- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

Some D.C. Council members say Mayor Anthony A. Williams intentionally has delayed confirmation hearings on acting Human Services Director Yvonne D. Gilchrist, whose record of faltering programs at her last social services agency has raised concerns.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, announced Miss Gilchrist’s appointment May 14 to the $140,000-a-year job. However, the mayor did not submit her name to the council until June 11, five days before Miss Gilchrist took office.

The delay left no time for confirmation hearings before the summer recess, said council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat and chairman of the D.C. Council Human Services Committee that will conduct the hearings.

The confirmation hearings are expected to start in October, and council members have until Nov. 18 to vote or the appointment takes effect automatically.

“This is a legislative machination by the mayor in order to circumvent the ability of the council to give its timely confirmation,” said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat. “There is nothing wrong with that. He is just using the system to his advantage.”

Tony Bullock, the mayor’s spokesman, said there was no basis for such criticism.

“There has been no attempt on anyone’s part to deprive the council of its proper role of review in the confirmation process,” he said. “That council members do not have enough time to hold the hearing before they go on vacation is their problem. We will be here. They could hold [hearings] next week. It’s up to them to decide if they want to hold this hearing before, during or after their recess.”

Mr. Bullock said paperwork associated with submitting a nomination may have caused the monthlong delay. “It’s not just a name in an envelope,” he said.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said there was “no reason” for the lag between announcing and submitting the nomination.

“It was surprising to me but it is not the first time it has happened,” he said.

Mr. Evans said it was unfortunate that a questionable nominee would run the department for four months and blamed Mr. Williams for skewing the process in favor of his appointee.

He said the delay could inflict “real harm” on Miss Gilchrist and the city if the council votes to “throw her out” after four months in office.

Miss Gilchrist’s $140,000 annual salary will make her one of the 15 highest-paid D.C. government workers.

The Washington Times reported in April about the proliferation of six-figure salaries in D.C. government, which has more employees making $100,000-plus than the governments of Chicago and other, much-larger U.S. cities.

Council members promised grueling confirmation hearings for Miss Gilchrist after The Times published stories in recent weeks that detailed problems at the Baltimore Department of Social Services (DSS). Miss Gilchrist was the agency director for the past eight years and earned $128,556 annually.

Miss Gilchrist’s tenure at the agency ended when state officials targeted it for a management shake-up and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. started an investigation into the agency’s role in the death of 15-year-old Ciara Jobes in foster care. The investigation continues.

Other problems at the Baltimore agency under Miss Gilchrist included:

• An audit by the Maryland General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services in May 2002 found a lack of evidence showing background checks were conducted on foster parents; caseworkers were not maintaining sufficient contact with children; permanent placement of children was not completed on time; and basic health care was not provided.

• The state in May 2000 settled a class-action lawsuit against the DSS for denying appeal rights to people cut off from welfare. As a result, the city offered more than 10,000 Baltimore families a chance to appeal and reinstated benefits for some, pending appeals.

• A University of Maryland study in 2002 found that a large number of people left the welfare rolls in Baltimore because of administrative problems, not because they found employment.

• The U.S. Office for Civil Rights found that some DSS offices improperly screened welfare recipients for mental disabilities, did not refer disabled people to special-aid or rehabilitation programs and did not conduct follow-up interviews in welfare disability cases.

“All of those issues are legitimate subjects of concern to be raised at the hearings,” Mr. Evans said. “That is why what happened with this whole delay is very unfortunate. It is in everybody’s best interest, including the mayor’s, to have these issues aired publicly before the person is put in office.”

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, wants the human services committee to find a way to hold confirmation hearings before October, perhaps prior to the two-month recess beginning July 15.

“Sure, the recess poses an obstacle,” he said. “However, this particular candidate has already raised enough concern among the council and the community that we may need to expedite things.”

Miss Gilchrist has defended her record in Baltimore, saying the types of problems that happened there could happen in the social services agency of any major city.

“My background and the work I did in Baltimore and in other jobs was outstanding, considering the things and circumstances I had to deal with — limited resources, not enough staff, buildings that needed to be improved,” Miss Gilchrist said.

She also said changes were made promptly when problems were revealed.

Miss Gilchrist denied responsibility for Ciara’s death because the girl was not in DSS custody when she died, though she acknowledged the agency did not oppose placing the girl with the woman now charged with her murder.

Mr. Williams has given Miss Gilchrist unwavering support and remains confident about her confirmation. “She’s done a great job,” he said of her time in Baltimore.

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