Give a Kidney, Lose a Job How APRA's Tori Fernandez Whitney fired the woman who gave her mother an organ.

Organ Solo: Mumford gives kidney to boss’ mom, gets fired.
Darrow Montgomery

In March 2008, Tori Fernandez Whitney’s leadership abilities under went a serious stress test. Whitney is the head of the city’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (APRA), and she was getting grilled at her yearly oversight hearing [WMV video] by David A. Catania. The councilmember was delivering one of his trademark rants, calling APRA a “backwater disaster” and telling Whitney, his former employee, “You have probably the most miserable job in government.”

“I concur,” Whitney responded, to chuckles in the hearing room.

Fewer chuckles could be heard down at 1300 First St. NE, APRA’s home base, where functionaries watched on TV. Already, Whitney had summarily fired numerous managers and other employees and brought in her own hand-picked deputies—invariably younger. Whitney’s response only heightened the who’s-next dread running through the building.

There was a staff meeting not long after the hearing. Faced with drooping morale, Whitney had a bright idea for the agency’s 100-plus employees: a bake-off! The prospect of banana bread and snickerdoodles failed to arouse the rank-and-file.

Whitney barely mentioned the hearing, except to say that it had gone well. At that point, one of Whitney’s top aides, Jennifer Mumford, spoke up. As Whitney’s deputy in charge of agency operations, Mumford had been in the hearing room, and listened to her boss’ testimony. She brought up Catania’s rant and pointed out the hearing couldn’t have gone that well, considering the rancor she had witnessed. “What the staff wants to know is how we can work together to accomplish the goals of the agency,” Mumford later explained.

“This is not the time or the place to discuss that,” Whitney responded, according to Mumford and three persons at the meeting.

Mumford again urged that the discussion be opened. Again, Whitney demurred. She quickly called the meeting to a close.

Whitney disappeared into her office, and Mumford did not speak with her again until a week later. That’s when she handed Mumford her walking papers.

Since LL wrote about the allegations of fired APRA employee Catherine Bego earlier this month, he has been inundated with calls from former and current APRA employees eager to dish on Whitney’s managerial habits. Her perpetually closed office door. Her lousy people skills. Her micromanagement.

Those may be legitimate workplace gripes. But Mumford’s experience with Whitney blows away all other APRA gossip stories for drama and narrative arc.

The story starts with Mumford’s bona fides. First off, she can’t simply be tarred as a malcontent member of the ancien régime upset because change has come to a troubled agency. Nope: Mumford had spent time at APRA earlier in her career, but she had moved on to a job as a top assistant to health department director Gregg Pane. Both Whitney and Catania asked Mumford to come back to APRA to help overhaul the agency.

Second off, Mumford is a creature of reform herself. She took her first job in District government as an accountant at the Office of Tax and Revenue weeks before Congress instituted the control board. She rose quickly under Chief Financial Officer Anthony A. Williams, and when Williams moved to city hall, she was promoted through a succession of fiscal management jobs. After her firing, in fact, Whitney sent an e-mail to agency employees praising Mumford for having “contributed significantly to the fiscal stabilization of the agency.”

Third off, Mumford and Whitney share an unusual personal bond. In 2006, Mumford had given a piece of herself to Whitney—that is, she donated her kidney to Whitney’s ailing mother. The two had known each other from when Mumford was doing her first stint at APRA and Whitney was a council staffer. Whitney’s mother was displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and Mumford’s husband, lobbyist and political fixture Bernard Demczuk, hosted a fundraiser for her benefit at his Shaw townhouse.

At the time, Mumford explains, she’d been dealing with a loss of her own—her father had recently died, and she’d not been able to spend as much time with him as she wanted—so when it became clear that Whitney’s mother needed a kidney transplant, she volunteered. “It was a thrill to save someone’s life,” she explains. And “there was a guilt factor for not being there for my dad.”

Mumford says she remained close to Whitney’s mother after the surgery; she returned to work at health department headquarters, where she remained until she was detailed to APRA in August 2007. She resisted: “I wanted to go forward. I had already done APRA; I wanted to do something else,” she says, but ultimately, given Catania’s wishes that she help Whitney, “I had no choice.” (Catania did not respond to a request for comment.)

At Whitney’s shop, Mumford paints a picture of a tyro dropped in way over her head—someone with no idea of how to manage a large organization, someone who was constantly second-guessing herself. “She had me in there and she would say, ‘What am I supposed to do?’” Mumford says.

But it’s fair to say that Whitney has gotten some results: Waiting lists for treatment have steadily declined under Whitney’s watch at APRA, and the D.C. Appleseed nonprofit, on its yearly HIV/AIDS report card, has rated substance abuse treatment as improving from a ‘C+’ to a solid ‘B’ since Whitney took over APRA in 2007. “Largely because of efforts by the new director and her staff, APRA has accessed additional funding, and expanded its outreach and assessment services,” one report said.

LL called three addiction treatment providers about the state of APRA under Whitney; all either declined comment or did not return calls. He also requested an interview with Whitney to defend her record at APRA; instead, he was sent this statement from her boss, health department director Pierre Vigilance: “Over the past two years APRA has steadily improved allowing us to get closer to our goal that all District of Columbia residents in need have access [to] high quality treatment and rehabilitation services for their addictions.”

That’s one version, anyhow.

Whitney’s firings of top managers and other employees created what one current APRA employee calls a “climate of fear”—and that’s what had settled upon that staff meeting last March. “The atmosphere in the room was that finally someone on that upper management team got it,” the employee says. “When people are suffering, it’s hard to deliver treatment services yourself.”

At the center of that climate is Hurricane Catania, with his comments about how APRA “needed a housecleaning more than any administration in this government” and how it “did nothing on behalf of the people of this city suffering from addiction.”

And it’s that climate that led Mumford to speak up. “We go back to the office [from city hall]—she’s expecting people to work for her.…You should have seen the faces of these employees.” Mumford says she “didn’t think it was detrimental” to raise her concerns in front of agency employees. “Psychologically, I thought it was a good thing to do. Careerwise, I guess not.”

Mumford joined the ranks of fired at-will managers that include Bego and scores of other city employees. Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. told LL Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation next week that would require agency honchos to show cause before firing any “management supervisory service” employee after a one-year probationary period.

These days, Mumford says, she still takes calls from APRA employees seeking advice and that she bears no ill will against the agency she was forced to leave. “They all keep in touch. They call me every day,” she says. “They’re ultimately a good group.”

But, personally, Whitney’s spurning has been much harder to get over. Since she was fired, Mumford has not spoken to the woman she gave her kidney to, though she says she’d like to. “I just don’t know what her daughter has said, why Tori and I fell out,” she says. “I myself do not know why we fell out.”

“I want my kidney back,” Mumford says. “If I could get my kidney back in a jar, that would be nice.”

Political Potpourri

• Harry Thomas Jr. has been walking a mighty fine line the past couple of weeks.

When you’re representing a ward that contains both quickly gentrifying (and gayifying) areas like Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Brookland, in addition to the generally conservative Bungalow Belt and many of the city’s most politically active churches, same-sex marriage would be one of those issues you might wish would go away.

Thomas veered heavily to one side of that line when he voted this month to recognize other states’ same-sex marriages here in D.C. He leaned even further when the Washington Blade reported last Friday that Thomas was on the record in support of a full gay marriage bill—-a story LL had highlighted in his Friday news roundup.

Leaned too far, perhaps: That afternoon, Thomas spokesperson Victoria Leonard called LL to say the Blade story, by Lou Chibarro Jr., wasn’t true. Her boss, she said, wasn’t committed either way.

Chibbaro says that he went with his story after Leonard mentioned to him a questionnaire that Thomas had filled out for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance ahead of his 2006 election. It asked,“Do you support legal recognition of marriages between partners of the same sex?" Thomas replied,“Yes." Leonard told Chibbaro that her boss stood by his response three years later.

“She was very upbeat and definitive," the veteran reporter says. Thomas himself was in Las Vegas for the shopping-centers conference at the time and unavailable for direct comment

Leonard says she indeed told Chibarro that her boss stood by his old line. Giving such an unequivocal response, she says, was a mistake.“I’m not an attorney, and I’m not a councilmember," she tells LL.“As a spokesperson, I’ll have to learn to be more careful, especially on tumultuous issues.”

LL finally got Thomas himself on the horn yesterday:“That’s why I always speak to you guys directly," Thomas says.“My spokesperson’s statement was taken out of character a little bit.”

OK, fine, unfiltered, straight from the horse’s mouth. No confusion, right? Well, see if you can parse these comments from Thomas:

“We’re going to have to make sure whatever we do passes the congressional smell test. And so I am looking at how we look at possible referendums and other options where we have a true voice of the people on this issue, to strengthen our position when we go forward.”

So you favor a voter referendum, then?

“Well, I want to look at the possibilities of having one...make sure that we as councilmembers ensure we have due process in this whole piece. I think we’ve gone a long way in a quick period of time, and people need to have input in this process. And I’ve stuck to my guns about my position on it, but at the same time, we must be open to making sure that the whole citizenry feels like it was engaged in this process.”

Stuck to your guns? What guns?

“My position is that, I’ve supported the equity issues in recognizing what other states have already done, so people would not have those legal issues here in the District of Columbia.”

What about the questionnaire?

“I am supportive of that, but again, in defining that support, you have to look at how you get to that point. I think there’s legislative [ways] and there’s ways through referendums to do it. And so I haven’t hedged from my support on the issue. My issue is how you bring others along in a city with such a diverse opinion on it.”

Haven’t hedged, huh?

“Have you ever seen me hedge? I’m not a hedger, man. That’s not in my nature!”

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Our Readers Say

"I want my kidney back." Nice. She actually wishes she had let Whitney's mother die. What an ugly person. I can only imagine what this woman really did to get fired.
Yeah that is easy for you to say about someone when you have not been in their shoes. She has a son to raise and she suffered to help someone and now she has no job. She is bitter and I understand. Walk a mile in her shoes before you judge someone. Someone needs to ask council Gray what he thinks about all this since mr. C has not comments. What a mess, people who have served DC government all their lives (baby boomers) trying to finish up the last 5-6 years and retire and get their pention. Most won't recieve the full benefit unless they have 20 years of service. We also will not be able to find another job paying what we make now! What are we supposed to do? How can we serve our clients when we are insecure about or future. How would you feel?
Bottom line: You do not deserve to work at the addiction agency unless you can kiss her behind while baking banana bread.
A person in the position of Deputy Diredcctor must display leadership skills and experience -- which is not stamped in her work history. A seasoned leader/manager would realize the pain
associated with organizational development IF fenty and his young cronies ( such as Whintmey's)would have any idea of the consequencws of their illbahviors, their decisions would be more easy to accept. Ms. wHitney instrubted the mother to cease communication with MS. Mamford... this is an insult to inju If Ms. Whitney ( and Fenty.)thinks that she will be young forever, she is mistake. Who would giver her a kidney when she is old and sick? APRA Be strong... keep your kidneys!
It is a shame that this had to happen. I hate to see anyone lose their jobs...especially someone so qualified.

But.....questioning your boss in a staff meeting like that is not the smartest career move...especially for an at-will employee. Seems to me that the best approach would have been to follow her to her office after the meeting and raise the issue then. Putting her on blast in front of the staff is a risky thing to do.
People question their bosses in staff meetings all the time -- especially in DC government. It's not grounds for termination.

There's something going on in this situation that we don't know about. Neither side is going to tell us. Loose Lips seems to have taken the side of the fired workers. Anybody have anything that supports the other side? If so, I for one would be interested in hearing it.
it may not been the smartes move career wise for Ms Mumford to put Whitney on blast but how about whitney putting the agency and her staff on blast at the hearing...
I guess it's true, No good deed goes unpunished. Giving up a body part is a hell of a sacrifice.
LOL @ 'I want my kidney back'

This isn't an isolated problem. Poor managers are in every business from fast food to IT (my field; don't get me started), etc. These people fail to realize that they don't manage projects, they manage people. If you can do that effectively, the work, whatever the task, becomes easy.

In sports there is a saying about a former coach (some say Paul Bear Bryant, others say Bum Phillips or Bo Schembechler) that 'he could beat his'n with your'n and beat your'n with his'n...meaning it didn't matter whose players he had, he knew how to get the best out of them regardless.

Not everyone should be in management regardless of their climb 'up the ladder'
""I want my kidney back." Nice. She actually wishes she had let Whitney's mother die. What an ugly person. I can only imagine what this woman really did to get fired. "

...and so it all comes down to 5 words. Wow.
...this is why I really don't care much about personal stories like this because so many people are so eager to leap to the stupidest conclusions about people based on the slightest hint of an excuse. It's pointless to even try to find a common ground for discussion with people like that. If you're going to think that someone is "bad" or "guilty" or evil because of some one thing that they've done or said...because you don't have any proof to the contrary..if you're happy to screw them given the smallest opportunity to do so, the slightest excuse? What isn't going to justify that, in your opinion? I can't have a rational discussion with such a person. They can, and they will, twist *anything* into proof of whatever negative opinion they want to have about someone. Give them an inch and they will take 5 miles.
...if everyone is human, no one is perfect, then everyone has a flaw, a moment when they are less than angelic, and if that one moment or that one flaw is enough for you to condemn them as a person? What is the point in even talking with you about good or evil? You clearly don't get the concepts, and are only too happy to use human imperfections to denigrate everyone around you who you don't like, for whatever reasons that you would actually like someone. Hopefully the exchange of a kidney would not be a factor here.
and of course you think that you are a great person because of some trivial thing that you've done or said. But by definition, hypocrites are blind to their own flaws, and professional haters never hate themselves. They love nothing more than to bring down people who clearly are better than they are.
any way this woman, she should know the game by now, in a bureaucracy, the game is to blame the problems of the bureaucracy on everyone else except yourself and those who you wish to please, promise that if those that you hate are replaced by competent, hard-working & loyal people, that the bureaucracy will improve, which of course will benefit you and those who you wish to please. And in the process you get months, even years, during which your own organization will be completely ineffective But that's ok because it's going to get better, eventually, due to your "reorganzation" efforts. Of course during the "reorganization" you give away plum jobs to your personal cronies and build up your own power in the organization, and when all those jobs are given away, you turn on your mentors higher up in the bureaucracy. Turn this into an industry and you can become the next Adrian Fenty. Just remember that it helps to have some minor successes here and there, especially if it's actually the product of work done by the people that you are firing! Claim that it's inconsequential while they are still in the bureaucracy, get them fired as a result, then look back on it through rose-colored glasses neglecting to mention that the people that you just fired are the ones who actually made that happen. Play up your peripheral involvement and take full credit for any and all improvements, promising even more if you get your way in terms of contracts and staffing.

Then by the time that you have run out of people to fire, you can move diagonally upwards into another bureaucracy based on your successful reorganization of the current bureaucracy! The key is to never get caught with bad results coming out of an organization that you cannot avoid taking personal responsibility for, that you cannot spin. This gives you so many ways to "succeed"!
and always remember that the slightest failure can become either the largest albatross or a negligible human foible depending on who exactly is responsible for it and what exactly their personal relationship is with you.
This is the second edition and some still refuse to see the whole story already been told. Why haven't the city counsel who we all vote to protect us, call for a hearing? Each time one of the treatment facilities are being close for what ever reason we have a hearing,lately the law has been changed.
Is it because of David or Fenty?
Employees are afraid to speak up when they know they will be dismissed as soon as the evil witch finds out.
I hear Carf is coming , who in this administration has set before them before, not one. Now she has hired to consultants to tell the story of APRA when they are not qualified and as always she will pretend this was her doing.once they pass as they always have .
Again she has to rely on the workers who are about to be fired, if some one do not stop her.
This is not just about APRA, look at Mental Health, than look at HIV AIDS and now look at APRA being push out the door. This city is crying and know one see's the tears and yet we all will feel the pain being this city is about to lose its mind with crime being the main force. Have anyone stop to see crime is connected to the beast and yet David speaks of our kids coming out of school, to what. Our kids are running to Maryland and Va.We all are apart of this city and yet they want us to vote again for them.Look at the shelters they are full with every person that they have place in the streets.
For god sake somebody help this falling city.
I agree, look at HIV AIDS. New senior deputy, no management skills (except pro at micro management). Enters when DC Appleseed has reported an A in surveillance A in Corrections, etc. Gets rid of the people who made it possible-(just because "she can"). Look at who has been brought in during the last six months (age & race & lack of experience) Look at the titles- etc. etc. ect. ect.....
You say that APRA has improved under Whitley-I guess so "Hurricaine Catania" gave her 3M to walk in the door with and more afterwards! Previous senior deputies did not have those perks-oops-I mean budgets.
Why is everyone overlooking the illegal acts performed by Tori Whitney, Keala Seales and David Catania? Hurricane David Catania arranged for Tori Whitney and her husband to receive FEMA money for the house that her mother was living in. Her mother was eligible for FEMA housing funds because she was relocated do to Hurricane Katrina but Tori and her husband were "Not Eligible."

First she and her husband lived free off of FEMA, then she coerced Jennifer Mumford to give her kidney to her mother.

When does the abuse of power b Tori Whitney and Hurricane David Catania stop? I am asking that the City Paper request that the Office of The Inspector General investigate these allegations.

Oh, by the way, Tori Whitney's Special Assistant, Keala Seales now lives in the same house.
The truth is that Jennifer, has been a problem from the beginning of her employment with the city. Ask questions of CFO's office where she began, the only reason she was not fired then was because of her husband who had a lot of clout with city. Moving onto APRA, she tried to get her boss fired and worked very hard at it. He was also going to fire her but she was transferred, I wonder why. The truth is she is a nasty piece of work and got what she deserved.
You know, reading over these comments, there doesn't seem to be much evidence of any wrongdoing on Whitney's part. She's accused of being insensitive, heartless, sure. But then it's followed by unsupported allegations and innuendos that it seems her accusers don't want to take directly to the inspector general or the Mayor or anybody who might actually have the authority to undertake an investigation. If Whitney is as bad as you imply, then you should take action.

This sounds like a smear campaign. Might as well be listening to Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. I wish Loose Lips would ask some of these folks to put up or shut up.
Old story, I know. When will people realize that we are responsible for creating our reality through our thoughts and actions.

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