Having been rapped for a lethargic response, Arlington government leaders appear to be ramping up efforts to resolve a lingering dispute over missing payments to referees in the county’s youth-basketball leagues.
“We will get this done ASAP – by Feb. 1 at the latest,” said County Board member Matt de Ferranti, who in recent months has been involved in the effort to sort out the situation and get the referees paid.
Those who referee games in county-government leagues aren’t actually employees, or even contractors, of the county government. Instead, they have been paid by a county-government contractor called Mid-Atlantic Officials. But starting in early 2019, there began to be problems with referees getting payments they were due. Some are still owed payments, ranging from the hundreds of dollars into the thousands.
The issue already had been festering for six months when one of the referees – 16-year-old Taylor Lynch – went to a County Board meeting in September to seek redress.
Her frustration then was palpable.
“This was supposed to be my first paying job, yet I was never paid – [and] I am not the only one,” Lynch told board members. “I thought Arlington County was the kind of place that worked against wage theft.”
At that meeting, then-County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey responded, but his comments struck some as flat-footed. Dorsey urged those who hadn’t been paid to have empathy for the medical problems facing the contractor, and said the county government couldn’t step in to pay the referees and then seek reimbursement from the contractor because it would result in “Arlington taxpayers paying twice for the same service.”
That might have seemed a weak rationale to the likes of Lynch, who was owed $255 – a sizable chunk of money for a high-school student.
“I had no reason to believe that I wasn’t working for Arlington County,” she said. “Parks and Recreation held itself out as the employer, and I have the Parks and Rec e-mails to prove it.”
Dorsey later provided a more detailed response to the Sun Gazette, and seemed to acknowledge Lynch’s contention.
Those doing the referee work “believed, understandably, that they were working for [the] Arlington County government,” he said.
Dorsey’s response to the Sun Gazette’s inquiry also held out more sympathy to those who were seeking to get paid, saying county officials “deeply regret” the lack of payment.
“This is a highly unusual circumstance, and we are doing everything in our power, within the law, to resolve it,” said Dorsey, who on Jan. 1 was succeeded as board chairman by Libby Garvey.
De Ferranti, the board’s junior member, has emerged as one of the leaders of the effort to sort out the payment situation. Until recently, county officials had not had access to the hours worked and amounts due specific referees, he said, because all the records were kept by the contractor.
“We have taken steps to prevent this in the future, but I am, nevertheless, personally sorry for the delay,” he said.
De Ferranti is “working very hard to get a satisfactory resolution,” said Derick Malis, a veteran referee who is owed pay for work done last season.
What seems to most rankle some of the refeees owed funds is the perceived lack of effort expended by county staff to get the situation remedied once they had been made aware of it.
“I called in February and I am sure lots of people called,” Dixie Duncan, a longtime referee, said in an e-mail exchange with the Sun Gazette. (Duncan, a CPA, also wondered why the contractor wasn’t required by the county government to post a bond to assure payment.)
Dorsey said a conservator appointed to oversee the affairs of the ill contractor had been cooperative with the county officials who are attempting to sort out the matter, while de Ferranti told the Sun Gazette that if the matter hadn’t been cleared up entirely by the County Board’s next meeting (Jan. 25), it would be addressed at length by board members and staff then.