo. Garrett has since hired a new general counsel and, in the meantime, is moving forward with his 20-year plan to transform DCHA and its public housing properties.