A council member with oversight of the District’s juvenile justice agency says the hiring of a U.S. Coast Guard officer to lead the city’s troubled two-year-old secure placement facility for D.C. youth may not pass “the smell test.”
It remains to be seen, though, whether the controversial hire will sink Neil A. Stanley’s chances of being confirmed as the permanent director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS).
Jim Graham, chairman of the council’s Committee on Human Services, grilled Mr. Stanley late Wednesday during the nominee’s confirmation hearing about allegations that he tailored a job description to fit Capt. Steven Baynes as his pick to lead DYRS’ New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel.
“I certainly have to wonder, with all the problems that we have at New Beginnings, whether this is the right hire,” Mr. Graham told Mr. Stanley, referring to reports of attacks on officers that include a severe beating and escape on April 18.
New Beginnings, which sits on 30 acres in Laurel, is the centerpiece of the District’s most recent efforts at juvenile justice reform. Described as “the anti-prison,” the $46 million facility offers high-risk offenders an intensive nine- to 12-month program featuring counseling, education and job training. But the state-of-the-art center has space for just 60 of the roughly 1,100 DYRS wards and has been criticized since it opened as being inadequate for the agency’s needs.
Laying out a timeline, Mr. Graham said Capt. Baynes was interviewed Jan. 4, the job posting was withdrawn upon instruction by D.C.’s human resources department, it was reposted March 24 with juvenile justice requirements that formerly had been in the posting deleted. More interviews were conducted and Capt. Baynes was hired April 25.
“It seems like this was an engineered effort,” Mr. Graham told Mr. Stanley. “That you wanted to hire a particular individual, you found out that the position description did not fit him, and so you just simply deleted that hurdle and he became qualified.”
Prior to the tough line of questioning, Mr. Stanley’s hearing featured “impactful” support from more than a dozen witnesses and opposition from a pair of former employees and some union leaders.
Members of the committee say confirmation of Mr. Stanley is “still in play,” despite one member’s indication of non-support a day earlier.
Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said on Thursday he supports Mayor Vincent C. Gray, but the executive could have picked a candidate with more “hands-on” experience to lead the agency that handles young and impoverished D.C. residents.
Mr. Barry said he is still in discussions with Mr. Graham and believes strongly in the confirmation process.
“It shouldn’t be taken lightly, it shouldn’t be perfunctory,” Mr. Barry said in a phone interview Thursday. “It should be taken seriously.”
The comments Thursday were a positive turnabout for Mr. Stanley, after Mr. Barry had stated his flat opposition to the nominee on Wednesday at the start of a lengthy confirmation hearing.
The outcome of the testimony will come through votes by each member on the Human Services Committee - which includes Tommy Wells, Michael A. Brown and Yvette Alexander - on whether to advance Mr. Stanley to the full council.