- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray fired his chief of staff on Wednesday — the first major ouster of his young administration, increasingly under fire for missteps in hiring political appointees.

Calling Gerri Mason Hall an “outstanding professional” he has known for 20 years, the mayor said a lot of “distractions” were impacting her work for the city.

“I have requested and accepted the resignation of my chief of staff, Gerri Hall,” Mr. Gray said at a hastily arranged afternoon news conference.

“Gerri Hall and I have discussed this issue extensively over the last several days, and we agree that the distractions associated with these personnel matters are overshadowing the work of the government,” Mr. Gray said. “We have agreed that this decision is in the best interest of the city. We have a strong team that has been assembled to work on the issues of the city, and we want to move forward.”

The firing comes less than three months into an administration reeling under allegations that cash payoffs were made during Mr. Gray’s mayoral campaign and that the administration doled out high-paying city jobs to political friends who either were underqualified or had undisclosed criminal pasts.

Ms. Hall, who for days was the subject of rumors that she would resign, on Wednesday had attended and was scheduled to testify at a hearing of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. She was expected to answer questions on behalf of the Gray administration as to why some recent appointees were hired at salaries above those paid to their predecessors and above the rates authorized by city law.

Mr. Gray announced Wednesday that he would scale back those salaries. Ms. Hall, who was earning $200,000 a year, was among those who was expected to receive a pay cut.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, chairman of the government operations committee and a supporter of Mr. Gray’s mayoral campaign, was critical of the high payments for public-service workers.

“If people understand that public service is a calling and not a case for self-enrichment, those are the people that we want. Those are the people that we need,” Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said during the hearing.

After a recess, when Ms. Hall did not return to the chamber, Mrs. Cheh adjourned the hearing about 2 p.m. and went upstairs to the mayor’s office. When she returned, she said an announcement from the Gray administration was imminent.

Mr. Gray delivered word of Ms. Hall’s departure during a news conference shortly before 5 p.m. — hours after he had completed his regularly scheduled weekly press briefing. Mr. Gray named Paul Quander, currently serving as his deputy mayor for public safety and justice, as chief of staff on an interim basis. He said he is thoroughly vetting current hires and expects to have names to replace Ms. Hall early next week.

Ms. Hall, a former executive at Sodexo USA, previously worked with Gray confidante Lorraine Green and played a key role in developing Mr. Gray’s first budget, which the council is expecting on April 1.

It’s a task the chief of staff ordinarily doesn’t do, Mr. Gray has said.

While the salaries have drawn widespread criticism, the most damaging controversy of the Gray administration centers on allegations that minor mayoral contender Sulaimon Brown received cash from the Gray campaign to bash Mayor Adrian Fenty and later was rewarded a $110,000-a-year job at the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance.

Mr. Brown’s firing prompted more questions on why he was hired in the first place, leading to accusations by Mr. Brown that Gray campaign consultant Howard L. Brooks and Ms. Green, Mr. Gray’s campaign manager, had paid him to stay in the race and had promised him a job.

The children of both Mr. Brooks and Ms. Green, in addition to those of Ms. Hall, and Mr. Gray’s communications director, Linda Wharton-Boyd, also received city jobs, sparking allegations of nepotism.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the District said last week that officials are working with the FBI to evaluate Mr. Brown’s allegations and Mr. Gray has hired Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett to represent him.

Gray campaign consultant Cherita Whiting, also a Fenty basher, was appointed as a special assistant in the Department of Parks and Recreation despite admitting she had failed to disclose a felony conviction for wire fraud on her job application.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gray took ownership of the cascading controversies, saying, “Ultimately, the mayor’s responsible.”

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