- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004

Officials at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics kept their chief technology officer in a $92,271-a-year job despite learning from city investigators that she had lied about having a college degree.

Vialetta Graham, who was hired in February 2002 as the chief technology officer for the board and the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, told supervisors she earned a computer-science degree from American University in 1983. She has no such degree, according to documents that The Washington Times has obtained in connection with last year’s probe of both agencies by the D.C. Inspector General’s Office.

Board of Elections officials said Miss Graham is qualified to oversee the agency’s technology needs despite the misrepresentation on her resume and defended their decision to suspend her for 60 days in November 2002 rather than dismiss or demote her for lying about having a college degree.

Kenneth J. McGhie, general counsel for the Board of Elections, said the panel decided against dismissal because a college degree is not a requirement for Miss Graham’s position.

“The reason it wasn’t prosecuted was because it wasn’t a misrepresentation of a material fact,” Mr. McGhie said. “If it was required for the job, it would have been material … but it wasn’t required for the job.”

He said a computer-science degree earned so long ago would not hold much practical relevance given today’s more technologically advanced computers.

“They didn’t even have e-mail 20 years ago,” Mr. McGhie said.

The Board of Elections’ technology problems have come under criticism by D.C. Council members, upset that the 150 new touch-screen voting machines worth $1.14 million caused long delays in getting results of Tuesday’s presidential primary.

Board of Elections officials say Miss Graham had no role in those delays, and it is unfair to question her job skills in context of problems processing data from touch-screen voting technology used for the first time in the District’s presidential primary.

Board officials have pointed out that long delays are typical the first time a locality implements touch-screen voting. Fairfax officials experienced even longer delays in November.

“Her only job was to get the information on the Web site, and she did that,” Mr. McGhie said of Miss Graham’s election-night duties.

Miss Graham did not return calls seeking comment.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, called the delay in getting returns a national embarrassment, saying he will ask the council to hold hearings to find out why it took election officials until past midnight to tally votes in the primary.

Board of Elections Chairman Benjamin F. Wilson blamed the delays on a contractor helping to oversee the touch-screen machines, Sequoia Voting Systems Inc.

“This is a Sequoia issue,” Mr. Wilson said. The company manufactured the touch-screen machines used during the election.

Officials with Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. said that they were responsible for delays Tuesday, and that the Board of Elections had implemented touch-screen voting faster than most other localities.

“D.C. should be applauded,” said Alfie Charles, spokesman for Sequoia.

But city investigators have raised questions previously about whether Miss Graham can handle the job.

“You placed the important technology functions of both agencies in the hands of an employee with the educational background of one year of undergraduate work,” former D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox wrote in a memo to Board of Elections managers dated Aug. 5, 2002.

The memo informed Board of Elections managers that Miss Graham had misrepresented her academic qualifications, the internal investigation documents revealed. Several other high-ranking D.C. government executives, including former Fire Chief Ronnie Few, were fired or forced to resign for misrepresenting their qualifications.

City investigators said Miss Graham’s initial employment application was approved by Mayor Anthony A. Williams when he was the District’s chief financial officer in 1997. Miss Graham was hired as a computer-systems analyst with the Office of Chief Information officer, the documents show.

The misrepresentation on Miss Graham’s employment application was discovered during a yearlong probe into charges of mismanagement at the Board of Elections. The Inspector General’s Office issued a report critical of the agency’s management in May, but criminal charges were not filed.

“The Board imposed a severe punishment against the chief-technology officer for her inappropriate conduct,” Chairman Benjamin F. Wilson wrote in a memo to Mr. Maddox defending the 60-day suspension of Miss Graham.

Mr. Maddox disagreed, replying to Mr. Wilson that “the administration action taken appears to be inadequate.”

He declined to explain to the Times the Board of Elections’ rationale for allowing Miss Graham to remain in her job, citing confidentiality rules.

Mr. McGhie said board officials have full confidence in Miss Graham’s ability to oversee technology as the Board of Elections prepares for expected heavy voter turnout this year during D.C. Council and presidential contests in November.

But D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, expressed serious concerns. “This agency needs a thorough review,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Graham, who is not related to the Board of Elections’ chief technology officer, also questioned the board’s decision to return Miss Graham to her high-paying job.

“I think this raises a serious question about ethics and ethical behavior,” Mr. Graham said. “For an agency that is trusted as the guardian of ethical behavior of political officials, well, this is just astounding to me.”

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