D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D) introduced hiring practice legislation to limit, vet and screen executive appointees. The bill, introduced Tuesday as the Council’s fall session began, was a result of a five-month probe—led by Cheh—which concluded that Mayor Vincent Gray’s top aides engaged in cronyism and improperly gave money to another candidate during the mayoral campaign.
A report by Cheh’s Special Committee on Investigation of Executive Personnel Practices led to the proposed legislation, which would “update the District’s personnel system and make recommendations law,” Andrew Newman, Cheh’s legislative assistant, told the AFRO Newspaper.
Currently, there are 220 Excepted Service positions, appointed slots that are excluded from the competitive hiring civil service procedures. One-hundred-sixty of those positions are reserved for the mayor.
“That number is significantly too high,” Cheh told the AFRO. The bill would reduce that number to 100 for the mayor and other personnel authorities and would prevent the mayor from moving appointees to the Career Service before and after an election.
Standards would be raised for Excepted Service positions including full background and credit checks, limits on severance pay, relocation and travel expenses and clear job descriptions to ensure that candidates’ qualifications match the jobs for which they are hired, as well as a public posting of candidate names.
“Currently, the people who are named to Excepted Service have to be made public—no one has been following that in that past…the council would have to know the list of appointees,” Cheh said.
The Ward 3 representative also proposed a separate nepotism law for District government employees, which is covered by federal rules.
“This will allow enforcement at the local level without any ambiguity.”
Cheh said strict local nepotism laws would prevent government employees from unethical hiring practices.
“These people shouldn’t be hired just because they’re friends and just because they were supporters,” she said. “You’re not disqualified because you are a friend of the mayor, but you’re not qualified just because you are a friend of the mayor.”
The report released Aug. 23 concluded there was strong evidence that Howard Brooks, a member of Gray’s campaign, provided $1,160 to former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown and promised him a job in the Gray administration. Brown testified before the council he was given money in exchange for public attacks against then-incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty (D). The mayor’s former chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall—who admitted to setting her salary above legal caps—also was in violation of federal nepotism laws because she was directly involved in getting her son a $55,000-a-year job at the Department of Parks and Recreation, according to the report.
Although the report said Gray knew that salaries of his employees exceeded the legal salary cap, the report found he had no direct involvement with the arrangement or the deal made with and money paid to Brown.
“…there is little evidence in the record to suggest that he was aware of nepotism and cronyism, or that standard personnel practices were being violated,” the report suggested.
Gray, however, issued a statement accepting full responsibility for his staff’s actions:
“While no one is more disappointed than I am that former members of my administration engaged in untoward behavior, I continue to take full responsibility for mistakes made by myself and members of my staff in the beginning weeks of my administration,” Gray said.
Hall,—who was eventually fired—campaign chairwoman Lorraine Green and former interim human resources director Judy Banks “caused deep harm to the District government,” according to the report, and “…despite their decades of experience in managing large personnel offices, these three individuals permitted the abuses and errors to occur.”
Six recommendations were made in the report, including the request for the U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate Banks and Brown.
A D.C. Superior Court hearing held Sept. 15 ordered Sulaimon Brown to provide records to city attorneys. Brown—who has been difficult to work, according to Cheh—must show purported documents of money orders and receipts he said Gray’s administration secretly gave him and his campaign.
“If these documents reveal any new, relevant information, then the committee may issue a further report later this year,” Newman told the AFRO. Brown was hired for—then fired from—a $110,000-salaried job as a special assistant in the Department of Health Care Finance. The report determined that Brown’s salary was “beyond what could legitimately be deemed reasonable.”
Other findings: The hire of Howard Brook’s son, Peyton Brooks, did not violate nepotism laws, but was found “improper.” The hire of former director of the Department of Employment Services Rochelle Webb’s son, Brandon Webb, violated standard personnel practices. The hire of Howard Brooks’ neighbor Leroy Ellis was an act of cronyism. Fourteen mayoral appointees received salaries that exceeded the legal salary caps. The report found Banks committed perjury by telling council members she had no direct involvement with the hiring of Brandon Webb.