The president of the Washington Teachers' Union successfully lobbied the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams in 2001 to award a $296,500 contract to the brother of another union official, a former Williams Cabinet member has alleged in a lawsuit.
Charles F. Holman III, former director of the city's Office of Human Rights, alleges that Barbara A. Bullock, who was then the union's president, told him to give the contract for legal work to Curtis Lewis & Associates. Lewis is the brother of former union treasurer James O. Baxter II, and Lewis's law firm was representing the union at the time.
Holman said that he refused to follow Bullock's instructions but that the mayor's acting chief of staff, Joy Arnold, later arranged for Lewis to get the contract. Holman filed his lawsuit in September in U.S. District Court, alleging that he was improperly dismissed. He was fired in June after two of his employees initiated racial discrimination complaints against him and other workers complained about his management style.
Bullock, Baxter, former Bullock assistant Gwendolyn M. Hemphill and others misspent more than $2 million in union funds over the past eight years, according to an FBI affidavit. All three left their posts in the fall after the parent union began investigating the local union's finances. No charges have been filed in the criminal investigation.
Williams spokesman Tony Bullock, who is not related to Barbara Bullock, yesterday disputed Holman's account. He said the teachers union president made a general request that D.C. government agencies consider using Lewis's services. He said Arnold then suggested to several agencies, including Holman's, that they consider using Lewis and that Holman ultimately made the decision to contract with the law firm.
"There is nothing improper, sinister or nefarious here," Tony Bullock said. "This goes on in government every day all over the world. . . . People come in all the time wanting an audience with the mayor or his staff, requesting things that they think would be good for them."
The alleged incident is one of several in which Bullock or Hemphill, who also served as co-chairman of the mayor's reelection campaign, successfully intervened in city government business, according to former Williams administration officials. The former officials said that in several cases, Bullock or Hemphill demanded that certain people be hired.
Bullock and Hemphill personally contributed to Williams's campaign and provided support from the teachers union for his reelection. The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance this week began investigating whether the mayor failed to report in-kind contributions from the union.
Holman said in an interview that he met Barbara Bullock when he was called into a meeting with Arnold in June or July 2001. He said he had no idea at first why Bullock was present.
"It was bizarre," he said. "She demanded that we give a contract to Curtis Lewis. . . . I just remember her demanding this, wondering why did she have the right to demand what we do."
He said that after he refused, Arnold assigned one of her assistants, Terence Coles, to make sure the contract was awarded.
Tony Bullock said the allegations by Holman are an effort to divert attention from the real reason Holman was fired. "Mr. Holman's account of this meeting is a fabrication," he said. "No one at that meeting pressured Holman to do anything."
Barbara Bullock did not return a phone call yesterday, and her attorney, Stephen R. Spivack, declined to comment.
Lewis said he was not aware of any pressure Bullock may have applied regarding the contract.
Coles was indicted in May on charges of bribery and fraud for allegedly receiving kickbacks from $20,000 in city grants that he helped obtain while employed at the Office of the Secretary of the District of Columbia. He has pleaded not guilty in that case, which is unrelated to the Lewis contract. Coles declined to comment yesterday.
The one-year contract with Lewis's law firm took effect Sept. 20, 2001, according to Janis Bolt, a spokeswoman for the city's contracting office. Bolt said the contract called for the law firm to conduct investigations of discrimination complaints and draft letters on findings.
Bolt said that a request for proposals was sent to four contractors on a General Services Administration schedule and that Lewis bid on the contract. She said officials found the price to be "fair and reasonable."
Lewis said that his firm was paid much less than the $296,500 it was supposed to receive but that he did not have the figure available.
Bullock and Hemphill often wielded influence over personnel issues in the Williams administration, according to former administration officials.
A former official in the D.C. Office of Boards and Commissions, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hemphill provided a list of people she wanted placed on various boards. A number of them were appointed, said the former official, who worked in that office in 1999 and later resigned.
The former official said that Hemphill wanted Lewis recommended to the mayor to chair the D.C. Alcohol Beverage Control Board. The former official recalled that Hemphill was incensed when she was told that Lewis did not have the proper qualifications for that post.
"She screamed and yelled and questioned, who did I think I was to determine whether he had the qualifications?" the former official said.
Hemphill declined to comment yesterday.
Mark A. Jones, the mayor's former deputy chief of staff, said he witnessed several examples of Bullock and Hemphill exerting influence over personnel situations.
Jones said the mayor told him to hire Hemphill's husband, Lawrence Hemphill, as director of the D.C. Office of the Public Advocate.
On another occasion, the mayor mentioned Bullock and Hemphill as he told Jones to stop an employee from being fired, Jones said. The employee was Michael Bonds, a $48,500-a-year community service representative, who worked for Lawrence Hemphill in the public advocate office. Jones said that his boss, Abdusalam Omer, wanted Bonds fired over Lawrence Hemphill's objections.
Jones said the mayor instructed him to talk to Omer about the firing.
"The mayor said, 'Mark, he cannot be fired. Barbara and Gwen don't want him fired. You tell Dr. Omer,' " Jones recalled.
Omer left the mayor's office in April 2001, and Bonds left his job with the public advocate last year.
Jones was fired in September 2001 after being on leave for several months as a result of his role in soliciting money from nonprofit organizations for Williams's political events. Jones has filed a lawsuit against Williams.
Tony Bullock, the mayor's spokesman, said allegations that Hemphill and Barbara Bullock could influence hiring and firing decisions in the Williams administration are exaggerated.
"It's entirely up to the mayor who is in those jobs," he said. "When you're looking at two or three people [connected to the teachers union] out of 400 to 500 [appointees], it doesn't look like a tremendous amount of influence has been exerted."
Staff writer Neely Tucker contributed to this report.