City in Violation of Its Charter

City in Violation of Its Charter

Citizens hampered from accessing departmental rules and regulations.

While Alexandria’s ordinances are enacted in public by the City Council and are readily accessible to the citizenry, usually in the form of “The Code of the City of Alexandria, 1981,” departments and offices across city government also promulgate official rules and regulations, but they are neither publicized nor readily accessible by the citizenry. This directly violates the express wording of the city’s charter.

During a recent visit to the City Manager’s Office, prompt access was granted to the blue, three-ring binder of Administrative Regulations (ARs). ARs are issued over the signature of the city manager. Many pages had been printed over 30 years ago and appeared out-of-date. Loose memoranda seemed to override formal documents signed by the city manager.

When permission was sought to photocopy the table of contents for ARs, Sean Garrick, assistant to the city manager, appeared and advised that the appropriate procedure would be to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

At that point, Young also confirmed advice of his staff that regulations of departments and other units of city government were not available in his office. Asked if each such office had to be asked for access to its individual rules and regulations, Young again suggested that the “efficient” way to locate those rules and regulations would be through a request under the FOIA.

Subsequently, a formal, written request was submitted to Young for an interview to discuss the status of ARs and other city regulations. He designated Bettina Deynes, director of human resources, to participate in the interview. Craig T. Fifer, acting director of communications, also was present in what turned out to be a roundtable discussion.

Deynes, who started her job about 18 months ago, brings experience from at least two of her previous employments that involved creating effective business operation systems for organizations that were seriously disorganized. One of her first steps in Alexandria had been to collect all rules and regulations to understand how the city government worked. Somewhere between “dismayed” and “appalled,” Deynes concluded that a major overhaul was needed due to many conflicting and confusing provisions. Last November, Young concurred and placed her in charge of the project designed to modernize the city’s rules and regulations. The tentative deadline is year’s end.

Since the largest volume of ARs deal with Deynes’ area of responsibility, employment, she is developing new sets of rules and regulations dealing with that area. Simultaneously, she is sharing her processes with all other senior city officials who are under orders to work in parallel on their own rules and regulations whether in, or independent of, the ARs.

Deynes plans to have all employment-related rules and regulations online for all employees. While she cannot dictate what other officials might do in terms of disclosure of rules and regulations in their respective areas, she believes in transparency as a matter of principle. Another basic concept, she says, is periodic review to assure that every rule and regulation serves a purpose and contributes to efficiency and economy of city government operations. Finally, Deynes gives assurance that Sec. 15.03 of the City Charter would be a consideration in the overall review project.

At close of the interview, Deynes volunteered that this planned newspaper article is welcomed. It signals the importance of the rules and regulations project to everyone in city government, while informing the public of a body of important information concerning city government that has not been well-known in the past.

Young’s “City Manager’s Performance Plan, FY 2014 – FY 2016” also comes into play with respect to city rules and regulations. A segment entitled “Accountable, Effective, & Well-Managed Government” aims to “Ensure the City government is accountable to the community.” Intermediate outcomes of that goal include “Community is informed about the City Government” and “Government is transparent and accessible to the community.”

Accusing city government of being “in violation” of its charter is not something taken lightly. Fifer and Deputy City Attorney Christopher P. Spera were asked if that characterization would be “correct” and “fair.” Neither objected to use of the term. In an exchange of emails, both called for placing its use “in the context of our efforts to update and modernize the city’s regulations.”

Story updated to correctly identify Sean Garrick, assistant to the city manager, who advised on the procedure to photocopy the table of contents for the City's Administrative Regulations.