- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2003

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams will not withdraw his nomination of Yvonne D. Gilchrist as director of the Department of Human Services and remained “reasonably confident” she would be confirmed by the City Council, despite questions about her qualifications for the $140,000 a year job.

“Absolutely not, she’s done a great job,” Mr. Williams said yesterday, referring to Miss Gilchrist’s tenure as the head of a similar agency in Baltimore, a stint that has been marked by investigations and accusations of mismanagement.

Tony Bullock, the mayor’s communications director, predicted that Miss Gilchrist would be confirmed by the D.C. Council. “You will find that she makes a very good impression on the council and will be a good director,” he said.

Several members of the D.C. Council yesterday said Miss Gilchrist will face “tough” confirmation hearings this fall and be sharply questioned about problems at Baltimore’s Department of Social Services (DSS), where she was director for eight years.

The Washington Times first reported yesterday that Miss Gilchrist’s tenure at DSS ended with state officials planning a management shake-up and with an ongoing investigation by Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. into the agency’s role in the death of a 15-year-old girl in foster care last year.

“I’m going into the nomination hearings skeptical,” said council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. “That doesn’t mean she won’t be able to prove that she is the best person for the job, but it doesn’t sound that way so far.”

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, called on the mayor to give some assurance that the administration thoroughly vetted Miss Gilchrist, who is scheduled to take over at the Human Services Department later this month.

“I would appreciate some assurance from the mayor that he has reviewed all this before she starts,” he said. “We need that assurance from the mayor now.”

He promised a “very vigorous” confirmation and a “full and fair inquiry” into Miss Gilchrist’s background.

“She sounds like she had some issues up in Baltimore,” said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. “She has to answer the allegations or explain them or something.”

Other problems at the Baltimore agency under Miss Gilchrist included:

• The state in May 2000 settled a class-action lawsuit against the DSS for denying appeal rights to people cut off from welfare, offering more than 10,000 Baltimore families the opportunity to make appeals and reinstating benefits for some pending appeals.

• A 2002 University of Maryland study found that an inordinate number of people left the welfare rolls in Baltimore because of administrative problems rather than because they found employment.

• The federal Office for Civil Rights found that some DSS offices did not properly screen welfare clients for mental disabilities, failed to refer disabled people to special aid or rehabilitation programs, and performed little or no follow-up in welfare disability cases.

Miss Gilchrist has refused to answer any questions from The Times.

“This is going to be a tough hearing,” Mr. Fenty said.

Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, said the council could not “fluff off” questions about Miss Gilchrist’s record in Baltimore.

“We need to weigh the evidence and take the appropriate action if it is warranted,” he said.

Council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat and chairman of the human services committee that will conduct the confirmation hearings, yesterday began an investigation into Miss Gilchrist’s background that she promised would be exhaustive.

Some council members suggested holding the hearings as soon as next month rather than wait until after the council returns from its summer recess. The council members said they feared a delay could risk missing the confirmation deadline, which could result in Miss Gilchrist being automatically installed as director, as happened with Health Department Director James A. Buford.

“We don’t do the department any favors by protracting this process,” said council member Phil Mendelson, a member of the human services committee that will handle the hearings.

He said that Miss Gilchrist’s record in Baltimore raises concerns about her ability to reform the District’s troubled agency. “She needs to explain how these incidents in Baltimore don’t undermine the case that she can turn this agency around,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

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