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Deal Would End D.C.'s Era of Receiverships

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By Craig Timberg and Sewell Chan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 18, 2002; 12:00 AM

An agreement signed yesterday would give Mayor Anthony A. Williams control of the last of five city agencies that were in court receivership when he took office, marking what he hailed as a milestone in the restoration of home rule in Washington.

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An advocate for the mentally ill and federal officials agreed to allow the city Department of Mental Health, created a year ago, to take full control of $228 million worth of services for nearly 8,000 city residents. U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson must approve the agreement Wednesday, but all sides called that likely.

The agreement is a major step toward ending one of the nation's longest-running lawsuits on mental health care, filed in 1974 and charging that the city was doing little more than warehousing its mentally ill at St. Elizabeths Hospital. A series of monitoring efforts ended with the court-ordered takeover of the system by a receiver in 1997.

Administration officials said yesterday's agreement signals the end of seven years of direct federal management of city agencies that began with the congressionally appointed control board in 1995 and judicial control of five city agencies.

"That's an enormous accomplishment," said Williams (D). "And it's a big step forward in mental health. . . . This wouldn't be happening if the advocates and the overseers didn't see progress."

When Williams became mayor in 1999, mental health, public housing, child and family services, education at the Oak Hill juvenile facility and medical care at the city jail were under the control of court-appointed receivers. The mayor's acting general counsel, Grace M. Lopes, has fought for the return of each program to city control, culminating in yesterday's agreement. The federal control board disbanded last year.

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