Alexandria's Department of Public Safety is conducting an internal investigation into allegations by a housing code inspector that she was "pressured" by a superior into signing a rental permit for Abingdon Apartments just before the sale of the property last February, even though the inspection for the permit was not adequate.
Code Enforcement Administrator William Pennell said that although he has found the permit issuance to be proper, he asked for the internal investigation "to be on the safe side."
Pennell said that "at no time" has the inspector, Eloise Clephas, "made any indication to me she was asked to do anything in violation of our policies."
Clephas said yesterday she gave Pennell a statement saying "that I was not comfortable with having signed off on that permit . . . but had been pressured to do so."
Clephas' allegations that she was pressured came in a deposition taken in connection with a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria after the sale of the Abingdon, a sprawling complex of eight buildings in the northeastern section of the city, fell through.
In April the potential buyers, National Corporation for Housing Partnerships, filed suit against the Abingdon's owners, Raymond Enterprises, alleging that they failed to comply with the terms of the purchase agreement. The Corporation is demanding a refund of its "good faith" deposit of $150,000.
The proposed sale had attracted attention because the City Council approved tax-exempt bond financing for the property under an agreement that would have required the new owners to keep a portion of the units for low-income renters.
Pennell said his office received a request in late January from Raymond Enterprises for a residential rental permit on the Abingdon before the proposed settlement date of Feb. 26. Pennell said his office attempted to meet the deadline and he put extra inspectors on the site, including Clephas, an inspector for the city for eight years.
In her deposition, Clephas said that she cited some code violations but that Stephen Taylor, her immediate supervisor at the time and now acting code enforcement advisor, "said that these were not to be cited." She also said she did not think enough units had been inspected for the permit to be issued.
Taylor "called me in and told me to sign the rental permit . . . I was under pressure to sign it . . . I was told that City Council wanted this permit issued and . . . that if it wasn't done, that I was going to have to be the one to answer to City Council for it not having been done."
In his deposition Taylor said Clephas "came in and signed the permit of her own free will." He said he personally inspected some of the violations Clephas cited on the property and determined they were not violations or were "of a picayune nature."
He defended the Abingdon inspection, saying it had covered 120 of the 242 units.
Taylor said he had had complaints about Clephas' work both before and after the Abingdon incident.
Clephas said in her deposition that there were complaints about her work on at least three occasions prior to the Abingdon incident.
"I'm not in a popular position," she said in the deposition. She said that Taylor "is trying to terminate me."
Pennell said that there are pending personnel actions against Clephas but declined to discuss them.
The investigation, begun July 3, is continuing.