Dr. William H. Rumsey, director of the D.C. Department of Recreation, has been accused by several of his employees of abusing his authority by using maintenance workers from his agency to do repair work on his home and rental properties and continuing the nepotism and cronyism practices that have long plagued the department.

More than 75 present and former recreation department employees - some of them key aides to Rumsey - have alleged in interviews with The Washington Post that Rumsey has hired numerous friends and their relatives as summer workers, used workers from the agency as his personal chauffeur and reassigned, forced out or fired employees who have challenged his leadership.

"How do you defend yourself against something like this?" Rumsey, 51, asked during one of several interviews. The recreation director, a Washington native and former McKinley High School principal, denied that he ever misused or abused his powers as recreation chief.

"Someone is playing some games, and I think what has happened is really unfair," said Rumsey, who spent two years as deputy director of the recreation department before being named its director by Mayor Walter E. Washington in January, 1976.

"I'm here 12 hours a day," he said, "and I work hard. I really do."

The allegations against him, according to Rumsey, an Army Reserve colonel, are coming from "a few disgruntled people" who resent him because he is "a regulation person" who is trying to improve the department and make it more efficient.

The complaints against the director include these allegations:

Rumsey habitually used workers at the recreation department's head-quarters, 3149 16th St. NW, to drive him to and from meetings downtown. The employees - who were regularly assigned to other jobs - would use a city vehicle provided to the department and would often wait in the car until the director was ready to return to his office.

Since he came to the department, Rumsey has used landscapers, plumbers, painters and electricians from the agency's north and south maintenance divisions to do work on his home and rental properties. Rumsey has paid them for their work. Some of the recreation department employees, however, have complained that they were not paid enough for their labor. Others said they were pressured to take on repair jobs for Rumsey ahead of work awaiting them in the department.

Many of the department's summer employment slots are traditionally kept vacant until the last minute so they may be given to friends or relatives of local and national officials. Last summer, according to knowledgeable sources, Rumsey personally filled more than 100 of those jobs himself.

Rumsey has angered employees by insisting they call him "Dr. Rumsey" in recognition of the doctoral degree he received following correspondence work and two sessions of summer classes at East Coast University, in Florida, and National Christian College, in Texas. The schools were never accredited and were later shut down by state agencies, according to officials in Florida and Texas.

Last summer Rumsey's deputy director sent out a memorandum - later obtained by The Post - ordering that all department posters and literature acknowledge Rumsey's Ph.D. in his title and give him credit for any activities held at various area recreation centers.

In a celebrated tangle last summer with a city swimming pool manager, Rumsey is alleged by recreation department employees to have ordered his aquatics supervisor to fire the pool manager after the manager made critical comments about the department to The Post.

Many recreation department employees have said they are now fearful of talking to reporters because of the incident with the pool manager, Ray Hammill. They have also said that Rumsey has been attempting to trace the source of "leaks" to newspapers about his performance as director.

Hammill, 34, is a partially disabled Vietnam war veteran. He charged that the drowning last July of a 7-year-old Washington boy was caused by neglect and mismanagement in the recreation department. Hammill's accusations were published in a Post article on July 15. He was fired July 19.

"At first they wanted me to retract my statements," Hammill said. "When I refused, Rumsey made these ridiculous charges against me as an excuse to fire me."

Hammill's termination papers say he allowed unsafe and and unsanitary conditions to exist at the Francis Pool and that he permitted the pool to become overcrowded with 900 people.

"On the day I was supposed to have done that, the pool wasn't even open to the public," said Hammill, who is appealing the action with the help of an American Civil Liberties Union attorney.

Rumsey's reliance on department maintenance staff for his personal property repairs is something Hammill said he discovered last summer when it took until July to get some of his showers fixed at the Francis pool.

"When a maintenance guy finally came, he said he couldn't come any earlier because he had been spending all that week in Rumsey's basement fixing the plumbing," Hammill recalled.

Rumsey denies that he ever disrupted maintenance service in the department for his personal needs. He says Hammill is making the charge because he has become vindictive.

"The maintenance people have been doing private work for people in the department for years, and I have always paid them," Rumsey said. "And I would never have tolerated them working on my property during the day."

Although Rumsey denied having his personal repair work done on city time, former and present key aides who refused to be identified - citing fear of reprisals - said it was not unusual for maintenance workers to come by Rumsey's office during the day to pick up key to his home or rental properties en route to make repairs there.

One plumber, Bill Murphy, said he has done work on Rumsey's home but usually on Saturdays. One exception, he said, was when he took a week of earned leave and spent it working for Rumsey and others.

The alleged misuse of maintenance workers for private repair jobs was considered so serious, however, by the employees' union at the recreation department that the subject was discussed during contract negotiations last May.

One of Rumsey's own maintenance officials issued a warning memo to employees, stressing to them that personal work for others in the department should never be done on city time. Rumsey, himself, sent out a similar policy statement after union officials threatened to go to the press and say that he was misusing department workers, according to sources.

"I probably shouldn't have used the workers just because it has been done in the past," Rumsey said in a more recent interview. "But I always paid. They once charged me $100 per room to paint three rooms in my house, and I bought the paint."

Rumsey is just as vehement in his denials that he has used department employees as his personal chauffeurs. Numerous sources say it was a common practice that only ceased several weeks ago when reporters started inquiring about it.

Rumsey says he has used two employees, a duplicating supervisor and a custodian, "on an alternate basis to go with me when I have to attend meetings. They bring the car back. A lot of the time I do the driving myself. I love to drive."

Alfred Palmer, the duplicating supervisor, said he has given Rumsey rides downtown "when I'm going anyway and he has a meeting at the same time. He gets a ride back the best way he can. But I've never been a chauffeur."

But sources at recreation department headquarters - who say they have observed the practice frequently - recall that Palmer "objected bitterly every time he was called away from his printing work to drive Rumsey."

Rumsey, who complained that "If you take your personal car downtown, you're going to get a ticket," said someone is needed to drive the city cars back to headquarters "because you can't have the car sit there while you are in a two-hour meeting. But I don't have a chauffeur."

One worker who did not want to be identified said, however, he has driven Rumsey to meetings a couple of times "and each time I waited there for it to end so I could drive him back. It's hard to find a parking place, but that's not a complete excuse for using drivers that way."

When asked about the summer jobs that sources say traditionally go to friends and relatives of department officials, Rumsey said his only concern is getting the most qualified employees. He denied allegations that he personally placed 120 to 150 of his friends' relatives in jobs last summer at the city's pools and playgrounds.

"I don't believe in favoritism. I was shut out too long myself for that," Rumsey said. "Why, I even fired my own son (several years ago when Rumsey managed a city pool) because he couldn't get to work on time."

According to numerous sources "people do get hired by their connections . . . sometimes they're awful, and sometimes they're not." The problem with such a system, they say, is that many kids who actually need the jobs don't get them.

Some jobs, sources say, are called "VIP" jobs and are held open for friends of people in the department or the sons and daughters of congressmen.

In the aquatics division, it is the locker room assistants and night watchmen slots that often are filled at the last minute with so-called important people. One pool "went a long time without a night watchman because we couldn't find a VIP who would take the job," according to a pool manager who asked not to be identified by name.

Rumsey - who said he is "trying to do a decent job with the little bit of money we get" - complained that the department's $17.5 million budget (serving 20 million persons with 179 different programs) is only about 1.5 per cent of the city's total spending allotment.

While this article was being prepared, several recreation department employees and a local minister called a reporter to object to possible negative publicity. They said their concern was for the department and its good programs as well as the director's reputation, and they praised Rumsey as a good administrator.

"He's started a complete crackdown to get good programs and make the department run more efficiently," said Diana Nicolopoulos, a 20-year employee of the agency. "Some people who got away with things before resent that."

Rumsey said he has probably made enemies by "preaching accountability, responsibility, punctuality and productivity" to department employees. I wouldn't stay here 12 hours a day if I didn't want to have the best department. I want to do well . . . if there's anything that I've done wrong, I didn't mean to do it."