Call it the saga of City Roofing Crew 001 -- two $17,000-a-year Department of General Services roofing inspectors who do virtually no work on the job. Ladders strapped to their District government van, Larry Hollinshead and John F. Ross spend a large part of many work days cruising about town, visiting friends, killing time, getting paid.
Hollinshead and Ross disputed this, but for seven days selected at random over the last two months, a reporter followed the roofers' van (No. 001) around town without their knowledge and found that their ladder never left the truck. Those days were filled with long coffee breaks, personal errands and dawdling about the tourist attractions.
Chuck Ridgely, a sheet-metal worker who stalked city roofs with Hollinshead for three months before Ross replaced Ridgely last summer, says the days observed by the reporter were typical.
"My job with the D.C. government was pure gravey," said Ridgely, "a paid vacation. The city was lucky if we worked two hours a day and broke a sweat. Many days, I was at my part-time job by 11:30 a.m. The job was a joke."
Hollinshead, 38, a roofing inspector from Hillcrest Heights, disputes the accusation. "Does anyone do what they're supposed to do every day?" he asks. "No. There are some days I do maybe more than I'm supposed to do. So maybe tomorrow, if there's something I have to do, I can do it."
Says Ross, 25, of Southwest Washington, "I work every (week)day, eight to four. We do a lot of work, a good day's work."
Consider what $16,577-a-year roofer Hollinshead did on Tuesday, April 22, just one of the seven days during the last two months that the city work crew was observed at random.
He wheels his natty, tan Ford Econoline government van out of the city's underground parking garage at Third and C streets NW just before 8 a.m. He meets Ross at 6th and G, and they disappear into headquarters, the Bureau of Repairs and Improvements at 613 G St. NW for their day's assignment.
9:08 a.m. The partners climb into the van, and Hollinshead picks up his dry cleaning at Century Valet, just around the corner. He hangs the plastic bag in the back of the truck. Ross slides out and disappears into a crowd.
Hollinshead chats up a fat woman in a purple dress for five minutes and snakes the van through the morning traffic to a no-parking zone just outside the Criminal Justice Building at 6th and D streets NW. He drops 20 cents into a pay phone outside Jay Bird's Food and Spirits and dials a number.
A short woman with long black hair (whose description he later said matched that of his wife) appears. They climb into the van. He drives around the corner to McDonald's. She disappears inside for 28 minutes.
9:56 a.m. She climbs back into the van and takes a seat beside the burly city employe with a tattoo on his left forearm and a Fu Manchu mustache about his lips. They circle the courthouse. He shakes his finger at her, apparently lecturing, appearing to shout.
He steers the van into I-395 south. He pulls up to the curb of a liquor store -- "Park Free, Last Stop in D.C.," the sign says. He disappears inside. It is impossible to see what he does there. Then he's back out and off they go.
Hollinshead drives lazily over the bridge across the Anacostia River, turning onto Suitland Parkway, barely pushing 35 mph. He takes his time. "Entering Maryland," says a sign.
He turns right on Naylor Road, right again past the Oxon Hill Recreation Center. He drives slowly past the Tuesday morning golfers enjoying the gorgeous, blue-sky day.
10:15 a.m. Home at last. He backs the city government van into a parking space outside the red brick Parkway Apartments, 4423 Parkway Rd., and walks inside with the woman, leaving his dry cleaning behind.
Outside, two maintenance men sweat, gripe about life and love -- "I'll kick her ass 'til her nose bleed," grouses one -- and wrestle with an ornery lawn mower. A hot wind blows about the lot of dented late model sedans. Birds chirp.
11:45 a.m. Hollinshead and the woman pull out in the van, wheeling back towards the city. He stops at a city welfare office at 500 First St. Nw. She gets out.
High noon. Time for lunch.
Alone now, Hollinshead drives down to the Mall and ogles the Earth Day exhibits, the joggers, lollygags in traffic about a giant blue whale. He turns onto I-295 and crosses the river.
12:21 p.m. He parks outside Vine's Soul Food Barbecue on Martin Luther King Avenue, SE, buys a sandwich in a paper sack and goes home for lunch.
2:30 p.m. A reporter calls Hollinshead's office. A secretary says, "He's in the field working." Outside Hollinshead's apartment, meanwhile, a man in blue shorts washes a car. High school lovers dance a verbal tango in the parking lot. "Scram, go home, beat it," a teen-age boy shouts to his girlfriend. "Stay outta my life," she snaps.
3 p.m. His 2 1/2-hour lunch complete, Hollinshead pulls out in the van and returns to the District. He parks outside Howard University Hospital on Georgia Avenue, walks inside and emerges with a woman. They climb into the van and disappear in traffic.
4:15 p.m. Quitting time. Hollinshead parks the van in the underground lot at 3rd and C streets and stands at the corner, awaiting his ride home.
4:30 p.m. A brown sedan stops. Hollinshead climbs in and takes off.
Asked Friday to comment about what the reporter observed that day, Hollinshead said, "I can't account for what I did on April 22. Maybe I went on leave that day."
No, he was told, records show he took no leave that day. He was paid $637.60, his full salary, for working 80 hours during that two-week pay period. $6
On the daily gas, oil and mileage ticket -- one of the records the van driver is required to fill out by city maintenance director Harold Henson, who heads up the department's Bureau of Repairs and Improvements -- Hollinshead claimed he spent the day casing the roof at Douglass Junior High School on Stanton Road SE.
Ross couldn't remember what he did. But he said that he probably worked that day with Hollinshead and used his personal car if he didn't ride in the van. "We always worked together," he said. "But it might have just been one of those days."
"I'm amazed," said Henson, overseer of 250 of the city's blue-collar tradesmen when a reporter informed him of the shenanigans of roofing crew 001. The men are supposed to inspect leaky roofs of D.C. government buildings and call in city repairmen to patch up the problems, he said.
Ed McManus field operations chief for the Bureau of Repairs and Improvements, and the men's new supervisor said that no repairmen have been dispatched to act on the two roofing inspectors' findings in several months. Ross and Hollinshead have been filing reports regularly in note form, he said. But the mayor's hiring freeze left their office without a secretary to type them up and -- until one was hired two weeks ago under a CETA grant -- reports have been gathering dust.
Nonetheless, city departments with serious leaks or water damage have sent work orders directly to McManus, rather than wait for the roofers' report to crawl to his desk. "The urgent problems come directly to me," he said.
April 22 was not a unique day for roofing crew 001.
Recently, Hollinshead spent two straight days playing cards on the job, according to a former coworker who was dealt into the game. Some days, the men take turns working, covering for each other. Two-hour lunches are sometimes taken inside the smoke-filled darkness of topless-bottomless joints along 14th Street, or in clubs across the Anacostia River, say two former crew members who quit in disgust.
The two District employes were paid for the days they goofed off, government pay records show. And the van's daily trip tickets were filled out creatively.
On Friday, April 18, Ross claimed he drove the van 18 miles. He drove Hollinshead to the Red Cross, the card noted. There, a secretary said, the roofer gave blood. Then, it was onward, in the van, to a roofing job at Sousa Junior High School.
In fact, that day, the van never budged from its parking spot. The odometer read 12,804 at 8:30 a.m., and hadn't changed by the day's end, a reporter observed.
Take April 21. Hollinshead claimed he drove the van 21 miles after picking it up at the East Administration parking garage at 7:35 a.m. In fact, by noon, the van hadn't budged.
Or May 29. According to the trip ticket, Hollinshead spent the day at the Phelps School. But, in fact, at 9 a.m., dressed in a green jump suit, he drove Ross and three women in yellow smocks on a 70-minute joy rid from his office at 613 G St. to the Adams Street shop and back. They took a 15-minute coffee break outside the Queens Luncheonette, 2149 Queens Chapel Rd. before Hollinshead dropped off Ross and the women and disappeared into the District Building for over an hour. At 11:20 a.m. he climbed into the van and, by 11:45 a.m. had disappeared in traffic.
Hollinshead became the senior man on the crew after his former supervisor, Victor Van Sant, of Arlington, quit in March out of fear and frustration following open heart surgery, repeated sick leave, and several fiery arguments with the crew. He claims that he was physically threatened by Hollinshead after pleading with the men to put in a full day's work.
Van Sant concedes he angered Hollinshead one day by calling him a "dummy." Hollinshead, who is black, labeled his former white supervisor "prejudiced."
Finally, van Sant says he just gave up and went along with whatever struck the crew's fancy, after repeated pleas to higher-ups and a letter to Mayor Marion Barry went unheeded. "One day, I dropped them off at The Cocoon, a topless-bottomless place on 14th Street and couldn't get them out for two hours."
Ridgely quit, too. "I didn't want to end up like the rest of them, bitching if I had to work an hour," he said.
Henson, who heads the bureau in which Hollinshead and Ross worked, dismissed their behavior as "an isolated case." Nevertheless, on Friday, he reassigned them to the city's maintenance shop and placed them under stricter supervision.
Tom Murphy, a consultant for the Department of General Services, says the city's lack of management controls has created a "nightmare" of unsupervised city employes. "With the proper controls, by managing the people well, you could lop off 50 percent of the maintenance crews and get more work from them," he said.
Told about roofing crew 001, Murphy said, "I have no problem believing it. Repairs and Improvements is one of the loosest city operations around. Their people are spread all over."
Roofing crew 001 savored their ability to milk the system, says Van Sant. On many a day, he heard his men joking, "I give the government four hours and I take four."
Only on many days, the District taxpayers weren't that lucky.