In a lawsuit aimed at stopping the privatization of certain child-care services, a local union on Friday accused District of Columbia officials of illegally manipulating the city’s budget and then using the resulting financial shortfall to justify ignoring a D.C. Council vote.
The suit, filed on Aug. 28 at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that agency heads made an “unapproved and clandestine” decision to move funding away from the Department of Parks and Recreation — funding that the D.C. Council had intended to pay for the department’s day-care programs.
“One of the things we’re worried about is that they’re manipulating numbers to achieve the end of their policy objectives,” said Donald Temple of Washington’s Temple Law Offices, who is representing the union, a local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees.
On May 5, the D.C. Council passed 13-0 an emergency bill to stop Mayor Adrian Fenty from seeking bids from independent contractors to run day-care programs at the Department of Parks and Recreation. According to the complaint, the mayor’s office had decided to stop offering the programs directly through the department, which was slated for staff cuts.
On June 24, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles issued a letter warning that the legislation was invalid because the council had not set aside money to pay for such child-care services. These services faced a budget shortfall of $4 million, he wrote, and the mayor was permitted to take emergency actions to bridge the gap.
The mayor never signed the legislation and, according to the complaint, continued the bidding process.
In a letter dated August 17 (which is attached to the suit), the council’s budget director said there should be no budget shortfall. According to the letter, the council had approved a $6.2 million transfer to cover the department’s child-care services. The letter contends that Clark Ray, the former Parks and Recreation director, and Deborah Gist, the former D.C. state superintendent of education, together decided to reduce that sum to $2.5 million.
“The funds should still be available…unless they were redirected for another purpose that has not been explained,” the budget director wrote.
According to Temple, redirecting the money would have violated the D.C. Code, which requires the council to approve any such decision to shift money in a settled budget. The union's suit asks for a “full accounting” to determine whether or not money was shifted elsewhere.
More than 150 child services employees could lose their jobs as a result of the mayor’s decision, according to the suit. The complaint asks for more than $5 million and for the court to stop the mayor’s office from seeking more bids.