- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2011

Rochelle Webb has had a week to “get over the shock” of the abrupt end of her city job on April 1 — a parable of sorts on how an outsider was swept into the gears of local influence and the roulette known as the excepted service, a system of political hires who serve at the will of the executive.

After watching it all unfold in government reports, testimony and a string of unflattering Google hits, she wants to “fill in the blanks.”

“Now is the time for me to say what exactly is happening,” Ms. Webb, a Texan who came to the District via a high-level post in Arizona, told The Washington Times on Monday in a cafe in Northwest.

Her trail to the District began in December, when she gathered her Arizona staff to let them know Santa had given her an early Christmas gift.

“That’s exactly what I said,” she recalled.

Ms. Webb, knowing a new administration would block her path to a Cabinet-level position in the Grand Canyon State, had been appointed to lead the District's Department of Employment Services (DOES) after successful talks with a recruiter and Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray.

She had plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The job fit her skills, included a salary that was $15,000 above what she had requested, paid her relocation fees and allowed her to bring her own team to effect the mayor’s goals, she said.

But after an auspicious start — partnerships, constructive meetings and seeming progress — her holiday blessing unraveled less than 90 days into the Gray era amid reports that a string of perks had come Ms. Webb’s way, including a personal driver, a $4,000-plus stay at the W Hotel and handpicked associates from Arizona and Texas to work alongside her.

Two turning points

The fact that her son, Brandon Webb, had been hired by the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services only added fuel to the fire, and at least one council member said he had reservations about her confirmation as director.

All that, Ms. Webb said, is a smoke screen for two things. She said her early dismissal was based on fear of what she would say in testimony before the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment and her open concern for how the city funded its Project Empowerment program, an initiative that helps D.C. residents advance from welfare to the workplace.

Sitting in a cafe booth next to her son, who resigned under political pressure after reports of Cabinet members’ children obtaining city jobs, Ms. Webb said a pair of key, and quite public, turning points forestalled her confirmation as head of DOES.

The first came in the form of Sulaimon Brown, a minor mayoral candidate who says he was paid cash and offered a city job to stay in the race and bash then-incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. He was fired from a $110,000-a-year job at the Department of Healthcare Finance after reports of his checkered past, leading him to make the claims against the mayor’s campaign team.

The incident, and resulting investigations by the U.S. attorney’s office, a House oversight committee and the D.C. Council changed the tone across city government — or, as Ms. Webb put it, “from the offensive to defensive.”

The second was more personal, unfolding over the course of five days. It began with testimony from former interim personnel director Judy Banks before the D.C. Council on March 28, describing Mr. Webb’s hiring as a request from acting Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.

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