Editorials Opinion — 12 January 2012
Editorial: Criminals have it easy at City Hall

Government employees have a target on their backs as the country wades slowly out of recession. Secure public sector jobs and guaranteed pensions anger people struggling to make living locally and nationally. A lot of that anger is unjustified; most public employees are everyday Americans just trying to make a living too.

But in Alexandria, where criminals have infested City Hall, anger is warranted — and change is necessary.

The City of Alexandria saw eight of its employees arrested for an array of malfeasance in 2011. Taxpayers paid the salaries of eight people — a teacher obsessed with child pornography, a drunk-driving police officer and embezzlers, to name a few — who broke the law and abused their trust.

With a local unemployment rate of 4.5 percent and a national rate of 8.5 percent, plenty of law-abiding people would love to work for Alexandria taxpayers. And the issue is not only moral, but monetary. Replacing disgraced employees costs staff time and residents greenbacks. No one wins.

But City Manager Rashad Young has a chance to declare victory. He has inherited this serious, threatening problem, and fixing it could be part of his local legacy — if he takes action.

Eight employees being arrested in one year points to two problems: a reputation for leniency (Alexandria City Hall is the place to go if delinquency is your desire) and a crisis in the hiring department (the vetting process is broken). One former employee, Timothy Wanamaker, was under investigation for stealing $30,000 from the Buffalo, N.Y. government while working at City Hall. Taxpayers paid for a consultant to do a background check on Mr. Wanamaker that turned up clean.

It took the Times a few hours and a few phone calls to prove his reputation was questionable at the time of his hire in Alexandria.

Mr. Young must institute new hiring practices with more checks and balances. He was brought here at a salary of $245,000 to make the local government more efficient. If he does not take proactive measures, the embarrassing, wasteful and distracting trend will only worsen.

The answer is not more internal protections against embezzlement (new safeguards have already been instituted). The answer is to nip the problem in the nascent stages of the hiring process. To change culture at City Hall, Mr. Young has an advantage: he’s new. He must put his foot down as an authoritative executive who will not accept criminals on his team.

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Alexandria Times Staff

(3) Readers Comments

  1. Criminals have “infested City Hall”? So in the past several years, several city employees were caught being dishonest, and that would justify this article? Mind you that they were caught and brought to light by their fellow city employees. Those who were caught were swiftly punished, lost their jobs, their pensions, and were held accountable. This article would only hold weight if city employees were getting away with crimes.

    The only thing regarding city employees is their pay. This area has the highest cost of living in the entire area, but pays their employees the lowest.

  2. Its not about “in the past SEVERAL years, several city employees were caught” as Marty said above -

    Its about EIGHT employees that were caught in the past year, including a rather high ranking one that stole $30k from another city – a fact that could have been discovered with a couple of phone calls or a google search.

    EIGHT IN THE PAST YEAR.

    A joke of a vetting process.

    That’s why some people are appalled.

  3. I work at City Hall, and I can tell you what you’ve seen is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been embroiled in a harassment/discrimination situation within City Hall for more than a year and a half. In that time, the perpetrators have been able to openly boast of their myriad violations of City regulations and City laws with Human Resources’ full guarantee that they will never be held accountable. As one said quite openly in the lobby of City Hall, “I don’t care. They’re not going to do anything to me. I can do anything I want.”

    Please be clear that this isn’t a situation of no one believing me. Everyone from the City Manager down to the lowest supervisor, including the Director of Human Resources, knows that I’ve told the absolute truth. They simply refuse to do anything about it. So, the harassing/discriminiatory behaviors have become ever more bizarre and dangerous, to the point that these people have now begun targeting my family. Some of the things these people have been allowed to get away with:

    1. They’ve openly referred to me by racist and homophobic slurs verbally and through office email.
    2. They’ve falsely accused me of multiple egregious crimes with no evidence but the fact that I’m gay. (I’ve been cleared, but only after my family members, including children, were questioned.)
    3. They coerced witnesses to lie about an incident where I was referred to by a homophobic slur in a meeting and the division chief sat and did nothing.
    4. They spiked my soda with grapefruit juice while I was at lunch because they heard me say at an office party that grapefruit juice could kill me. Fortunately, I only became violently ill. I didn’t know at the time that this had happened. So, I went home “sick.” I only learned about it recently when City managers and other employees began openly discussing it in the offices, hallways, and bathroom of City Hall.

    I filed with Human Resources but they would only allow me to be physically moved. (I still work under the same managers involved in some of the behaviors above.) I filed with Human Rights and they told me that I’d file an affidavit, the City would respond, and I’d get a chance to respond to the City’s filing. However, that’s not what happened. Instead, the Human Rights Office chose to take its legal advice from the City Attorney (in violation of City Code since he was also the defendant’s attorney). So, my case was dismissed based on legal arguments that were absolutely absurd in most cases (one: The City’s not responsible for it’s employees’ actions.) and blatantly homophobic in another (basically, if I didn’t want to get harassed, I should have stayed in the closet.). I was refused an opportunity to respond as I’d been told was standard procedure.

    So, I’ve desperately sought various ways to defend myself while trying to perform my duties in an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment. All the while, I get to hear City managers and employees openly discussing the crimes of the perpetrators and their intent to do absolutely nothing to protect me.

    So, yes, City Hall is filled with criminals and those who bend over backwards to shield them from accountability because they’re either friends with the perpetrators, homophobic themselves, or trying to save the City’s reputation.

    Just so you know, I’d happily provide my multiple outstanding annual reviews if you think I’m just a bad employee gone bitter.

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