Incoming and current Prince George’s County Council members say they will closely examine the record of the District regulatory official tapped by County Executive-elect Angela Alsobrooks to lead the permitting and inspection department.
Melinda Bolling is the subject of a whistleblower lawsuit and has been criticized by advocates and lawmakers in the District for her leadership of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
The lawsuit, filed by Genet Amare, a Freedom of Information officer with the department, alleges that Bolling provided little training to FOIA officers, made it known she did not care about meeting FOIA deadlines and unjustly terminated Amare after she voiced her concerns.
Alsobrooks spokesman John Erzen said the campaign was aware of the lawsuit before Bolling was selected to head the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement (DPIE) and is confident in her leadership. He said she was recruited by Polihire, the talent acquisition firm retained by the campaign, and vetted by Alsobrooks’s internal team.
“We have not found one person with anything negative to say about her,” Erzen said. He acknowledged that the DCRA is not “perfect” but said Bolling, who must be confirmed by the county council, had made improvements.
Bolling was general counsel of the DCRA before becoming head of the department in 2015. Alsobrooks (D) has praised her as a leader who will be “unafraid to hold people accountable.” Erzen said Bolling was unavailable for an interview Friday.
The DPIE came under scrutiny in recent months for failing to catch errors in construction at MGM National Harbor that led to the severe electrical shock of a young girl. The department is part of a broadening probe into construction flaws at the casino and resort that is being conducted by Prince George’s police and the FBI. Alsobrooks has said she wants to see “major change” at the department, whose previous head, Haitham A. Hijazi, abruptly resigned earlier this month without public explanation.
Current and incoming members of the council, who will be sworn in Monday with Alsobrooks, said they have heard little about Bolling outside news reports.
Council member-elect Jolene Ivey (D-District 5), said she has generally been pleased with Alsobrooks’s appointments but that Bolling’s is one the council “will probably give a lot more scrutiny to.”
“DPIE is the most important agency at this time, and it deserves to be led by someone with a record of success,” Ivey said.
Council member Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6) said he has confidence in Alsobrooks’s choices but added the council will “do its own due diligence” on all her nominees.
D.C. lawmakers have been critical of the performance of the DCRA, which for decades has been the subject of complaints about lack of transparency, poor customer service, and failure to address vacant properties and illegal construction.
After holding oversight hearing in 2017, at which Bolling testified, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D) introduced a bill to split the agency into two departments.
“It has become abundantly clear that DCRA is an agency in need of major change,” Mendelson said in a news release when that bill was introduced this year.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said Bolling was a collegial person who was “always willing to partner on legislative ideas and open to reform. . . . But I don’t think her leadership was strong enough to transform the agency.”
Mark Eckenwiler, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and longtime DCRA critic, said the agency suffers from “ingrained dysfunction” and Bolling did little to change that.
“She never got control of the agency,” Eckenwiler said. “To the extent that she did bring about marginal changes, it was grudging.”