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Turmoil Surrounds Chairman Of WSSC's Operating Board

Johnson "has not given micromanaging directions to any commissioner," Keary said. He said Starks is addressing problems that existed before her appointment, including claims of poor management and racial discrimination against some employees.

"What Joyce Starks has been doing is asking questions and demanding answers, and that's what [commissioners] are appointed to do," Keary said.

Joyce Starks "understands the power of the chairman to set the agenda and . . . the advantage . . . in running a meeting," says former general counsel Ben Bialek. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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Supporters of Starks's describe her as a selfless community volunteer who has been a foster mother to a half-dozen children over the years. "She does what God asked us to do, which is to be kind to one another," said Barbara P. Dunnigan, a friend. "Her caring spirit -- that makes her stand out."

An Expensive Baptism

Starks was born in New Orleans and graduated in 1975 from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., with a degree in business education. In 1989, more than a decade after she moved to the Washington area, she was hired as an NIH budget analyst.

Leamon M. Lee, Starks's supervisor at NIH for 14 years, called her "very, very analytical." She is the agency's chief administrative officer for the associate director of administration, supervising nine employees and overseeing the payroll and budget for about 400 people.

Some at WSSC and NIH, therefore, are bewildered by her confusion over seemingly routine contracts and by an idiosyncratic manner of speech often marked by tautologies.

Pressed at the Aug. 12 hearing to explain her decision to vote for Griffin's dismissal, she offered this answer to Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery): "One vote does not terminate a general manager or deputy general manager. So with that in mind, I share with you that it was a majority vote."

"I understand it was a majority vote," Madaleno replied. "Why were you a member of that majority?"

Starks responded: "Because I was a commissioner at that time."

When Madaleno pushed further, Starks made vague allusions to mismanagement.

Before Starks was appointed to it, the six-member WSSC board was evenly split between those who supported Griffin and those who wanted to oust him.

The specific nature of criticism has never been completely clear, but some commissioners after the ouster voiced unhappiness with his handling of personnel matters. A few months earlier, 11 mid- and high-level WSSC managers filed an equal employment opportunity complaint charging the agency with a continued pattern of racial discrimination. The complaints were later found to be without merit.

The scales tipped when Johnson appointed Starks to replace Manuel Geraldo, a Griffin supporter. The county executives in Montgomery and Prince George's each appoint three members to the board.

Starks then made possible the 4 to 2 vote to fire Griffin and his deputy, P. Michael Errico.

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