Upside down recycling bins abandoned by D.C.'s DPW
Credit: Darrow Montgomery/FILE

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After the residency controversy that helped prompt former deputy mayor Chris Geldart’s sudden resignation, Loose Lips might have thought that Mayor Muriel Bowser would be ultra cautious about ensuring her agency heads meet the legal requirements for living in the District. Nevertheless, one of her newest appointees lives in Maryland.

Bowser’s new choice to lead the Department of Public Works, Timothy W. Spriggs, owns a home in Hyattsville, according to Prince George’s County records reviewed by LL. Those records indicate that he purchased the two-story house in 2021 after previously listing an address in Laurel.

Acting DPW Director Timothy Spriggs

Spriggs hasn’t violated any laws by living in the Maryland suburb up to this point. His previous role at the department does not include residency restrictions. Before Bowser picked him as acting director of DPW, he served as the administrator of the agency’s security and safety, a role in which he focused on matters like emergency preparedness and snow removal. D.C. records show him pulling down a salary just over $182,000 before his appointment. Even with that much cash, LL certainly doesn’t begrudge Spriggs for chasing friendlier real estate prices in the suburbs, given the state of D.C.’s housing market.

But things changed on Jan. 3 when Bowser picked Spriggs to become an agency leader. That role clearly requires residency within District limits or securing a “hardship waiver” that releases him from these requirements.

DPW spokesperson Nancee Lyons would not comment directly on Spriggs’ residence and says in an emailed statement that “executive appointees have 180 days from confirmation to comply with the domiciliary requirements.” Lyons referred the rest of LL’s questions to Bowser’s communications director, Susana Castillo, who says Spriggs intends to move into D.C. before the 180-day deadline.

Some D.C. government veterans who spoke with LL believe the 180-day clock actually starts when Spriggs’ appointment as acting director takes effect—Bowser has yet to submit his nomination to the Council, so the exact timeline is still unclear.

Should Spriggs continue to own that home in Hyattsville, however, it creates the same sort of conundrum that plagued Geldart.

The former deputy mayor for public safety and justice listed a Ward 6 address in documents submitted to the D.C. Council for his appointment; he was confirmed in June of 2021. Geldart later claimed that he was “geo bacheloring” with a friend while his family lived at a home in Falls Church. Lawmakers argued that that sort of arrangement violated the spirit of the law, if not the letter, and Geldart resigned not long after these residency questions emerged. (Those questions were, of course, prompted by the criminal charges Geldart briefly faced following a scuffle in a Gold’s Gym parking lot in Arlington; the charges were later dropped, but the whole debacle cost Geldart his job.)

Unless Spriggs chooses to sell his house, he’ll likely face similar accusations as Geldart, of meeting the law’s requirements on a technicality but not truly meeting the goal of its drafters. Spriggs has worked in D.C. government for just over 11 years, per his DPW biography, and Prince George’s County court records suggest he’s lived in Maryland for most (if not all) of that time. A copy of D.C.’s voter file from 2022 reviewed by LL also does not show Spriggs as a registered voter. It’s fair, then, to wonder whether he has the same personal investment in the community as his fellow agency directors.

As soon as the Geldart scandal started heating up last October, politicos started whispering about one of the worst kept open secrets in D.C. government: that residency requirements in D.C. aren’t exactly tightly enforced. If Arlington police hadn’t mentioned Geldart’s Falls Church address in a statement about the closely watched case, it’s unlikely he would’ve received any scrutiny about his living situation. Geldart himself subsequently told the Post that he frequently mentioned to his colleagues that he needed to pick up his children and take them home to the Virginia suburb.

The requirements haven’t exactly been popular over the years, at least among employees. Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry faced a rebellion from police and teachers’ unions when he shepherded through the initial law requiring residency for government employees in the 1980s, and Congress ultimately intervened to soften some of its restrictions. (Years later, Barry blamed this move for helping to build up Prince George’s into a de facto “Ward 9.”) Former police chief Cathy Lanier also faced allegations that she lived with a partner in Maryland back in 2012, but dismissed those as a “really cheap shot” and led the department for four more years afterward.

At its best, the law exemplifies the ideal that government leaders should feel connected to the people they serve and have skin in the game when they make major policy decisions affecting the city. Barry envisioned the law as a key way to give D.C. residents a leg up in securing government jobs, a signature focus of his various terms in office.

Castillo, the mayor’s spokesperson, claims residents care whether their leaves are picked up and their trash is collected, not whether Spriggs actually lives in D.C. And LL must concede that it’s far from the most essential requirement for the DPW leader. It’s one thing to require, say, the police chief to live in the city so as to be readily available for emergencies, but the city’s top trash collector doesn’t have quite the same set of duties.

The most important thing for Bowser here, really, is consistency. Either she should make it clear that she expects her top deputies to follow the law, or she should make her case to the Council for why the requirement should be repealed. She may have compelling arguments to make if these requirements are deterring qualified candidates or D.C.’s high housing prices are causing headaches.

The one thing she shouldn’t do is simply ignore the law when it suits her.