The DC council’s probe into the allegations of cronyism and nepotism in hiring that have stained Mayor Vincent Gray’s administration and caused the firing or resignation of several staff members began with a hearing March 28. But while six witnesses were called to testify before the legislative body, Sulaimon Brown—who made headlines this month when he accused the mayor of participating in a pay-to-play scheme—was not one of them. Brown sat in the audience as soon as the hearing began, and when Councilman Marion Barry of Ward 8 began to speak, Brown stormed out of the room.
“They should call it an obstruction of justice hearing,” Brown said. “All of them are friends…They need to practice what they preach.”
Brown said he was given an invitation to speak to the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment, however, he did not testify. He said he attended the hearing to “listen and see what was going on,” but was upset that Barry spoke as if he was in support of Gray.
“Anyone who is under investigation should not be called,” Barry said in reference to other agencies’ involvement with the hiring probe. Barry called statements made to the public “loose,” “wild,” and “ridiculous,” with no specific mention of Brown.
Allegations of cronyism and nepotism within Gray’s administration made by Brown and uncovered by the Washington Post initiated investigations by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of D.C., U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and D.C.’s Office of Campaign Finance.
Brown alleges Gray’s staff paid him to attack then-Mayor Adrian Fenty during the 2010 mayoral race and promised him a job, from which he was recently fired.
Cheh, however, said she called the hearing to investigate more than Brown’s allegations. Questionable practices include overpaid staff members, hiring of sons and daughters, cronyism and insufficient vetting of new hires.
Witnesses pointed to Gerri Mason Hall, the mayor’s former chief of staff, for the direct hiring of Brown; Catania labeled those employed under nepotism, cronyism allegations as “Gerri Mason Hall Hires.”
Inspector General Charles Willoughby said Hall called him mid-January about an individual interested in a position in the Office of the Inspector General. When he told Hall there was no opening, Hall asked if he could still meet with Brown, Willoughby said. “She asked me as a matter of courtesy,” he said.
According to Willoughby, Brown indicated that an open position was on the Department of Human Resources’ website. Willoughby said the job appeared on the site as an open position, but the job had been filled June 2010. “I’m convinced he thought the job existed,” Willoughby said.
Talib Karim, former chief of staff of the Department of Healthcare Finance, testified that Hall instructed him to find a place in the department for Brown. But, added Karim, who recently resigned, Brown was later fired from his six-figure-salary position as a “special assistant” due to “poor performance” and “reports of harassment.”
Councilmember Catania grilled Judy Banks, the interim director of the Department of Human Resources, about salaries given to employees and favoritism charges.
Banks said the office drafted a new pay request that was supposed to be submitted to the council for approval, but could not explain why the draft did not make it to the council.
“It was never the mayor’s intent to preclude the council from exercising its authority, as it always had, to change pay,” she said.
When hiring Brown, Banks said she was told to process Brown’s paperwork. “We were told Mr. Brown was a special case,” by Gerri Hall, Banks said.
Other witnesses who appeared and testified were Wayne Turnage, director of the Department of Healthcare Finance, and Mohammad Ahkter, director of the Department of Health.
Banks added that Hall hired her own child at the Department of Parks and Recreation and established the salary.
A total of five young adult hires were children of employees who worked for Gray’s initial administration, according to Cheh.
A second hearing is tentatively scheduled for April 7, featuring the most controversial witnesses Gerri Hall, Sulaimon Brown and Gray campaign manager Lorraine Green.
To review the hearing, go to http://oct.dc.gov/services/on_demand_video/channel13/March2011/03_28_11_GOVOPS.asx