Working for the D.C. Department of Recreation is often a "family affair," according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and interviews with numerous city employees.
At least 108 of the 709 permanent employees in the Department of Recreation are related in some way - as either fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins or in-laws - to one or more of their work collegues, The Post has learned.
"I think that like folk attract . . . and I think that recreation follows no different pattern," said Dr. William H. Rumsey, director of the Department of Recreation, when asked to explain why so many relatives have city jobs with the same departments.
"If you look at the departments of Transportation, Environmental Services and the public schools, I'd almost be willing to wager you that this (the recreation department) will look like a little bit," Rumsey said.
Most of the relatives in the recreation department were hired several years ago, before Congress granted the city home rule. Rumsey, a former principal at McKinley High School, took over as director of the agency about a year ago.
Personnel directors at several departments stressed that the employment of relatives in the same agency in no way violates city hiring guidelines. Those regulations state that no public official may employ or promote his or her own relatives or influence their hiring or promotion with any city department.
Last November, Joseph P. Yeldell was alleged to have violated those personnel regulations in order to hire friends and relatives at the Department of Human Resources he then headed and at other city departments. The charges of nepotism nad cronyism and other allegations against Yeldell prompted Maryor Walter E. Washington to remove him from his DHR post pending the findings of several investigations.
Rumsey said last week that concern over possible nepotism and cronyism in DHR caused him to conduct an internal personnel check in his own department to make sure that such abuses had not occurred.
"This is all a part of what I, too, am taking a look at," Rumsey said. "But I'm not as concerned with who is kin to whom. I just want to be sure that no relative is supervising another relative."
Rumsey said, however, that he had been hampered in his own personnel investigation "because people have gotten extremely hostile. What can I as a director do? I can't fire them (if they're related), but I'm taking steps to make sure none is supervising or rating or promoting the other."
The Post has also learned that at least 30 of the 1,350 employees at the D.C. Department of Transportation are related. Employees there say there are many more relatives on the payroll.
Lee G. Harbeson, personnel officer at the Department of Transportation, said that agency advertises its jobs and has a merit promotion plan that includes participation by union representatives.
"It's entirely possible for somebody to put a good word (for a hiring candidate), but officially we do have some checks and balances," he said.
"There's nothing illegal or improper for a relative to come into the department, but the selecting official is not supposed to influence the hiring or promotion of a relative," Harbeson said.
According to Harbeson, most of the relatives working in the department probably were hired 15 or 20 years ago when the agency actively recruited employees from among the friends and relatives of existing workers.
"There were never enough applicants for the jobs," said Harbeson, who attributed this condition to the massive highway construction programs that were started in the 1950s.
A case in point is the O'Donnell twins, Bernard and Daniel. Both came to work for the department the same day in 1952. Today, Daniel O'Donnell is chief of the agency's bridge construction nad maintenance division. Bernard O'Donnell is deputy director of the department.
"My brother and myself were seniors in engineering at the University of Maryland," recalled Bernard O'Donnell. "There was an advertisement of the college board, and six from our graduating class came to work for the department."
O'Donnell said that the two of them working together has more recently become "sort of a hindrance because ther were jobs that became available that he (Daniel) couldn't even apply for because I was in a decision-making role."
Leonard Robinson, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1975, which represents transportation employees, agreed with Harbeson and O'Donnell that the recent hiring freeze by the District government has made the question of employing relatives almost moot. Hardly anyone is being hired these days, they said.
"Years ago that was the only way you got into the city government, by being recruited or if you knew someone," Robinson said. "But it's better now."
Robinson is assigned to the department's electrical division, located at 13th and G Streets SE. Several of his coworkers interviewed there cited personal or general knowledge of past favoritism in the department towards relatives.
"Most everybody around here is related in some way, blacks and whites," said one employee of the division who asked not to be identified. "In the past, that's what it was, a family afffair."
Ther workers estimated that about 75 per cent of the 125 employees in their division are related and they said the hiring of relatives "would be going on still if it weren't for the freeze."
Several employees acknowledged that years ago the personnel office recruited workers for the department. "But the recruitment started before the jobs were posted so they could bring yhe relatives in first," one said.
Another employee, who also declined to give his name, recalled that several years ago he was sent to a six-month training program for his job while the son-in-law of the job's foreman was hired right away. Both men had the same experience, the employee said.
Most of the hiring abuses alleged by the employees occurred several years ago, long before Harbeson came to the agency in 1974 as personnel officer.
"Even if we have a supervisor who is a relative," Harbeson said, "that's not illegal. our concern is that they not have any influence in promoting or hiring."
When employees apply for any city job, according to various personnel officials, they must first fill out what is known as a federal form 171. One part of that form asks applicants whether they have relatives already working for the federal government.
Although the form is used for District government employment, Rumsey said the employees don't always indicate if they have relatives working in other city departments.
"The questions ask about the federal government," said Rumsey, who noted that the city is about to develop its own personnel system with its own forms "so people won't be able to circumvent the intention of the question."
Officials in both the departments of Recreation and Transportation stressed that the federal and District governments are major employers in the city and that it is often difficult for local employees not to overlap with some of their relatives.
"Mrs. Tatum's child majored in recreation," said Rumsey, discussing one mother-son relationship in the department. "And if they major in recreation, there's only one recreation department in the city."
Rumsey also defended several husband-wife teams in the department, saying the individuals involved had met and married while working for the agency.
Isaac McKee, a supervisory recreation specialist in the department, said yesterday, for example, that his daughter-in-law, Carol, was already working with the agency when she met and married his son, Earnest, about a year ago.
McKee has worked at the department since 1968, while his son and daughter-in-law each joined the department in 1974. The younger McKee works for the agency's cultural affairs division, while Mrs. McKee works at a recreation center in Northeast.
"Earnie has never worked in my division, and my daughter-in-law has about three levels of supervision between us," said McKee, who stressed that each member of the family had gotten jobs with the department independently.
Marion Williams, a recreation aide with the department, said yesterday that she did not get her job with the agency through any improper connections. Her sister and brother also work for the department, and her brother has been employed in the same division since 1971.
A the Department of Transportation, Elwood Hines said he started working at the agnecy in 1954 in the equipment division and only learned that Sterling Hines, a distant cousin, also worked in the department as a laborer.
"He was there before I was, but I didn't know it," Hines said.
Charles Honaker said his brother, James, got his job with the department about 25 years ago, about two years before he joined the department's traffic section. Both brothers now work in the traffic division, but Charles Honaker said neither helped the other to get a job.
Harold Sites said he and his brother, Paul, have worked in the same division at the department for many years. Asked if both heard about and secured jobs in the department on their own, independent of each other, Sites replied, "I think so."
Rumsey, while acknowledging his concern about the number of relatives in District government, said he did not think favoritism in hiring was a real problem.
"Very often the tune of "It's not what you know but who you know is sung by individuals not qualified to get a job," he said.