themail.gif (3487 bytes)

May 3, 2006

Supplement to The Death and Life of Jane Jacobs
themail, May 3, 2006

What’s a Little White Lie Among Friends?
Jonetta Rose Barras,

When Marion Barry was mayor, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) was the dumping ground for his political operatives. Kimberley Flowers, the agency’s new director, is following that tradition -- except her cronies are from Baltimore, MD.

Speaking last month before the Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation, Deborrah Jackson, the representative for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2741 and a DPR employee, accused Flowers of mismanaging the $51 million agency. Jackson said Flowers, on the job for eleven months, has never held a system-wide meeting with the agency’s more than five hundred employees; has understaffed recreation centers; and has manipulated District laws to hire her friends.

Ironically, even Barry agreed on the latter: “It’s clear . . . they are using techniques to get around the city’s personnel laws.”

“I followed the process as I was told,” Flowers said in a telephone interview with me. If that’s true, then something’s wrong.

In June 2005, soon after Flowers arrived, she created three new senior-level positions: Deputy Director for Recreation Programs, Director of Partnerships and Program Development, and Evaluation Manager. She filled those jobs with people from Baltimore who worked for her when she was the director of that city’s recreation department. Roslyn Joy Johnson became deputy director with a $105,855 salary; Kakwete Sibetta became partnership director with a nearly $67,000 salary; and Tawanna Kane became program development and evaluation manager with a $71,000 salary. Two others — Melissa Degrafenreid and Marsha Jones — were hired as assistants. Everyone except Kane came within four months of Flowers’ arrival.

At least one of those individuals, Johnson, deliberately inflated her employment and compensation history to secure her position, according to the resume she submitted to the Office of Personnel (OP) and admissions made by her during interviews with me.

One entry on the resume indicates that Johnson worked in 1996 as Interim Women’s Coordinator at Woodland Job Corps in Maryland. The job was only for the summer, not a full year. (The Office of Personnel uses the length of time on a job as one factor to evaluate an applicant’s qualifications). Johnson admitted in an interview with me that at least three entries on the resume submitted to OP were exaggerated; these were all part-time or weekend positions, not full-time, as her resume suggests.

Johnson also indicated on her resume her salary at Studyworks Inc., a test preparation company, was $101,000. (OP also uses salary history in determining the pay grade for an employee.) But this week, during an interview with me in which she was asked about her compensation at Studyworks, Inc., Johnson admitted she was paid a base salary of $55,000.

In subsequent interviews, Flowers offered three different defenses of her friend. First she said, “I know there were opportunities for her to earned bonuses.” But a spokesperson for Studyworks, Inc., said $89,300 was the maximum Johnson earned while employed with the company from 1998 to January 2003. Then Flowers suggested I was holding an incorrect resume. However, the OP spokesperson, Randi Blank, confirmed the resume sent to me was the resume used to determined Johnson’s eligibility. Finally, Flowers enlisted the aid of a spokesperson: “I have always tried to bring the best qualified people into this agency, regardless of their background. I will look into any questions raised about their qualifications,” Flowers said through the spokesperson.

Reached at his office, City Administrator Robert Bobb said, “Falsifying a resume is cause for immediate termination, especially if the resume is used to enhance earning potential.”

Flowers didn’t just hire her friends; she upgraded their job titles from those they held in Baltimore and increased their salaries by thousands of dollars. In Baltimore, Johnson earned $82,100; Sibetta earned $50,500 and Kane earned $58,700, according to a spokesperson for Baltimore’s recreation department. Neither Johnson nor Sibetta nor Kane lives in the District.

So how was Flowers able to bring in her crew and increase their salaries so dramatically? In those infamous words spoken by the government’s biggest scofflaw, Suzanne Peck (the District’s Chief Technology Officer), Flowers exploited the hell out of the gray areas. First she hired Johnson and the others as temporary employees. A cornucopia of baskets is used to lift individuals into the government: fellowships, internships, and term appointments, which are not to be confused with temporary or TAPER. “It’s not so clear to me what the differences are,” says Oscar Rodriguez, head of the Center for Innovation and Reform, which recently completed a review of the OP’s management and DC. personnel codes. Rodriguez describes them as “four tomes two feet wide.” The center has proposed improvements.

But this much is clear: permanent jobs must be awarded in an open competition. Managers frequently evade this requirement by advertising only in their agency — keeping the information among the favored few. That’s what Flowers did. OP was a conspirator in Flowers’ effort to circumvent the law. Shawniqua Ottley, the sole person in DPR’s office of human resources, also aided and abetted. On August 22, 2005, not long after Flowers joined the agency, she hired Johnson in a temporary status but gave her the title she currently holds. The permanent position was posted from August 29, 2005, through Sept. 23, 2005, according to personnel officials.

This became Flowers’ template: She brought in Sibetta on Oct. 3, 2005, then advertised the job from October 17 through October 21, 2005. Kane joined the agency on March 6, 2006; the announcement for her job ran from March 22, 2006, through March 30, 2006. The other two individuals, Degrafenreid and Jones, were hired as term appointees; their jobs did not have to be competed.

The searches for the permanent positions were only conducted agency-wide. This meant that only employees from the DPR could apply, drastically reducing the pool of qualified candidates. OP also permitted Flowers to select by name the individuals she wanted to hire; naturally they were the persons already in the job — her folks from Baltimore.

Ottley offered double protection for her director’s plan. The human resource specialist admitted during an interview with me that she did not make any effort to inform the DPR workforce directly through written notification that three senior-level positions were available and that they could apply. Further, there was no employee newsletter. How likely was it that there were would be additional applications for the jobs other than those already holding the positions? Not likely.

This discriminatory process doesn’t bother Flowers’ supervisor, Brenda Donald Walker, deputy mayor for children, youth, families, and elders. "I’m satisfied," says Walker, adding this damaging chronology regarding Johnson’s selection: “[Johnson] was someone [Flowers] identified; she submitted her name for the job, personnel ranked [Johnson] as qualified. She brought her on and then advertised the position agency-wide.” Not surprisingly, Johnson was the sole applicant for her position. Sibetta was also the only applicant, according to Blank. Thus far, Kane is the sole applicant for her position.

Flowers’ crew is now nicely ensconced. Meanwhile, the OP continues to permit managers to circumvent the intent and spirit of the law. And Ottley, the DPR human resource specialist? Well, her service won her an upgrade to acting human resources director, with a $66,000 a year salary.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Send mail with questions or comments to
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)