- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2013

The executive director of the independent board that rules on labor complaints and resolves collective bargaining impasses between unions and the D.C. government is not a resident of the District, as required by law, but of Virginia.

The decision by Ondray T. Harris to live in Arlington, according to sources with whom he has spoken, reflects his views on D.C. government and the desirability of living in the city, where his decisions as executive director of the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) can affect up to 25,000 unionized city workers.

It also has become a bone of contention in an ongoing dispute as to who is the legitimate chairperson of the Fraternal Order of Police bargaining unit that represents corrections workers at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Union members and their elected chairwoman are concerned that his residency status is being ignored at the same time he appears to be siding with actions by D.C.’s labor-relations director alleged to fall outside her legal authority.

Spelled out in the District of Columbia Government Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act of 1978, the idea behind the city’s residency requirement for Cabinet-level appointees is that officials who lead city agencies need to know firsthand the issues of residents — which includes many city employees in addition to the public they serve.

Applicants for executive director of PERB “must be a resident of the District of Columbia or become a resident within 180 days of appointment,” according to the vacancy announcement. The Washington Times confirmed last month that Mr. Harris, who earns between $131,000 and $137,000 annually and was hired in April 2011, resides in Arlington.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who nominated Mr. Harris for the PERB post, has declined to address the matter. In an email to The Times last month, the mayor’s spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said: “PERB is an independent agency with independent personnel authority, which means its hiring actions and choices are not under the control or review of the mayor’s office. As an independent agency, it is up to the board of that agency to enforce the requirement. Certainly, we are concerned that it appears that their executive director is out of compliance, and urge the board to review the discrepancy immediately.”

None of PERB’s four board members — Wynter P. Allen, Don Wasserman, Charles J. Murphy and Ann Hoffman — or General Counsel Keturah D. Harley responded to requests for comment.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat and chairman of the Council’s Committee on Government Operations, also did not respond to requests for comment.

In March, in a rare reversal, PERB vacated Mr. Harris’ order upholding a decision by Natasha Campbell, director of the Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining, to not recognize Takisha Brown as elected chairwoman of the FOP bargaining unit.

More recently, Mr. Harris waived mandatory mediation of the union’s internal leadership dispute based on an assertion, echoing that of Ms. Campbell, that there was a question about whether Ms. Brown was authorized to reach a settlement on behalf of the union. Ms. Brown was first elected last year by a near-unanimous vote, which was contested by a member of her board who, according to city records, is a management-level employee.

When Ms. Campbell later refused to recognize a second, unanimous vote in favor of Ms. Brown, Mr. Harris indicated that he would administratively dismiss the matter, which would force the union to further pursue its claim in D.C. Superior Court that Ms. Campbell has exceeded her authority.

In a court filing in that case, Ms. Campbell requested that the FOP/DYRS hold a third election — to be supervised by PERB.

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