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‘Whistleblower’ asks Vance to restore job

(Published September 25, 2000)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

A fired D.C. Public Schools employee who claims he has been made a scapegoat over the discovery last fall of almost 200 tons of mishandled food in a DCPS warehouse is asking Superintendent Paul L. Vance to reinstate him to his job.

Alfred Jacobs, a 13-year DCPS employee with a satisfactory work history who was fired after he disclosed longstanding problems at the school system’s Northeast Washington food warehouse to health department inspectors, has asserted throughout an administrative appeals process that his job description did not include the warehouse’s management and that he was singled out for disciplinary action even though his superiors were aware of the problems he exposed.

In addition to Jacobs, the epidemiologist who was among health department inspectors to whom Jacobs disclosed the problems and who brought the problems to the attention of Inspector General Charles Maddox – Madeleine Fletcher -- has since then also lost her job. Both are claiming a "whistleblower" defense in appealing for reinstatement to their jobs. The IG’s office is currently investigating Fletcher’s case.

"The record clearly shows that other senior managers – whose job descriptions did include managing the warehouse – were aware of the serious problems at the warehouse, and were either unsuccessful or had not attempted to correct the situation....Despite the fact that other employees had long been aware of the problems Mr. Jacobs disclosed ... no action has been taken against them before, or since, Mr. Jacobs’ disclosures," attorney F. Douglas Hartnett wrote in a Sept.21 letter to Vance on Jacobs’ behalf.

Hartnett’s letter calls "systemic problems in warehouse management" responsible for the problems Jacobs helped expose and notes that his client’s disclosures "ultimately resulted in some measure of reform of warehouse management practices."

At-large D.C. Board of Education member Gail Dixon said the school board’s budget committee also voted last week to send Superintendent Vance a letter requesting that Jacobs be reinstated to his job.

Hartnett’s letter to Vance cites what he calls "a fundamental mistake of law...in interpreting the District of Columbia Whistleblower Reinforcement Act of 1998" by a hearing examiner who recently ruled against Jacobs’ reinstatement.

Despite the administrative ruling going against his client, Hartnett notes that Hearing Examiner Thomas Howder questioned the lack of disciplinary actions taken against others involved with the food warehouse’s management as further evidence that something systemic is wrong that cannot be blamed solely on Jacobs.

"Valid questions surfaced in this record concerning adequate facilities, adequate funding, adequate staff and adequate methods of operation," Howder wrote in his report. "The role of others associated with Mr. Jacobs presents more than a little puzzlement; what share of the blame should be accorded (to others)....Didn’t all of the above-named witnesses realize that the health and safety of young students were at stake?"

Among others’ job performance Howder questioned were former food service director Betti Wiggins, present food service director Catherine A. Lynch, former state nutrition agency director Antoinette L. Sampson, warehouse supervisor Willie McKinnon and quality control employee Diedre Bell.

Howder noted testimony presented at Jacobs’ administrative hearing by McKinnon in which the warehouse supervisor said he "‘backed off’ closely monitoring the stored products...because his anticipated promotion and pay raise were overdue."

Hartnett appealed to Superintendent Vance to accept Jacobs’ whistleblower defense and return him to his job to avoid sending "a chilling message" to other DCPS workers.

"This message will only serve to cover up problems rather than bring them forward to be addressed," Hartnett wrote. "It runs counter to sound management and public policy principles that favor early detection and resolution of inefficiencies and failures."

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator