D.C. Council recess gives members time to reflect

Unfinished probes will not go away

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The D.C. Council’s two-month recess is expected to be a quiet departure inside city hall from the recently ended legislative session in which allegations of wrongdoing by several members created a tense and difficult situation. But some of the biggest revelations could become before Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the 13-member council returns in mid-September.

“Things need to settle down and quiet down, and we need to take stock of where we are,” said council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat.

Sulaimon Brown - a minor 2010 mayoral candidate who claims the Gray campaign paid him and promised him a job to attack incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on the campaign trail - essentially has disappeared since testifying before the council in June. However, the issue is expected to return as Ms. Cheh completes her look into the mayor’s hiring practices.

Her efforts as chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment produced 26 hours of testimony from 19 witnesses, delving into Mr. Brown’s claims as well as allegations of nepotism among Mr. Gray’s appointees and inappropriate salaries.

The council recently carved out a special committee to allow Ms. Cheh and others who sat in on the personnel hearings to finish their work, despite a shake-up on the council that is moving Ms. Cheh off that committee.

The recess will give members time to gather additional information from Mr. Brown - including court-requested bank records and text messages - so they can complete the report.

The report “is just in draft form, and I don’t want to discuss it yet until it’s finished,” Ms. Cheh said Friday.

Still, the report is expected to address the practice of “excepted service,” or political appointees, who serve at the will of the mayor.

Despite declining to discuss the report, Ms. Cheh said D.C. human resources Director Shawn Stokes is working toward more fact-checking on resumes and making sure employees receive proper salaries. The moves were key, Ms. Cheh said, to her support for Ms. Stokes’ nomination.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown’s shake-up of committee assignments included a controversial move that shifted Ms. Cheh to the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, formerly led by Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat. The move brings Ms. Cheh’s environmental duties over to her new assignment.

Ms. Cheh, who says she welcomes the changes, had planned to focus on two issues - an overhaul of personnel management in city government and how to dovetail two ethics-reform bills.

Instead, those issues will fall to Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, who takes over the government operations committee.

“Recent scrutiny has underscored the need to make real changes in the way we govern,” she said. “We should be doing more than just paying these important issues lip service.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney for the District is calling a grand jury to review Sulaimon Brown’s claims against the mayor; look into campaign finance irregularities from Mr. Brown’s re-election committee in 2008; and investigate council member Harry Thomas Jr. amid allegations that he diverted more than $300,000 in public funds for youth baseball for his personal use. All three officials have denied intentional wrongdoing.

Mr. Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, was hit with a lawsuit by the D.C. attorney general last month, and his attorneys are expected to file an answer in Superior Court by today.

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