- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The administration of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray engaged in cronyism, paid salaries above legal caps and illegally hired the children of senior officials, according to the findings of a D.C. Council investigation released Tuesday.

While the draft report by the council’s Special Committee on Investigation of Executive Personnel Practices found “clear evidence” of such practices by the Gray team, the mayor was largely spared.

The report states most of the blame for personnel errors “falls squarely” on the staffers who were responsible for hiring political appointees, then placing them in agencies: Judy Banks, the interim director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources; Gerri Mason Hall, who served as Mr. Gray’s chief of staff until she was fired in March; and Lorraine Green, a longtime confidante of the mayor who led the campaign and transition.

Still, Mr. Gray, a Democrat, blamed himself.

“At the end of the day, it’s my administration and I take responsibility,” he said.

The report also found “strong evidence” that Howard Brooks, a campaign consultant during Mr. Gray’s run for mayor last year, provided funds and a job to minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown to stay in the race to attack incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Mr. Brown leveled the dramatic accusations after he was hired, then fired earlier this year from a $110,000-a-year job in the Department of Healthcare Finance.

The report, released by the office of council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, brings some closure to personnel issues that dominated the first months of the administration.

However, the committee still must vote on the findings after returning from summer break, and a federal investigation on related matters is ongoing.

As former chairman of the committee that oversees government operations, Ms. Cheh called 19 witnesses who provided more than 25 hours of testimony from March through June.

Mr. Gray reiterated that he called for the initial city investigation but said Ms. Cheh did not interview him, nor has he spoken to federal investigators or a grand jury.

The report said two of five children of top-ranking officials, who were hired to the city government earlier this year, acquired their positions through illegal influence.

For instance, the report stated, Ms. Banks told her staff to process the paperwork for Nicholas Hall, the son of Gerri Mason Hall, a mere 20 minutes after she received his resume from Ms. Hall.

All but one of the children resigned under pressure from the political fallout surrounding the investigation into hiring practices.

The report also pointed out Cherita Whiting, a Gray campaign worker later hired as a special assistant with the Department of Parks and Recreation, did not receive a background check, though she noted on her application a felony conviction within the past 10 years. The conviction did not bar her from employment, but the check should have been done, according to the committee.

In addition, 14 mayoral appointees received salaries that were above the legally mandated cap, the report stated.

The report found evidence that Mr. Brooks provided at least $1,160 to Mr. Brown during the race. The findings were based on bank records and money orders in Mr. Brown’s possession.

“The number and amounts of these money orders match the description of one set of money orders that Mr. Brown claims to have received from Mr. Brooks,” the report stated.

Mr. Brooks invoked his Fifth Amendment right to avoid testifying before the committee. Ms. Green, when asked about potential payments from Mr. Brooks to Mr. Brown, also invoked the privilege.

Mr. Gray has said he promised Mr. Brown an interview, but did not pay him or promise him an actual position.

The committee said it did not have any evidence that Mr. Gray knew of payments.

The committee said Mr. Brown’s credibility was “undercut” by a tendency to exaggerate, seek the limelight, his refusal to cooperate with the committee and his motive of revenge for his firing.

An unrelated revelation took aim at a $68,750 bonus given to City Administrator Allen Lew by Mr. Fenty.

It was classified as a bonus for his performance as the director of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization for fiscal 2009, “which had ended 15 months earlier.”

Ms. Banks authorized the chief financial officer to pay the bonus on Feb. 1, after Mr. Gray had taken office.

“That Ms. Banks, acting on behalf of the Gray administration, authorized payment of this bonus makes her and the Gray administration equally responsible for this bonus payment,” the report stated.