Takisha Brown had barely gotten her feet wet as elected chairwoman of the Fraternal Order of Police union representing 200 youth-corrections officers when she sensed trouble.
The first problem: A member at the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) claimed in writing that her predecessor had accepted $200 to file a workplace grievance — a breach of union bylaws, if not a matter for the police.
From what Ms. Brown could tell, the union's finances were in disarray. It had lost its tax-exempt status. She perceived a conflict with the union's attorney, who employed the wife of a union official Ms. Brown suspected of interfering with her ability to serve her members. A large percentage of those members expressed concerns that the attorney, Ardra O'Neal, was nonresponsive and her fees were too high.
To complicate matters, union officials remained loyal to the previous chairman, and Ms. Brown's housecleaning efforts, including calling for a forensic financial audit, were greeted with hostility.
The situation boiled over when Ms. Brown fired Ms. O'Neal, prompting the official whom she suspected of interference, DYRS employee Cedric Crawley, to orchestrate an executive board vote to unseat Ms. Brown and hold a special election to replace her.
But there was a problem with Mr. Crawley's coup. He held what appeared to be a DYRS managerial position and, according to Ms. Brown, shouldn't have been in the union in the first place. So when Mr. Crawley went to Wells Fargo Bank and had union funds deposited into an account he controlled, Ms. Brown filed a fraud complaint, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.
She took her broader concerns about "money and leadership" to the D.C. Office of Inspector General and filed a complaint against Mr. Crawley and his cohorts with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), which certifies union membership eligibility and adjudicates labor disputes.
Documents obtained by The Times suggest DYRS and labor-relations officials caused the confusion underlying Mr. Crawley's takeover attempt. Ms. Brown says DYRS officials are content to allow the situation to fester.
"It's holding me back from negotiating and representing my members," she said.
DYRS corrections officers have a stressful job dealing with troubled and often violent youths. During a recent two-month period, 68 assaults took place inside New Beginnings Youth Development Center, DYRS' locked facility in Laurel, according to D.C. Council records. Many of those assaults were on officers, some of whom were hospitalized.
Ms. Brown accuses DYRS Director Neil A. Stanley of taking a do-nothing stance and exploiting the Crawley matter as a source of divisiveness within the union.
"He keeps saying he can't do anything about it," she told The Times.
DYRS representative LaShon Beamon insisted that the matter be resolved within the union or by the D.C. Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining.
Natasha Campbell, director of the labor relations office, deferred questions to PERB.
Mr. Crawley did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. O'Neal, the fired FOP attorney who now represents Mr. Crawley, said in an email: "We will allow the administrative and judiciary process of [PERB] and the court system to resolve this matter without undue influence from the media."
Mr. Crawley's wife, Danielle, a law clerk in Ms. O'Neal's office, declined to comment.
Officials at PERB, which will hold a hearing on the matter at the end of the month, also declined to comment.
In January, just after her election and swearing-in, Ms. Brown noticed that union finances had decreased precipitously over the past several years and were down to $50,000.
Three days later, she received a handwritten letter from a union member who described trying to get Ms. Brown's predecessor, Tasha Williams, to file a grievance on the member's behalf. According to the letter, Ms. Williams resisted and the member offered to pay her to do it. The letter states that Ms. Williams told the member to meet her at the union office, where she left instructions on how to turn over $200.
The member, Phyllis Cassell, declined to comment.
Ms. Williams also at one time assumed the duties of treasurer and began signing checks in violation of the union's bylaws, the PERB complaint states. She denies any wrongdoing. Both Ms. Williams and Ms. Cassell still work at DYRS.
On Feb. 7, after complaining about Ms. Brown to Marcello Muzzatti, president of the FOP D.C. Lodge #1, which is composed of members from 114 law enforcement agencies and their affiliated unions, Mr. Crawley told Ms. Brown he and two other union officials had voted unanimously to hold an election to replace her.
'Misleading the members'
Among the complaints he cited, according to a memo from Mr. Crawley to Ms. Brown, was "dictatorship," "slander against the executive board" and "misleading the members." The memo also informed Ms. Brown that Mr. Crawley would replace her until a special election was held.
But documents obtained by The Times show Ms. Brown receiving support in high places and questions being raised about Mr. Crawley.
On Feb. 16, Mr. Muzzatti wrote to Ms. Campbell at the labor relations office: "Takisha Brown is the chairperson ... and will continue to be the chairperson unless the chairperson, PERB or myself advise you otherwise. Under no circumstances should a letter from a member advising you that a chairperson has been replaced ... be acknowledged. If a member has a problem with the chairperson, he or she has a vehicle that will allow for the removal of the chairperson without violating any by-laws."
Mr. Muzzatti did not respond to requests for comment.
A month later, Shawn Stokes, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources (DCHR), confirmed in a letter to Ms. Brown that Mr. Crawley once held a union-eligible job with DYRS. But in 2007, Ms. Stokes wrote, while in a position ineligible for union membership, Mr. Crawley was elected vice president of the union.
When DYRS officials became concerned about a nonunion employee being a union official, the agency looked to the labor relations office, which instructed DYRS to move Mr. Crawley into a union position to preserve his election as a union officer, the letter states.
Then, in 2009, when Mr. Crawley was assigned to a union position dealing with disciplinary matters, DYRS management decided a conflict might exist and reassigned him, this time to a "different, non-union position description having duties that might be considered managerial/supervisory in nature," according to the Stokes letter.
In fact, DCHR's position description for Mr. Crawley says he is in the "management and program analysis series." But that didn't stop him from walking into the Laurel Wells Fargo in March and trying to access the union's bank account, according to a statement given to police by bank manager Rafael Olazagasti. And though Mr. Crawley eventually succeeded in taking over the account, the bank manager froze it after Ms. Brown "clarified the circumstances," according to the PERB complaint.
Mr. Crawley did not remove any funds, according to the bank manager's statement.
Cause for concern
Charles Tucker, DCHR general counsel, recently told The Times that cause for concern exists whenever a supervisor or manager is involved with a labor union because it means wearing two hats. But he acknowledged the possibility that under previous leadership, the union and DYRS came to an understanding that allowed Mr. Crawley to wear two hats.
He said DYRS officials and the labor relations office likely would have a record of such an arrangement, yet neither agency has disclosed one.
Mr. Tucker added that Ms. Brown seems to be detail-oriented, credible and centered on her members' well-being.
"This seems to be all because of an election," Mr. Tucker said. "Tasha lost and Takisha won, and Tasha's board remained in effect, and Cedric ran the board as if Takisha didn't win."
A veteran labor lawyer who has dealt with similar controversies said federal law prohibits managers and supervisors from serving as union officers, even if they are allowed into the union via collective bargaining or a memorandum of understanding.
As to Mr. Crawley's position changes at DYRS, the lawyer said DYRS "shouldn't monkey around with job descriptions for purposes of allowing managers to keep their positions as union officials."
If someone is involved with illegal financial dealings within a union, the lawyer said, "That's a police issue."
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