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 that was implicated in a former D.C. Council member’s theft of city money.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) appointed Bobb and Megan Martin, an associate at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, to the board of the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. on Monday. Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said they 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 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 chief executive 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 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 an investigation of the trust’s grants and operations. The inquiry has focused on the period in which Thomas stole well more than $300,000 by directing earmarks through the trust to nonprofit groups that paid him kickbacks.
Graham said he was intrigued by Bobb’s appointment. “He’s known as a vigorous and dynamic personality,” he said. “It would seem that carries a message, that the mayor is going to be engaged in these issues.”
Bobb was elected to the presidency of D.C. Board of Education in 2006 after serving as city administrator for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Although beset by contracting controversies, Bobb was regarded as a talented and effective manager, and his board run was considered a prelude to future citywide campaigns.
But before Bobb was sworn in, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said he would place the day-to-day management of the D.C. public school system 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.
Bobb decided in 2008 not to seek another term as board chairman and, in 2009, accepted a job as emergency financial manager of the Detroit public schools, a post he kept until 2011. Since then, he has moved back to the District, where he has opened a consulting firm; the Richmond city schools recently said that he would consult on their finances.
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 that she will remain on the board. Lally has not returned calls for comment.
Bobb said 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.”
Winifred Carson Smith, who chairs the board, declined to comment except to say that she appreciates 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.