As chairman of the D.C. Zoning Commission, Jerrily R. Kress took the task of finding a new staff director for the panel seriously. Kress, an architect from Northwest Washington, spoke with planning professionals from across the city, encouraging them to apply. She also formed a screening committee to review the 24 or so applicants.
But when it came time for the commission to appoint the new director, none of the applicants was interviewed, and all four of the finalists recommended by a screening committee were passed over. Instead, Kress, 54, suddenly resigned as chairman and her two former commission colleagues picked her for the $102,477-a-year job.
The outcome of the search for the Office of Zoning director has inspired a conflict-of-interest complaint now pending before the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance and Ethics.
"Public service should be done without expectation of personal profit or gain," said Terrance J. Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, who filed the complaint. "That is what gives government service a bad name, when people use their positions for their own benefit. And that is what appears to have happened here."
Added another D.C. civic and land-use activist who asked not to be identified: "It stinks. It is rotten. She had the power to strike a deal with the other commissioners, and she used that power to get herself a job."
Kress, who also resigned her private-sector architecture and planning job, dismisses the charges as unjustified and says there was nothing improper about her appointment. From the moment she suggested to her two fellow board members that they consider her for the post, she said, she "recused" herself from discussions related to the appointment.
She said that once her two colleagues--Angel Clarens and Anthony Hood--made it clear they intended to appoint her, she resigned from the commission.
"I don't see how there is a conflict of interest," said Kress, who was originally placed on the Zoning Commission by former mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and then reappointed by Marion Barry. "How can I affect the vote if I can't vote anymore?"
None of the other candidates was interviewed, Kress and Clarens said, because the board members knew the four finalists, and "none of them were found to be the person all three of us agreed we wanted," Kress said.
Before taking the job, Kress added, she checked with the District's corporation counsel and personnel office to ensure there was no prohibition on the zoning chairman stepping down to become staff director. She said this week that she was assured the move was proper.
Clarens, who has taken over now as chairman of the Zoning Commission, said he is convinced that Kress was an excellent pick.
"She is a fabulous candidate, and she is going to do a wonderful job," said Clarens, an architect.
Among the finalists who were passed over was Lindsley Williams, the director of land-use in the office of the deputy mayor for economic development. Williams, who has a master's degree in regional planning, was a member of the Zoning Commission during the 1980s.
Williams said he was surprised when he heard that Kress had gotten the job.
"I did not expect someone who was then sitting on the commission to get appointed," he said, declining to elaborate.
Despite the controversy over her appointment, Kress said she is busy making changes at the Office of Zoning.
All together, Kress will oversee a staff of 16 people. Among her goals, she said, is to cut the time it takes the Board of Zoning Adjustment and Zoning Commission to consider applications.
Currently, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, which considers applications for zoning variances and special exceptions, takes from three months to a year to decide on a case, she said. Her goal is to reduce that to an average of three months and a maximum of five months. The Zoning Commission, she said, will cut its review time for planned unit developments about in half so that its decisions will be complete within four to eight months, she said, instead of up to a year and a half.
Records maintained by the two boards soon will be available on the Internet, so the public can review applications without having to come to the office, Kress said.
Kress's appointment is not the only personnel change at the Office of Zoning, which reports directly to the Zoning Commission and is not overseen by the mayor or D.C. Council.
Two administrative jobs have been added, one to serve as "secretariat" of the Zoning Commission and a second as the computer systems manager, posts that each pay about $75,000 a year.
A third administrative post that previously existed, secretariat for the Board of Zoning Adjustment, had its salary increased to about $75,000 as well.
Appointees from Southeast
Two Southeast Washington supporters of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) have been added to his administration.
Paul Savage, who headed Williams's draft committee, recently was named deputy director of policy and strategic planning at the Department of Housing and Community Development, where his annual salary is $93,171.
Lucy Murray, who has backed Williams but criticized the mayor last winter when he did not immediately appoint anyone who lived east of the Anacostia River to his administration, has accepted a job with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, led by Valerie Holt. Murray will be director of communications for the CFO's office, an independent agency, where her salary will be $90,000 a year.
In the seven months since Williams took office, he has named three Ward 7 residents to key positions. Besides Savage, Williams named Lamont Mitchell to be special assistant to the mayor for economic development east of Anacostia and Vincent Spaulding to lead the administration's neighborhood cleanup initiatives.
Mitchell and Spaulding were appointed about five weeks into Williams's administration, after Southeast Washington activists criticized the mayor for appointing a staff made up largely of white males to serve a majority-black city.
The latests appointments come as Williams is still facing criticism for not tapping anyone in Ward 8 to a key post, while others privately complain that these are political patronage jobs.
"It's seven months down the line," said Ward 8 activist Sandra Seegars. "I still say he needs to do something with Ward 8 people. You would think he would place people from the draft committee."
Savage said the housing department is one of the few city jobs he would have taken "because I think economic development is important to the city.
"It is a good match for me because of my work in this area," Savage said. "I've done a lot of work trying to bring development into this community."
Murray, who previously was a public information officer for the D.C. Housing Authority, said that she would have considered working in the mayor's office itself but that the CFO made the first offer.
"I think we heightened the awareness of the entire city on the involvement of people east of the [Anacostia] River," Murray said of her previous criticism of Williams. "We're not willing to accept the status quo anymore. Previous mayors may have been able to get away with it, but we're intent on seeing the quality of life of people east of the river dramatically improved."