Wilmot, I’m Not the Bad Guy
Attorney General Peter Nickles today rejected an appeal made by beloved group home leader David Wilmot asking Nickles not to take away six group homes for the developmentally disabled from Wilmot's Individual Development Inc. Nickles is moving to take away the homes, whose clients include some of the District's most physically and mentally disabled residents, for not paying $240,000 in fines assessed as part of a settlement agreement.
For anyone who has paid the slightest attention to the back and forth between Nickles and superlobbyist Wilmot, today's decision was no surprise.
Besides Nickles, Wilmot's non-profit has come under scrutiny and fire from some councilmembers, the Office of the Inspector General, and various advocacy groups who have portrayed Wilmot as a greedy, absentee owner, who profited off the backs of his poorly paid workers and the disabled. Media reports, including ones by LL, have largely upheld that image.
But Wilmot says the critics have it all wrong and he's being unfairly targeted because the city can't get its own act together, because of his political connections and because of his race. ("What offends me as a 67-year-old black man is the racial part of it, that disturbs me," Wilmot says.)
LL finally got a chance to meet and talk with Wilmot on Tuesday when he was at the Wilson Building for his other gig—one of the District's best-paid lobbyists in local politics.
Sitting in the hallway outside the council chambers, Wilmot made his case why he's gotten a bad rap, why he doesn't care, and why he's not worried about Nickles. Here's a rundown:
On what's really behind Nickles' actions against him: Politics. You would "have to be related to Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles not to know" that Nickles is trying to use his last weeks in office to settle old political scores, says Wilmot. (Besides going after IDI, Nickles has launched an investigation into a nonprofit run by Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., and sued megadeveloper Don Peebles for allegedly overcharging the District rent.) Wilmot says Nickles' case against him is all bogus and IDI will be vindicated in the end. There's also the fact that Nickles only has a week left on the job.
On what's really wrong with the care of the disabled in the District: City agencies. Wilmot says the city's Department of Disability Services and Department of Health Care Finance are inefficient, ineffective jokes who try to villainize group home providers like himself to cover up their own shortcomings. Wilmot gave an example: When one of last winter's snow storms was going to hit, he huddled with his staff to come up with various contingency plans. Wilmot said he tried to coordinate with the city, but didn't get a call back until three weeks after the storm hit. Also dragging down the system, according to Wilmot: greedy lawyers. Not him, but the kind that profit from decades-old court monitoring of the District's care of the disabled.
On whether he actually does work connected to IDI: Yes. "It's 24/7, I don't have recess. If something happens, I'm on that phone," says Wilmot. He also showed LL his Blackberry, which had a number of IDI-related e-mails Wilmot had received in the last few days. "I'm a hands on guy, I'm in the weeds."
On whether he's overpaid: No. Wilmot says he's reduced his salary from IDI to $150,000 this year (he's made as much as $346,000 in the past). Plus, see answer above regarding his work schedule.
On how he's portrayed in the media: Doesn't care. Wilmot says for the most part he doesn't read what's written about him in the local press and says the reporters he feels have wronged him (he named Examiner columnist Jonetta Rose Barras and Post Metro reporter Nikita Stewart) don't exist in his mind.
On whether the clients of his group home are being treated well: Yes. Wilmot said the hell that will be raised by his clients' guardians if Nickles carries out his threat to take away IDI's group homes will be testament to how well his clients are treated. He also made the fair point that LL, or any other journalist or critic, needed to go see one of his group homes firsthand before drawing any conclusions.
On whether his front-line workers are paid enough: "No, they need more money." Wilmot says he wishes he could pay them more, but IDI has had to eat plenty of costs in battling with the city. He also says his front-line workers' overall compensation is much better now than it was when he took over the bankrupt group homes in the '90s.
So there you have it, the Wilmot response. That's probably enough for one blog post. Coming up shortly: Nickles' thoughts.
Here's a copy of the letter Nickles sent to Wilmot today, rejecting his appeal.