D.C. Council hearing of Gray hirings begins

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A hearing into the personnel practices of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray started this morning with council member Mary M. Cheh’s announcement that a second hearing will be tentatively scheduled for April 7.

That hearing will include a list of some of the most anticipated witnesses: Lorraine Green, Gerri Mason Hall, Howard Brooks, Rochelle Webb and, most notably, Sulaimon Brown.

Today’s hearing is scheduled to include testimony from D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby, Gray campaign director Reuben Charles, Gray-supporter-turned-city-job-recipient Talib Karim, Department of Healthcare Finance Director Wayne Turnage, Department of Health Director Mohammad Ahkter, and Department of Human Resources Director Judy Banks.

Talib Karim, a Gray appointee who resigned from Healthcare Finance when questions surfaced about his domestic life, said he was instructed by Hall, the mayor’s chief of staff, to find a place for Mr. Brown in the agency that matched his qualifications.

“I would assume he was interviewed,” he said, although he did not know the full extent of the process as it related to Brown.

Outside the hearing, Council member David Catania said he was frustrated with indirect answers he has received from witnesses so far. He said putting the “appetizer” witnesses before the key people slated for April 7 could create an unfair impression before the mayor’s key people get the chance to clear the air.

Answers, he said, are all he wants.

“I’m not getting them now, and that’s the concern I’m having,” Mr. Catania said.

Mr. Karim said he was “surprised as anyone” to hear of Mr. Brown’s allegations.

“The media reports would have us believe it was there investigatory reporting that led to Mr. Brown’s termination … that’s absolutely false,” he said.

Rather, Mr. Brown’s firing was motivated by poor performance and conduct unbecoming of a mayoral employee and allegations he harassed a woman in the agency, Mr. Karim testified.

He said he was qualified for his own position, and that his own background has been exaggerated in tabloid-like reports.

He said Hall, Gray’s former chief of staff, interviewed him and offered him the job in late December.

Reuben Charles, a venture capitalist who worked on Mr. Gray’s campaign and transition team, said he never promised anyone a job. Instead, he told him to wait until the mayor took office, “which was his dictate,” or apply through the normal process on a website designated for that purpose.

He said the transition team raised private funds for Mr. Gray’s inaugural gala, looked at the costs of transition and operations and what he could “loosely describe” as human resource functions.

He knew the HR team — Judy Banks, Constance Newman and Lorraine Green — but did not have close oversight of them, he told the committee. Charles testified they had general conversations about the volume of people looking for employment, but not particular people.

He said he met Mr. Brown day after primary, but had no conversations about him getting a job.

“He was very clear he wanted to work for the administration, ” Mr. Charles said, noting Mr. Brown thought he was smart enough and talented enough. “He was just very adamant about receiving employment.”

According to Mr. Charles, Mr. Brown thought he was a valued contributor to the Gray campaign and “most influential.”

“I thought that was inaccurate at best, and told him that,” Mr. Charles said.

Mr. Charles told Mr. Catania that he did not want to disparage Brown, but his self-inflated value was “out of proportion” with his role in the campaign.

Mr. Charles said he met Peyton Brooks during the campaign. He did not know he was heading to deputy mayor’s office or how he applied for the job, but not surprised he was hired.

He said he was unfamiliar with how any of the children of government employees applied for and obtained their jobs, except for Leslie Green. He said she was active during the campaign, but appeared to have applied online.

Mr. Willoughby testified Mr. Gray’s recently fired chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, called him up Jan. 14 and ask him to meet with Mr. Brown “as a courtesy,” although the purpose wasn’t explicitly clear.

“In my mind, it was never an interview,” Mr. Willoughby said. “There was no application, and there was no opening.”

Mr. Willoughby met with Mr. Brown Jan. 18 for about 15 minutes. Mr. Brown asked about an opening in the auditing unit, but Mr. Willoughby discovered the posted job had been filled back in June.

“He was very appreciative of me taking the time to meet with him, and that ended the meeting,” Mr. Willoughby said.

Responding to tough questions from Mr. Catania, Mr. Willoughby said former mayors Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty never asked him to meet with anyone, nor did members of their staff.

Mr. Willoughby said he has received resume referrals from the executive and legislative branches before, but he always has potential candidates apply through the normal selection process.

Mr. Catania suggested their was a sense of urgency from the mayor’s office, noting that within two weeks, Brown was on payroll of Healthcare Finance, “which doesn’t suggest much of a vetting process.”

In his turn, Council member Marion Barry said he doesn’t want to see hard-working government employees “tarnished for life,” noting there are differences in the level of vetting between departments.

“You can’t compared how you do it … with how people are hired in other parts of the excepted service,” Mr. Barry said.

Sulaimon Brown said he showed up Monday after listening to a Fox 5 TV news report about the hearing.

“I’m here to say I’m not running from anyone,” Mr. Brown said.

He said the FBI and U.S. Attorney has the professionalism to investigate his claims, but does not trust the council and District government to conduct an impartial inquiry.

“Everything I have said has been supported by evidence,” Mr. Brown said. “This has been a smear campaign.”

From the outset, Mrs. Cheh referred to Mr. Brown’s claims of being paid to stay in the race to badmouth incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty “the most dramatic allegations” so far. Mr. Brown received a $110,000-a-year job before he was fired over issues surrounding his past.

Mr. Catania said he appreciates the intent of the hearings, but wishes the key witnesses showed up first.

“We will have to wait a few weeks longer to have these answers,” Mr. Catania said. “I cannot believe that all these individuals … were unavailable today, especially when one is in the audience.”

Mr. Catania referred to Mr. Brown, who sat in the audience in a suit and red tie.

“I don’t see the actions of the last two months as innocently as some,” Mr. Catania said, noting there appeared to be a “political caste system” in the District.

“If you know someone, you get a job,” Mr. Catania said.

Mr. Barry said it bothers him to hear people say the D.C. government is up for purchase.

“It’s a damn lie,” Mr. Barry said. “It’s not for sale, it’s not for sale, it’s not for sale.”

“Mr. Catania, as a lawyer knows you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

He also took issue with Mr. Catania highlighting jobs given to the children of city employees.

“These children have a future,” Mr. Barry said. “I resent you Mr. Catania, from implying something’s going on with these children.”

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