Gray 'cronyism' hearing in progress

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5:18 p.m.: Sulaimon Brown managed to hijack the D.C. political spotlight once again without opening his mouth — at least not in the right place.

Brown, who got a $110,000-a-year D.C. government, was fired, then created shockwaves last month by claiming he received the job and cash payment to stay in the mayor’s race and badmouth incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, went on a rant in the lobby of the John A. Wilson Building before leaving instead of testifying before the Committee on Government Operations and Environment.

Brown was the most anticipated witness at a second hearing Thursday on Mr. Gray’s personnel practices, which have been dogged by allegations of nepotism and resulted in investigations by local and federal officials and agencies.

“I would not be a part of the witch hunt in there,” Brown said, moments before he was asked to report for testimony.

Brown made unsubstantiated claims that the chair of the committee, Mary M. Cheh, and member David Catania are engaged in cronyism and not suitable to sit on the committee looking into Mr. Gray’s practices.

“They’re lawyers, they should know better.” he said, holding court over a circle of reporters. “That’s illegal what they’re doing.”

His departure prompted Ms. Cheh to sign a subpoena in the hallway during a break in testimony at the marathon hearing.

Ms. Cheh said Mr. Brown is making up accusations to avoid testifying.

Asked if she and Mr. Brown had mutual friends that might seek jobs in city government, she said, “I hope not.”
Thursday’s summit drew a slew of media, city employees and other interested parties to a first-floor room hearing room.

Testimony cast a sympathetic light on the hiring of cabinet members’ children, many of whom were forced to resign amid public scrutiny.

Outside the hearing, Ms. Cheh noted they offered candid testimony and appeared to be highly educated and qualified.

“I’m at least glad they had a chance to tell their story,” Ms. Cheh said.

But testimony from higher-level officials, notably Rochelle Webb, intrigued the committee as it delved into the executive’s hiring practices.

Ms. Webb, the mayor’s first nominee for Department of Employment Services, accused the administration of taking away her job without notice because she might provide damaging testimony before the committee.

Ms. Webb testified mounting scrutiny about her used of city dollars and management practices were used as a pretext to get rid of her.

At-large Council Member David Catania said witness intimidation is a crime.

“That’s a very serious allegation,” Catania said.

Ward 6 Council Member Tommy Wells said there may be more to the story, considering her month-long stay at the W Hotel on the city’s dime and use of a personal driver during her move from Arizona, and the hiring of out-of-state staff and her own son to a city job.

“I think you had a part in that, don’t you think?”

“No I don’t,” Ms. Webb said.

Ms. Cheh said more hearings will be held to accommodate witnesses’ schedules.

Howard Brooks, who Sulaimon Brown labeled as the bagman who provided payments during the campaign, is being interviewed by the U.S. Attorney and will not appear before Cheh’s committee until they are done with him.

Lorraine Green will appear on Monday along with Judy Banks, a former human resources employee who had testified at the first hearing and is being recalled.

3:30 p.m.: Milton Boyd, son of mayor’s spokeswoman Linda Wharton-Boyd, said he didn’t tell his mother about his position at Serve DC until after he got the job.

Ms. Cheh read Mr. Boyd’s statement into the record, because he was tied up at George Washington University Hospital for some medical procedures and could not testify. He may appear at a later date.

He said he found the job on his own and applied, going through several interviews before receiving an offer letter for the $65,000-a-year job.

His mother corroborated his statement in her own testimony.

“I had no role at all in his hiring,” Ms. Wharton-Boyd said, noting the same applied to his resignation.

She said her son now works for a restaurant in Chinatown, but she doesn’t know its name.

Mr. Catania wanted to know how Ms. Wharton-Boyd felt about her son working in an agency under the executive office of the mayor, where she works. She said she did not realize that Serve DC had been embedded in the executive office.

She also said she spoke to Ms. Banks and the mayor’s chief of staff after news of certain hires hit the papers, during which Ms. Hall noted her own son worked for the Department of Parks and Recreation. Mr. Hall also decided to resign.

2:20 p.m.: Leslie Green, the daughter of Mr. Gray’s confidante, Lorraine Green, said Crystal Palmer, who leads the the Office of Motion Picture and TV Development, recruited her to her current $85,000 per year job.

Although Ms. Green worked on the Gray campaign, she said her mother did not intercede on her behalf.

The job gave her a $19,000 raise from her prior job with a public relations firm, where she worked on an account for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I didn’t negotiate anything, I didn’t ask for that salary,” Ms. Green said.

Mr. Catania noted Ms. Palmer had to hire Ms. Green through the deputy mayor’s office because there is no budget authority for the position at the Office of Motion Picture.

Ms. Green said she was not aware of that backstory or its significance, if any.

“I just assumed the position was funded,” said Ms. Palmer, the next person to testify.

Ms. Palmer said she received Ms. Green’s resume years ago from friends in the agency. She was impressed, but was not able to hire her before she was let go by the last administration. Mr. Gray appointed her to head the office for a second time, and Ms. Palmer pursued Ms. Green once more.

She said Ms. Green’s salary was based on what other communications employees make, and the statute of Ms. Green’s mother did not come into play.

“I feel as though the fact Leslie Green’s mother was Lorraine Green did not disqualify her from the position, nor did it qualify her for the position,” Ms. Palmer said.

Mr. Thomas noted Ms. Green’s educational and professional accomplishments, and that her mother was not even a government employee.

1:25 p.m.: D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe testified Ms. Banks called him up and asked him if he could find a job for Mr. Webb.

His testimony is in direct contradiction to that of Ms. Banks, who said Mr. Ellerbe asked her if he could hire Mr. Webb, according to Mr. Catania.

Mr. Webb’s start date was the first time he met the 29-year-old, and his salary of $65,000 had already been set, according to Chief Ellerbe. The chief acknowledged it was unusual for him to hire someone without meeting him first.

“I could have said no, but I said yes,” Chief Ellerbe said, noting Ms. Banks is a human resources professional.

At some point, Mr. Webb told people that his mother, Rochelle Webb, had been appointed to direct DOES, according to testimony.

“I thought that that was something he should stop saying,” Chief Ellerbe said, noting public perception and his concern for Mr. Webb.

He said he eventually got a call from Ms. Banks, saying, “Mr. Webb will have to resign.”

Chief Ellerbe said he asked Mr. Webb to resign, but offered to help him find another job in the private sector.

“I didn’t think he was responsible for the circumstances he was caught up in,” Chief Ellerbe said, noting he had been through his own “media blitz” in the past.

“Once things start rolling downhill, it can be pretty devastating. I was hoping to avoid that for him,” he said.

Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said it is odd to hire someone without meeting them, and then say it’s in their best interest to leave without doing anything wrong.

In his turns at the microphone, Ward 8 Democrat Marion Barry defended the mayor’s practices and denounced any notion that the children of Cabinet members hired by Mr. Gray were unqualified for their positions. He said the hearings amounted to a “witch hunt.”

Council Member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, also defended Mr. Webb’s qualifications and the way he found his job.

12:20 p.m.: Mr. Catania noted that Mr. Webb sent his resume to his mother shortly after 6 p.m. on Jan. 10. Rochelle Webb sent the resume the next morning at 8:15 a.m. to Judy Banks with the heading, “as we discussed.”

Three minutes later, Ms. Banks wrote back to say Brandon Webb had the job.

“We don’t operate that fast,” Mr. Catania said.

Mr. Webb said he resigned with the understanding he would get a job later. “They did not want my name drug through the mud, sir,” Webb said, referring to FEMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and press liaison Lon Walls in “a brainstorming session” over the phone.

He said the promise of a job dissipated, as his resignation date got closer.

“I resigned and I wrote the resignation letter,” Mr. Webb said. “Would I do it again? No I would not.”

Mr. Webb, who is now unemployed, said he felt misled during the ordeal.
“No, they didn’t protect me, ‘cause I’m here now,” Mr. Webb said.

As a point of clarification, Mr. Webb said he is an autonomous adult with a family and did not live with his mother. Council members also commended Mr. Webb’s candor during the hearing.

Also…

Ms. Cheh said more hearings will be held to accommodate witnesses’ schedules.

Howard Brooks, who Sulaimon Brown labeled as the bagman who provided payments during the mayoral campaign, is being interviewed by the U.S. Attorney and will not appear before Ms. Cheh’s committee until they are done with him.

Lorraine Green will appear on Monday along with Judy Banks, a former human resources employee who had testified at the first hearing and is being recalled.

11:50 a.m.: Arizona resident Brandon Webb said he applied for at least three D.C. jobs back in August and September, but never heard anything.

Months later, when he passed his resume to human resources through his mother Rochelle Webb, the recently appointed head of the Department of Employment Services, he got an offer letter the next day for a position as special assistant to the chief of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Webb said his resume passed from his mother to human resources employee Judy Banks, but another HR employee contacted him about the position.

“You would not have been hired if it were not for your mother,” at-large Council Member David Catania said. “That is my view.”

Webb’s testimony came at the second hearing on Mr. Gray’s personnel practices, which have been dogged by allegations of nepotism and resulted in investigations by local and federal officials and agencies.

Catania asked Webb if he found it odd that he received such swift service from human resources on his second try.
“The morality of it sir is not a question, because it is an excepted service position.”

Catania said the hearing is not meant to denigrate Webb personally or his qualifications, but to explore possible nepotism in hiring practices by Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

Webb said he, like other children of cabinet members who landed city jobs, decided to resign.

“I was told by strategy that I should resign,” Webb said, because “the mayor couldn’t take another political hit.

“I had no fear, but others had a fear … I do regret resigning, because I am qualified.”

Webb said he will stay in the District and moved his family here from Arizona.

“I am learning every day about this city,” Webb said, garnering laughter from the audience.

The star witness, Sulaimon Brown, claims he was paid cash and received a $110,000-a-year D.C. government job to stay in the mayor’s race and badmouth incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. He was then fired, leading him to make the unverified claims.

Ward 3 Democrat Mary M. Cheh, chair of the Committee on Government Operations and Environment, has described Brown’s statements as “the most dramatic allegations” so far.

The hearing has drawn a flurry of media, city employees and other interested parties to Room 120 of the John A. Wilson Building, creating impromptu debate among strangers before testimony even began.

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