Big wasteful government isn’t only a federal phenomenon. And if you’re an honest government employee in the city of Alexandria in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., you better watch out. Because if you “blow the whistle” on inappropriate, unethical, or improper government spending, your bosses will retaliate and fire you for speaking up on behalf of the tax-payers.
All across America, billions of taxpayer dollars are wasted or mismanaged by local governments because of little to no government transparency or accountability. Alexandria, Virginia, provides an example of why.
Ironically, local government, which is arguably the “closest to the people,” is in many ways shielded and protected from public scrutiny and questioning. Only a select few who either work in local government or watch the actions of their local representatives closely catch these cases of waste, fraud, and abuse. Their stories are often ignored because the media is more drawn to high-profile cases at the state and federal levels.
Take the case of former Alexandria city architect Henry Lewis.
As the project manager on one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken by the city of Alexandria, Lewis was responsible for “watching the dollars.” Building a high-tech police headquarters, estimated to cost roughly $80 million plus another $20 million for furnishings, required the oversight of a skilled and experienced project manager, and Lewis was handpicked by top city officials to lead the project.
The Howard University-educated architect was a diligent project manager who worked to ensure that this massive project came in on time and on budget and he excelled at this role, receiving several sterling performance reviews and even a pay raise.
However, things began to change after “Director of General Services” Jeremy McPike got involved.
Jeremy McPike, as a top government bureaucrat in Alexandria’s “Department of General Services,” was ultimately responsible for oversight of the project. As McPike took the reins, Lewis started to notice that Whiting-Turner, the contractor, began submitting suspect invoices for materials stored off-site which hadn’t been verified to actually exist. They started to bill extra for work that should have been covered by the original contract.
McPike became actively involved in approving these invoices for phantom materials—totaling over $2 million.
One of the invoices that Lewis questioned was for a substantial sum of money and had been post-dated by McPike a week in the future. But time and again, Lewis’ concerns were silenced and McPike approved invoices and change orders over his project manager’s professional objections.
Refusing to sign his name to fraudulent activity, Lewis made his suspicions known to his superiors.
That’s when things got really bad for Henry Lewis.
McPike was enraged that Lewis had gone “above his head” to report this suspicious activity. He became personally abusive and began to maneuver to get Lewis to resign his position with the city.
Because Lewis continued to push back against these improper invoices, McPike ultimately took action to have Lewis fired by the city. Henry Lewis has since sued Jeremy McPike and the city of Alexandria, citing Virginia’s whistle-blower statute, which was passed to protect genuine watchdogs of public tax dollars
But whistleblowers shouldn’t have to go to court to protect the taxpayer.
During the recent Circuit Court proceedings, evidence was introduced that clearly showed that, on numerous occasions, McPike attempted to intimidate and force Lewis to sign off on improper invoices from a contractor the government employee McPike favored. The trial detailed how McPike verbally abused and threatened Lewis with termination.
In collaboration with Whiting-Turner, who was tired of dealing with Lewis’ unwillingness to simply “rubber stamp” all invoices, Henry Lewis was fired and thrown to the curb. In a parting and spiteful insult to Lewis, McPike and Alexandria refused to place Lewis’ name on a plaque, an honor always extended to the project manager and architect.
To Henry Lewis’ credit, a jury found that Lewis had been wrongfully terminated under anti-retaliation provisions of the Virginia Fraud against Taxpayers Act, a law passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2011, and was awarded back pay, benefits, and legal fees. And it should be no surprise that city of Alexandria officials have announced their intention to appeal the Circuit Court’s decision to the Virginia Court of Appeals and continue their harassment of the whistleblower Henry Lewis.
But has there been any outrage about McPike by elected officials in Alexandria? Has the dishonest government official been fired? Do the citizens of Alexandria even know or care?
No, no, and no.
Has the paper of record for Alexandria, the Washington Post, covered the story of millions of dollars in waste? No, again.
The Washington Post was too busy covering the tight space for animals at a local shelter and seeking public input on “building the most insane cheeseburger.”
Nothing but buns and circuses at the Post when Democrat-run cities have massive graft and corruption.
Alexandria Mayor William Euille (D) and the six members of City Council (D,D,D,D,D,D) have been successful in keeping the story out of the news. They have avoided public scrutiny as to why they are standing by a city employee—McPike—who allowed graft and corruption to occur in city contracting. Alexandrians, it seems, don’t care much about a lost million here, another million there.
Moreover McPike has cost the city no less than $51,000 in legal fees to date to defend his abusive conduct. Amazingly, McPike is still employed by the city and none of the city leadership have spoken out about the mess.
Whistleblowers like Henry Lewis are true friends to those of us who expect open and transparent government. Whistleblowers tell the taxpayers what is really going on inside government.
But without the backing of the general public, our elected officials will assume that their misdeeds will go unnoticed and unpunished. That would be a very bad precedent to set at all levels of government.
Mayor Bill Euille ([email protected]) probably thinks he is immune from accountability. America is saddled with hundreds or thousands of other elected Bill Euilles, driving the nation deeper into debt and fostering corruption while hardworking taxpayers suffer.