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D.C. juvenile facility chief’s selection raises questions

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2011

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.

Mr. Stanley said he had known Capt. Baynes for at least 10 years "through friends" and saw him as a qualified person to bring true leadership to the troubled facility.

"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 Baynes was interviewed Jan. 4, the job posting was withdrawn upon instruction by D.C.'s human resources department, it was reposted March 24 with juvenile justice requirements that formerly had been in the posting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.

Mr. Graham said the committee did not vote on Mr. Stanley's confirmation during a Thursday morning meeting because members did not have time to finish and circulate a report after the previous night's hearing went on until 10:30 p.m.

The vote was not immediately rescheduled.

Long after public witnesses had their turn, discourse between Mr. Graham and Mr. Stanley turned to complaints by Namon Reid III, a former interim superintendent at New Beginnings who was passed over for the permanent job and filed a formal complaint with human resources.

Mr. Reid was terminated for failing to respond to nighttime calls after the April 18 escape - he responded when he found out in the morning, he has testified - but he thinks DYRS officials were clearing the way for Capt. Baynes.

Mr. Graham said it seems "the apple cart was upset" by a memo from Judy Banks, then interim personnel director for the District, which directed Mr. Stanley to rescind consideration of Capt. Baynes and assemble a panel of experts to vet candidates for the superintendent job.

Mr. Stanley said he did not "have any recollection of seeing that memo," but would look into the matter. He also distanced himself from the process, saying alterations to the job posting appeared to be part of a widespread effort to update employment announcements. He also said a separate panel conducted the interviews and the D.C. government's human resources department signed off on the hirings.

"I was not wedded to Capt. Baynes, I was not wedded to any particular candidate," Mr. Stanley said.

He said the agency did not move forward with earlier action on Capt. Baynes because a complaint had been filed with human resources, leading to the intervention.

Mr. Graham told Mr. Stanley it was unusual for the committee to delve into personnel matters, but "New Beginnings right now is a huge problem for us."

With regard to the requirements that were omitted from the job posting, Mr. Graham said, "I don't know if I feel comfortable with a point of view that is anti-relevant experience."

"That is not the case," the nominee replied.

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