About 20 employees of the Prince George's Department of Aging testified at the Glenarden town hall last week at a special hearing called by the county council's Human Resources Committee to investigate charges of mismanagement in the troubled agency.
The hearing, which quickly became a forum on director James Foley's treatment of his staff, revealed two views of the embattled department head. Many tenured, predominately white supervisors charged that Foley treats his professional staff dictatorially, and said he continually substitutes his own judgment for that of what they termed more qualified employes.
"In the past three years of Mr. Foley's tenure, the program has gone down," said Moya Atkinson, branch chief of the Home Visitation program "because of a lack of planning and an unwillingness to recognize the value of this program on Mr. Foley's part."
The second view came from employees of shorter tenure, many of whom were black, who defended Foley as a humane manager who has personally intervened to provide greater opportunities for qualified but previously overlooked workers.
"I feel like Daniel in the lion's den because I'm here to put in a good word for Jim Foley," said Elizabeth Burton, a part-time senior citizen aide. "I am a recipient of the good works of the Department of Aging."
Foley, who wasn't present at the hearing, did not return a reporter's phone calls and could not be reached for comment.
The seesaw continued during the two-hour hearing, called as a follow-up to a previous hearing that department employes charged they were forbidden to attend. Two employes later filed grievances to that effect. Both hearings, held under the auspices of the county council's Human Resources Committee, were called to investigate the findings of an internal audit released in September, which found numerous examples of mismanagement at the agency.
The in-house audit, performed by members of the Department of Audits and Investigations, found that the agency continually underspends sums of money allocated to it, suffers from an unwieldy management structure and files late reports. An official from the state Department of Aging later told the council that the State of Maryland reallocated $80,000 originally awarded to the department last year because the funds were not spent.
Foley has responded that the underexpenditures occurred in part because of his own reorganization of the department and because of previous mismanagement. He has said that problems with late reports have been corrected. Finally, he said that many of the auditors' suggestions are impractical or have been implemented.
Prior to the previous hearing on Nov. 4, County Executive Lawrence Hogan labeled the coucil's inquiries a "witch hunt" and a "kangaroo court," and he refused to allow Foley or any of his other appointees to attend to testify.
The two employes who filed grievances against Foley say he used Hogan's directive to him as a basis for denying them leave, to which they were entitled, to prevent them from appearing at the first hearing. Their complaint now goes before the personnel board.
Council member Frank Casula, who chairs the council's Human Resources Committee, said the council would consider legislation during the next session that might help to restore lost funding to the agency.