Former Alabama Official To Head Up Troubled D.C. Agency
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 9, 2006
WASHINGTON, DC--Mayor Anthony Williams has fired the director of the District of Columbia's Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration, a little over a year after placing her in the job, in an effort to keep the agency's operations from being taken over by a receiver.
Williams terminated Marsha H. Thompson on Tuesday, and immediately announced that Kathy Sawyer, the former head of Alabama's Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, would take the job.
Sawyer was instrumental in getting Alabama to close three of its state-run institutions and move many of the residents into homes in the community before she retired. The Washington Post has reported that Sawyer reluctantly agreed to head up the program after the mayor's office "begged her" to do so.
Sawyer, who reportedly has signed a six-month contract, has a daunting task in front of her.
The move came following several weeks of local news reports about abuse, sexual assault, exploitation, theft, and neglect -- including deaths by starvation -- within the city's group home system for people with developmental disabilities.
Those stories include a U.S. Department of Justice report, which said last month that there have been 14 "preventable and questionable" deaths in D.C. group homes since January 2003. DOJ officials urged a judge to hold the city in contempt of court for failing to meet several promises to protect residents from harm.
Some critics say that the problems within the system go back decades, and that, while putting someone with Sawyer's reputation at the top is indeed a positive move, at this point it might be about as useful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
According to the Associated Press, this coming Thursday several D.C. officials, including Thompson, will be called in to testify before a U.S. House Committee on Government Reform. The hearing was scheduled by Virginia Congressman Tom Davis before Thompson was fired.
Related articles from the Washington Post:
April 30: "Despite Protest, Panel Votes to Cut Budget for Disabled Services"
May 16: "Steering a Troubled Disability Agency"
May 25: "Group Urges Takeover of D.C. Agency For Disabled"
May 27: "A Mayoral Forfeit"
May 31: "Abuse, Deaths in D.C. Group Homes Detailed"
June 7: "D.C. Mayor Fires Director Of Agency for the Disabled"
June 7: "Comes Now No. 19"