- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

Youth Services Administration (YSA) officials have abused the use of District of Columbia vehicles and housing, misappropriated cell phones and taken questionable trips to Hawaii on taxpayer money, according to a new audit.

The audit was conducted by the D.C. Department of Human Services, which oversees the YSA. It found that YSA administrator Gayle Turner allowed top officials to live rent-free in government housing, assigned cell phones to people who did not need them and let city vehicles be used for personal trips.

The audit also found that a third of out-of-town trips for conferences and training were taken by Ms. Turner or her appointees while many YSA employees who provided direct services to children stayed behind.

Ms. Turner's administrative assistant, Erika Brown, was the department's most frequent flier, taking business trips to Honolulu, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Denver.

The auditors also questioned cell-phone use: During a nine-month period between July 1999 and January 2000, YSA spent $34,395 for cell-phone use by 18 employees. Ms. Turner's bill during that period totaled $4,525, and Ms. Brown had a $2,540 bill paid by the city.

The audit also recommended that YSA officials be disciplined for using city vehicles for personal reasons.

That recommendation was rejected by Assistant Mayor Carolyn Graham, who is in charge of human services. Ms. Graham has taken no disciplinary action against Ms. Turner or any of Ms. Turner's administrators.

Ms. Graham also attempted to redact, or black out, the names of top YSA officials in an edited copy of the audit made available to The Washington Times.

The Times received a complete copy after complaints to staffers of Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who appointed Ms. Graham in 1999 as deputy mayor for children, youth and families.

Ms. Graham said the investigation found nothing illegal or amiss. "I stand on what the report says," she said.

"Ms. Turner has been on board for two years. She took over a terribly mismanaged operation," Ms. Graham said. She said the changes are based on the accusations of two or three disgruntled employees. "I have a problem with that," she said.

Rank-and-file YSA employees, meanwhile, said they were not being given the needed resources to do their jobs.

"This is ridiculous that no one seems to care," said a YSA employee.

"It's hard to keep up with these folks. They are continually gone," said the employee. "We've never gone to Hawaii, New Orleans and California before, all in one year."

Besides the audit, The Times reported last week that since September 1999, a $1 million juvenile drug treatment program that receives partial federal funding has been seriously understaffed.

Counselors say the juvenile delinquents ordered to the program by D.C. Superior Court judges are receiving little or no treatment.

The audit also recommended that human services administrators begin close monitoring of the YSA because of the problems uncovered.

But Ms. Graham, who is also acting Human Services Department director, has taken little action to resolve problems in the agency, city sources said.

"It is recommended that the [Department of Human Services] director closely monitor activities of the YSA administration/staff to ensure strict adherence to established policies and procedures," the audit reported.

"That [recommendation] is typically done. [The investigator] found nothing wrong," Ms. Graham said.

She added that she has asked the D.C. Inspector General to investigate the use of cell phones by employees to determine whether anything was amiss.

The audit began after complaints were filed by employees about Ms. Turner.

The employees also accused Ms. Turner of bypassing the city's hiring regulations and not allowing current employees to compete for higher paying positions, but auditors found no evidence of violations of city hiring practices.

According to the audit, city hiring rules were followed when 70 employees were hired between July 1998, when Ms. Turner began, and November 2000. But of those employees hired, 33 were originally temporary appointments, whose terms were either extended or converted to career status.

Although the auditors said no laws were violated, they could not determine whether the candidates were qualified because Ms. Turner refused to provide their resumes.

Ms. Graham said, however, that the resumes were on file and that the candidates would not have been hired if they did not meet the qualifications.

Ms. Graham said there was nothing wrong with filling the positions with Ms. Turner's appointees.

As for the questions about out-of-town travel, Ms. Graham said the trips were necessary to attract and retain managers.

"Most of the management staff in YSA is new. There was a management deficit for years," Ms. Graham said. "Ms. Turner, to get that staff ready and to retain good managers, she has been sending staff to conference."

A review of YSA records by The Times found that of 75 trips taken between May 16, 1999, and Dec. 15, 2000, 24 of those trips were taken by people appointed by Ms. Turner. The documents did not spell out the costs for the trips.

Ms. Turner took trips to Phoenix and San Francisco.

The auditors also found that three top YSA officials lived free at the Oak Hill Youth Center while other employees provided housing had to pay monthly fees. Among those who lived free in city facilities: Jessie Doyle, who earns $89,142 per year as superintendent of Oak Hill Youth Center; George Perkins, who makes $82,284 a year as deputy YSA administrator; and Ira Holland, who makes $55,303 a year as a special assistant to Ms. Turner.

Ms. Turner responded that housing was provided to officials to respond to emergency situations, although YSA employee housing policy requires that housing be provided only for essential personnel in security, food service, maintenance and medical services. Rules also dictate that a committee of employees will be formed to assign housing.

The audit said no committee was ever formed by Ms. Turner and rent was not collected from the officials.

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