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Council panel rejects nominee to head D.C. juvenile justice agency

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A D.C. Council committee on Friday rejected Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s nominee to run the city’s juvenile justice agency, which has not had a permanent director for more than a year and in recent months has been plagued by brazen escapes and a brutal assault on a corrections officer.

The nomination of Neil A. Stanley to head the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services will still go before the full D.C. Council for a vote, but the 2 to 0 vote against Stanley by the Committee on Human Services was the first time a council body has voted to rebuff one of the Democratic mayor’s Cabinet picks.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), the committee chairman, said he was swayed by recent problems, from the escapes to assaults on corrections officers and other youths to documented recidivism.

“Who is really in charge at New Beginnings?” Graham asked before the vote.

In April, a corrections officer at New Beginnings, the city’s long-term youth detention center in Laurel, was beaten by two residents, who then escaped from the facility. New Beginnings has been a source of controversy since it opened in May 2009.

After Friday’s vote, Stanley referred questions to Linda Wharton-Boyd, Gray’s spokeswoman. She did not immediately respond.

The action surprised aides in the Gray administration and aides to other council members. A vote had not been expected until Monday, at the earliest.

Council members received an e-mail at 6:43 p.m. Thursday alerting them to the 3:30 p.m. meeting on Friday. Council rules require 24-hour notice. “Regardless, there’s been no objection to the process,” Graham said in an interview.

Three of the committee members — Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — were absent. Alexander said in a text message that she had an emergency. Brown did not respond to questions about why he was not there. An aide to Wells said he was out of town.

Graham and council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) were the only committee members present. The committee would have lacked a quorum, but Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) sat in as an ex-officio member. Brown abstained from voting.

Brown said it was the fourth time he has had to attend a meeting to help create a quorum, creating an unwelcome trend. “I think we should have people on committees that show up,” Brown said.

During the meeting, Brown told Barry and Graham that he would abstain and save his judgment for the full council vote. But he called the report on Stanley “alarming.”

Graham cited opposition from three labor unions that represent employees of the agency. He said Stanley has developed a reputation among employees as “condescending” and disrespectful of workers. He also faulted Stanley for modifying job descriptions, in particular removing certain requirements so he could hire a longtime friend to be the superintendent at New Beginnings.

Barry said Stanley, the former general counsel of DYRS who was named interim director last year at the end of the term of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), lacked experience to run the agency.

“It takes a lot of skill to manage $103 million,” Barry said, referring to the agency’s budget. “He’s never managed anything that large. Not even $5 million, not even $10 million.”

Stanley served as interim director of the Department of Parks and Recreation under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

At a June 1 confirmation hearing, several advocates of youth offenders praised Stanley and supported his nomination. Alan Pemberton, the lead attorney in a long-running class action lawsuit to reform the city’s juvenile justice agency, said Stanley managed a “swift response to the April escape” and that his “leadership and stabilizing influence” would improve the agency.

But union leaders say Stanley handled the April incident and others poorly. “Safety for everyone. That’s what this is about,” said Tasha Williams, a corrections officer and chairperson of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Staff writer Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

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