Politics drive the Office on Women


To the editor:

Thirty-six years ago, the Alexandria Commission for Women was created and tackled the pressing womens issues of wage disparity, working restrictions, quality of life issues, and domestic violence. As a result, the commission persuaded the City Council to create a new city department devoted solely to the needs of women called the Office on Women.

Today, the Office on Women is staffed by more than a dozen professional women whose agenda reaches far beyond its flagship programs of domestic violence and breast cancer. The Commission for Women and the Office on Women wield real power and political influence.

The showcase of the Office on Womens programs is its domestic violence intervention program. The office reports that it assists more than 4,000 abused women every year. In contrast, the citys police department reports only nine domestic violence cases in each of 2007 and 2008, and only 5 for 2009. U.S. Census department statistics, when compared to the Office on Womens claims, indicate that the percentage of victims of domestic violence in the City of Alexandria exceeds 17 percent of married or coupled women.  

How is such a figure possible in a city rated as the second best in the nation as a place to live and work for women, according to Ladies Home Journal?  

According to a 1999 study commissioned by the Justice Department, the Office on Women actively recruits alleged victims of domestic violence through a variety of methods including direct assistance from the citys Office of the Commonwealths Attorney victim assistance program. Daily, the Commonwealths Attorneys staff provides the Office on Women with police reports of incidents of alleged domestic violence. Social workers at the Office on Women proactively contact these alleged victims to offer their services.

Where the police department is reluctant to proceed on criminal grounds, the Office on Women steps in and encourages civil litigation in the citys Domestic and Juvenile Relations District Court. Through this process the Commission for Women and the Office on Women work their influence to promote their agenda and the interests of alleged victims of domestic violence. The Office on Women regularly recruits volunteers to monitor supposedly closed cases in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court to determine whether judicial decisions fall within their desired outcome in cases where domestic violence and abuse is alleged. 
The political players in the citys Democratic Party are closely linked to the Commission for Women. Currently, Mary Catherine Gibbs, wife of Robert Gibbs, press secretary to President Barack Obama, chairs the commission. Susan Kellom chaired the Democratic party in Alexandria for a decade and has recently stepped down but remains active with the party and is a longtime member of the Commission for Women.

Prior to Gibbs assuming her position of Chairwoman, the position was held by Charnielle Herring, a family attorney who now represents northern Virginia as a delegate to the House of Delegates in Richmond. Though Gibbs and Herring are politically significant, Kellom especially has a lot of sway.

In an effort to document irregularities by staff at the Office on Women, I conducted numerous interviews. Emails from a Beth Thompson who had contacted the Office on Women claiming spousal abuse provided significant information. I found significant violations, lack of due diligence and professional irresponsibility. A social worker in the Office on Women referred Thompson to three attorneys, including then-chairwoman of the Commission for Women Herring, which seems to be in violation of the states laws on professional solicitation.

Due diligence is not performed by the office when accepting claims of domestic violence and abuse. Attorneys accepting cases where abuse is alleged rely upon the representations of the Office on Women, which benefits from its client recruitment process. The Office on Women proceeds to influence the courts to the benefit of their clients and in turn the attorneys. This pattern repeats itself to the benefit of women who have falsely claimed spousal abuse. 

Attempts to reach Mayor Bill Euille, City Councilwoman Del Pepper, Director of the Office on Women Lisa Baker, Chief of Police Earl Cook and Lynn Myer at the Office on Women, were all blocked.

William Walters