- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A consultant who has been hired to head the District’s mental-disability agency for 104 days will be paid as much as $120,000 — about $33,000 more than a full-fledged agency director is allowed to earn.

In hiring consultant Kathy Sawyer to head the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration this month, Mayor Anthony A. Williams avoided the required scrutiny of a department head by the D.C. Council and sidestepped the city’s restrictions on directors’ salaries.

The council last year voted to cap the 12-month salary of an agency director at $173,880 and the six-month salary at $90,000, said Charlotte Brookins-Hudson, general counsel to the City Council. There is no cap on contractors’ salaries, however.

“I believe they are [hiring Miss Sawyer] to avoid the annual salary cap,” Mrs. Brookins-Hudson said.

Mr. Williams’ move doesn’t sit well with council member Adrian M. Fenty, who heads the Human Services Committee, which oversees the troubled agency.

“You should not pay any more than the law allows,” said Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, who is running for mayor. “If there is a justifiable reason, then bring it before the council.”

Miss Sawyer, a former commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, was hired to replace Marsha Thompson, whom Mr. Williams fired June 6.

Miss Thompson, who headed the agency for more than a year, received a $105,885 annual salary.

Miss Sawyer’s contract pays $125 an hour for 104 days, up to a total of $120,000. She also receives $15,000 in housing expenses and $1,000 in travel and professional expenses.

She will head the agency until the mayor leaves office in January. Mr. Williams, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election this year.

Williams spokesman Vince Morris said Miss Sawyer was hired as a contracted consultant to allow her to start immediately.

“The contract offers the flexibility,” he said. “We’re saying she doesn’t have to drop everything she’s doing and become head of the agency, and it allows someone to do it immediately.”

Mr. Morris said hiring a temporary contractor for the duration of Mr. Williams’ tenure will allow the next mayor to hire his or her own director.

“[Mr. Williams] didn’t want to go around putting people in charge when a new mayor is going to come in and be faced by all these decisions,” he said.

D.C. law bars consultants from overseeing city government employees.

However, under a special exemption, the mayor is allowed to appoint a consultant as an agency director when an agency is involved in a class-action lawsuit.

The District’s Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration has been criticized for years over the hundreds of cases of neglect and abuse reported among the more than 2,000 residents it serves.

The U.S. Justice Department has filed papers asking that the District be held in contempt of court for the agency’s failure to meet performance standards ordered more than 10 years ago.

Late last month, University Legal Services, an advocacy group that represents disabled residents, requested receivership of the agency through a court filing.

Mr. Fenty said the agency needs a skilled leader who can help turn it around, adding that Miss Sawyer has a good track record in Alabama.

Council member Kwame Brown, at-large Democrat, said that although Miss Sawyer’s contract is likely a maneuver to avoid the salary cap, it may be a necessary measure.

“We’ve got a serious problem,” he said. “We need someone who is qualified to take the job.”

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