Washington, DC — An employee dismissed by the Gray administration for perceived political disloyalty has been the victim of a concerted campaign to deny him reemployment by illegally blocking District of Columbia residency preference points for city jobs, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). If successful, the suit will also benefit thousands of D.C. residents who are wrongfully denied the residence preference required by law in city hiring.
The suit filed today in D.C. Superior Court is on behalf of Barry Weise who was abruptly removed from his position as Special Assistant to the Director of the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) on August 31, 2012. This action came after Mayor Vincent Gray’s office alleged DDOE had undermined an arrangement it had made to escape greater sewage and storm-water cleanup responsibility. Both the DDOE Director and Mr. Weise were summarily dismissed, and other DDOE employees threatened with termination under what City Administrator Allan Lew described as their “Attila the Hun School of Management.”
Over a period of several months, Mr. Weise, a twenty-year District resident who had previously held a series of top jobs, began applying for a variety of city jobs, even his former position, but was denied each time. In some cases, job openings were suddenly withdrawn when Mr. Weise’s name was next on the interview list. In others, less experienced candidates were hired, including non-District residents, and under circumstances that required the District residency preference points to which Mr. Weise was entitled to be set aside. Upon inquiry with the current Director of DDOE, Keith Anderson, he was told the Gray administration would not permit his rehiring for the foreseeable future. Any agency head who broke this illegal blackball risked dismissal.
The Jobs for D.C. Residents Act of 2007 builds upon thirty years of District and federal law intended to help D.C. residents get jobs, and requires that every District resident receive a 10-point “residency preference” bonus on a 100-point scale when applying for the vast majority of D.C. government jobs. That law, however, has been widely circumvented by city agencies. As a result, less than half of the roughly 31,000 people who hold city jobs live in the District, and in some departments the percentage of District-based employees is even lower. This February, PEER filed a complaint with the D.C. Inspector General detailing the improper tactics city agencies employ to avoid awarding residency preference points, but that watchdog agency has yet to inform PEER of any steps to investigate.
“This suit attacks rank cronyism in District government. Political blackballs are the antithesis of what is supposed to be a merit system of civil service hiring,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the suit filed today turns on the District’s unwillingness to properly apply Mr. Weise’s residency preference points. “The anemic levels of D.C. resident employment in city agencies have not increased in recent years because the resident preference law was stillborn and never implemented. We hope this suit benefits not only Barry Weise but every District resident who applies for a city job in the future.”