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Letter to the Editor: Unnecessary Legal Expense

To the Editor:

Hooray for whistleblowers at City Hall! They point out how our taxpayer money can be protected/used more effectively. Their initiative should not be confused with insubordination and punished. If their claims are mistaken, their supervisors should easily be able to show them their errors.

I was very disappointed to read in the April 18-24 Gazette Packet that City Attorney James Banks said he will appeal the March 8 court ruling against the city and in favor of whistleblower Henry Lewis. Because a panel of seven jurors agreed with Lewis that he was improperly fired for pointing out that the city was not taking adequate safeguards against fraud during construction of the new Alexandria Police Department headquarters, and the city attorney should already have used his best arguments during that hearing, I wonder what new arguments he plans to use to win at the next level. If Mr. Banks believes that “a reasonable person would conclude that that there was not a reasonable belief in fraud,” does he think the seven jurors were unreasonable? Mr. Banks is the outlier. Of course, we taxpayers — and I hope council and the mayor — remember all too well the recent instances of financial chicanery at City Hall. Does Mr. Banks believe it could never happen again?

Mr. Lewis’ zeal in protecting the taxpayers’ interests were described in the newspaper article as ensuring that the contractor filed all the necessary paperwork and that the construction firm was not billing the city for materials that had not been purchased. I want employees to do so. Surely such due diligence is what everyone, especially supervisors, should expect. Good for Mr. Lewis for persisting, despite the attempt of senior city officials to stop him. Mr. Lewis should get a taxpayers’ hero recognition. He certainly has my thanks, gratitude and admiration for his persistence.

Roy Shannon, an attorney in a separate case against the city, remarked “It seems like they (city officials) have decided that they only need to follow the rules when they want to.”

These instances are causes for serious concern. I hope council and the mayor will take appropriate action and set those senior city officials straight. Perhaps they are the ones who should be dismissed.

Extensive litigation should not be necessary in a well-run city. I regret spending taxpayer funds for unwise purposes. The budget already provides more than half a million dollars for litigation — which I’d like to spend fixing our many streets in poor condition, etc. Mr. Banks needs to allocate our taxpayer resources wisely and not pursue cases that he seems to have little hope of winning and should not win. I see no need to add taxpayers’ funds to the city’s general litigation budget for purposes such as dogging Mr. Lewis. Mr. Banks has not made his case and his pursuit of injustice is a costly embarrassment.

Ellen Latane Tabb

Alexandria