WASHINGTON - August 30 - Government Accountability Project (GAP) client Michele Tingling-Clemmons, former director of a Washington, D.C. city program aimed at feeding needy children and adults with low-incomes, settled her case against the city late last month and received compensation last week. Tingling-Clemmons is the former State Director for the Special Nutrition and Commodity Distribution Programs (SNAC), designed to primarily supply hungry children in schools, child care and other community programs with nutritious meals and nutritional guidance that they cannot receive elsewhere.
She was terminated in 2002 for exposing her supervisor’s attempts to divert SNAC funds to other programs.
GAP filed suit on behalf of Tingling-Clemmons under the D.C. Whistleblower Reinforcement Act of 1998, a statute which protects D.C. government employees and contractors. This law provides a jury trial to employees who suffer retaliation for identifying fraud, waste, mismanagement or violations of law in city government operations. The District agreed to settle the case shortly before trial was scheduled to begin in June.
Tingling-Clemmons was awarded back-pay, compensatory damages and attorney fees. As part of the settlement, she assumed the position of Nutrition Programs Bureau Chief earlier this month, where she will manage an array of services affecting the health and nutritional status of high-risk pregnant women, infants, young children, seniors, and adults and families with low incomes.
SNAC promotes nutritional development by ensuring that all children in schools and other educational programs, child care centers and homes, and in DC have access to healthy meals and snacks. Through the Department of Agriculture (USDA), SNAC provides cash reimbursement and commodity foods to participating schools, organizations, and child and adult care facilities.
Tingling-Clemmons took over a mismanaged SNAC program in July 2000, completely revamping it in less than two years to wide acclaim. In 2001, the summer feeding program had the highest rate of participation of eligible children in the nation. Tingling-Clemmons won praise from all parties involved, including program sponsors and participants, community groups, her superiors, USDA officials, and members of the D.C. City Council, the program’s oversight body.
In January 2002, Tingling-Clemmons testified before the D.C. City Council that her supervisors were undermining her ability to feed children by illegally diverting resources from SNAC, in violation of federal regulations. In her testimony, she also expressed a concern that she might be the victim of retaliation for her criticisms. Three months later, after suffering from various other reprisals at work, she was fired.
“It is alarming and unacceptable that a governmental agency aimed at feeding hungry children and adults can violate the public trust like this and suffer from this kind of malfeasance,” said Tingling-Clemmons. “This is a fight for governmental reform and accountability that allows city residents to live healthy lives. The real victims here are the parents and children who went hungry because unscrupulous officials’ priorities were to use federal resources toward their own selfish agendas.”
Tingling-Clemmons is a nationally recognized nutrition and anti-hunger advocate with nearly two decades of experience in the field. In response to growing criticism over the D.C. public school’s meal programs, Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham recruited Tingling-Clemmons to take over as SNAC Director in July 2000.