Four years after leaving a gutted District school board, former City Administrator Robert C. Bobb is reentering D.C. government service, joining the board of the embattled nonprofit implicated in a former D.C. Council member’s theft of city funds.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) appointed Bobb and Megan Martin, an associate at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, to the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. board in a mayoral order signed Monday. Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said the two will be sworn in within days.
Bobb said he agreed to serve on the Trust’s board at Gray’s request because it “needs a fresh set of eyes on how to save it.” He said he plans to focus, for one, on its finances and its troublesome relations with elected officials.
“Obviously something in the system has failed,” he said, referring to Harry Thomas Jr.’s crimes, which involved directing earmarks through the Trust to nonprofit groups that paid him kickbacks. “I do think very strongly that we have to take politics out of the Trust.”
The appointments come less than a week after the Trust’s board voted to dismiss CEO Ellen London, who had the support of the Gray administration but found her board backing diminish after council hearings focused on her role in administering grants that ended up in Thomas’s pockets.
London’s firing came as a surprise to the Gray administration’s top human services official.
”I think it was an unfortunate decision,” said Beatriz “B.B.” Otero, Gray’s deputy mayor for health and human services. “I believe that Ellen was doing a very good job. ... That said, the board has a governance responsibility, and I have to take that as their decision.”
Otero added that the District government — by far, the Trust’s largest source of income in recent years — is “an important partner” and that she “would have hoped they had consulted with us in some way.”
In the coming days, D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is expected to release the findings of a probe into the grants and operations of the Trust. The investigation has focused on the period in which Thomas stole well over $300,000 .
Graham said he was intrigued by Bobb’s appointment.
“He obviously has a considerable background in child and family issues,” he said. “He’s known as a vigorous and dynamic personality. It would seem that carries a message, that the mayor is going to be engaged in these issues.”
Ribeiro said the new appointees are meant to “bring additional leadership and stability to the Trust to help it get back to its focus on helping District youth.”
Bobb was handily elected to the presidency of the D.C. Board of Education in 2006 after serving more than three years as Mayor Anthony A. Williams’s city administrator. Bobb, though beset by contracting controversies, was regarded as a talented and effective manager, and his school board run was widely seen as a prelude to future citywide campaigns.
But before Bobb was sworn in, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announced he would move to strip the board of its most significant responsibilities, placing the day-to-day management of the D.C. Public Schools under mayoral control. Bobb was unable to turn the political tide, and in 2007 the D.C. Board of Education became the much less powerful State Board of Education, with limited duties that mostly involve education policy matters.
Bobb decided in 2008 not to seek another term as board chair and, in 2009, accepted a high-profile job as emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools which he kept until 2011. Since then, he has moved back to D.C. where he has opened a consulting firm; the Richmond city schools recently announced he would consult on their finances.
Bobb said he plans to make use of his years of experience, both inside and outside the District government, on the Trust board. “I have a tremendous track record in Detroit in ridding a system of waste, fraud and abuse,” Bobb said. “It speaks for itself.”
With the two new picks, four of the seven members of the Trust’s board are now mayoral appointees. One sitting mayor-appointed member, former D.C. Public Schools official Kathy Lally, indicated to fellow board members that she intended to step down in the wake of the London firing, but Otero said Tuesday she would remain on the board. Lally has not returned calls for comment.
Bobb acknowledged he spoke to Gray about becoming the board’s chairman but said any determination awaits “further discussion” with Gray and Otero. Regardless, he said, “I’m not going to be there to be a shrinking violet.”
The board’s current chairwoman, Winifred Carson Smith, declined to comment on the new appointees except to say that she appreciated having a full board to work with. “This is the first time we’ve had a full board complement under this new administration,” she said.