- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday fired the director of the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration in an effort to keep that agency from slipping into court receivership.

Marsha Thompson had headed the agency for more than a year.

“We have terminated her services and we thanked her for her effort,” said Brenda Donald Walker, deputy mayor for children, youth and families and elders.

During Miss Thompson’s tenure, the agency was unable to serve some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

The agency has been criticized for years for hundreds of cases of abuse and neglect among the more than 2,000 disabled people it serves.

Mr. Williams promised to reform the agency in 2000 but has failed to do so, he said at a press conference last week.

Replacing Miss Thompson will be Kathy Sawyer, a former commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

Miss Sawyer will serve as the agency’s acting administrator until the end of Mr. Williams’ mayoral term in January. The Democratic mayor is not seeking a third term.

Mr. Williams said he hopes the appointment of Miss Sawyer as administrator will ward off receivership.

“I’m hopeful,” the mayor said. “I would never say confident.”

Late last month, University Legal Services, an advocacy group that represents people with disabilities in the District, requested receivership of the agency through a court filing.

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

In a filing in U.S. District Court last week, the Justice Department cited 14 “preventable and questionable” deaths in group homes run by the city agency since January 2003. The filing gave vivid details about the extent of abuse, which included severe scaldings and fatal starvation.

During the Williams administration, the city has regained control of five agencies that were in receivership when he entered office.

Mr. Williams said Miss Sawyer will function like a court-appointed receiver because she will work as an administrator and consultant, not a director.

He said Miss Sawyer is contracted to the city only for the duration of his tenure and will work to improve the agency during that time.

He said salary and other details of Miss Sawyer’s contract are being determined, and that she will begin the position June 19.

Miss Sawyer said she will focus on an improvement plan for the agency.

“It’s my belief that the agency has suffered from a lack of long-term planning,” she said. “What you see here, at least in my opinion, is a failure to plan. What we can do in six months is turn this agency around.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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