Banks Conflicts Testimony; Whiting and Brown Avoid Cheh Hearing

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In the third wave of D.C. Council hearings investigating hiring missteps made in Mayor Vincent Gray’s initial administration on April 29, Sulaimon Brown and Cherita Whiting were no-shows, again.

Brown was among several employees caught in a dragnet initiated by the local press, which questioned the hiring practices—including allegations of nepotism, cronyism, excessive salaries and the employment of persons with criminal histories—of the Gray administration. After he was fired from his $110,000-salary job at the Department of Healthcare Finance, Brown stirred up even more controversy when he lobbed pay-to-play claims against Gray, mentioning campaign personnel Howard Brooks and Lorraine Green, who said she will appear for the May 13 hearing.

Brown, along with Whiting, a former employee that had a criminal record, was scheduled to testify at the hearing, but Councilmember Mary Cheh said serving them subpoenas has been a difficult task.

“Capitol Process Servers, the company the Office of the Secretary has contracted to serve the subpoenas, has reported that Sulaimon Brown and Cherita Whiting appear to be intentionally avoiding being served,” Cheh said in an e-mail to the AFRO, though they have said they are available to receive the summons.

Cheh added that it would be in their best interests to comply to prevent further action. “I invite them again—come down and we’ll see that you receive your subpoena,” she said. “Let me be very clear: We will use every effort to serve the subpoenas and enforce them in court if necessary.”

Meanwhile, former personnel director Judy Banks returned to testify last Friday, defending earlier testimony that seemed to contradict other witnesses’. With more than 30 years of human resources experience, Banks, who initially testified at the March 28 hearing, helped the Gray administration facilitate its hires and bore the brunt of questions regarding the hiring of five children of employees, among other missteps.

But Banks maintained some hires were requested by other officials.

“Chief Ellerbie came to me to hire Brandon Webb,” she said at Friday’s hearing. “My testimony remains the same.”

Banks had claimed that Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, requested the hire of Brandon Webb, the son of Rochelle Webb, a former cabinet head. However, Ellerbie, Brandon Webb and Rochelle Webb testified on April 7 that Ellerbie did not know the younger Webb until his placement in the administration.

Councilmember David Catania challenged Banks’ claim and asked Cheh to issue a subpoena for all Banks’ e-mails during her short tenure. “I’m giving you the opportunity to clarify what is otherwise perjury,” he said. “We have the e-mail traffic that suggests otherwise.”

But, Councilmember Marion Barry defended her, saying, “Chief Ellerbe could be the one that’s wrong.”

Banks was supposed to be accompanied by Howard Brooks, Gray’s campaign consultant who Sulaimon Brown said gave him cash and promised a job in exchange for bashing former Mayor Adrian Fenty during the mayoral race. However, Brooks and his son, Peyton Brooks, have exercised the Fifth Amendment right to silence.

“It’s unclear what’s going to happen with that,” said Jay Carmona, spokesman for Councilmember Mary Cheh.

The next hearing is scheduled for May 13 at the Wilson Building.