WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Less than 12 hours before the D.C. Council was set to vote on whether to confirm a permanent director for the Office of Unified Communications, Mayor Muriel Bowser withdrew her top pick for the position.

Bowser had been backing Acting Director Karima Holmes for months. Holmes, who served as OUC Director from 2016 until 2021, was brought back on to lead the agency in early 2022. Her appointment was dependent on council approval.

In a statement, Bowser said, in part, “We are incredibly grateful for Director Karima Holmes’ leadership at the Office of Unified Communications. Director Holmes is a nationally recognized 911 expert and I was proud to have her return to OUC in March… It is with regret that we are withdrawing her nomination and will begin a nationwide search for a new director. As we conduct that search, Director Holmes will continue to lead OUC in an interim capacity for the next 60 days.” 

The decision comes as public pressure mounted for the council to deny Holmes’ nomination.

The agency has been under scrutiny for months after an audit revealed issues with management, plus inaccurate and delayed responses, some of which potentially led to deaths.

“It’s a relief,” said Aujah Griffin, who’s been advocating for changes for months.

Aujah’s father, David Griffin, died in March after possible mistakes at the call center led to a delay in police response.

Griffin was having a mental health crisis in Southwest, D.C. It took police more than a half hour to get to the scene, following multiple requests for police assistance by EMT. When police arrived, they were at the wrong address. Griffin went into the Washington Channel and drowned.

“(Holmes) kept saying there was transparency when it comes to OUC and I have not seen that,” said Aujah. “She lacks the ability to hold herself accountable, so how can we believe you are holding the staff that taking the calls accountable?”

Aujah believes this is a good first step but wants to see more change at the Office of Unified Communications, including sufficient staffing and a timeline for improvements.

“It’s such a relief to know that our concerns and the advocacy did something,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that this is going to fix everything. We know that there’s nothing that’s 100% but it starts at leadership.”

Holmes spoke exclusively to DC News Now just hours before her nomination was pulled.

She defended her work and credentials to reporter Leonard Fleming.

“I applied to the position, not just for me — I missed it. I love 911. I applied for my employees,” she said. “I applied to come back and do what I’ve done before which is stabilize that agency, get it in the right direction of where it needs to be.”

She said she was surprised to receive so much public backlash.

“I think that I took for granted the power of social media, the power of these undercurrents of relationships, and the power of disinformation and how it does a disservice to residents,” she said. “The amount of backlash that I have gotten still does not make sense to me.”

We are incredibly grateful for Director Karima Holmes’ leadership at the Office of Unified Communications. Director Holmes is a nationally recognized 911 expert and I was proud to have her return to OUC in March. During her service to the District, she filled critical agency staffing positions and oversaw significant technology upgrades that improved residents’ customer experience. Director Holmes was the right leader at the right time for OUC. She improved morale in a high-stress agency that had previously suffered from chronic under-staffing. Under Director Holmes’ leadership, OUC consistently offered compassion and expertise when handling more than one million 911 calls each year – one of the highest call rates in the nation. It is with regret that we are withdrawing her nomination and will begin a nationwide search for a new director. As we conduct that search, Director Holmes will continue to lead OUC in an interim capacity for the next 60 days.

Statement from Mayor Bowser