- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2011

A former D.C. government worker said Monday he was directed by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s chief of staff to find a job for controversial mayoral contender Sulaimon Brown.

Talib Karim said he was directed by Gerri Mason Hall, the mayor’s recently fired chief of staff, to find a place for Mr. Brown in the agency that matched his qualifications.

“I would assume he was interviewed,” said Mr. Karim, himself a prominent Gray campaign supporter who landed a job with the city’s Department of Healthcare Finance and then resigned when questions surfaced about his domestic life. He said he did not know the full extent of the process as it related to Mr. Brown.

The comments came in the course of a D.C. Council hearing Monday on Mr. Gray’s personnel practices, which have dogged the early days of his administration and resulted in investigations by local and federal officials and agencies.

Council member Mary M. Cheh, chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment that held the hearing, said Mr. Brown’s claims of being paid and receiving a $110,000-a-year D.C. government job to stay in the mayor’s race and badmouth incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty were “the most dramatic allegations” so far.

“Not a good fit”

D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby testified that Ms. Hall, called him on 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 said he met with Mr. Brown on 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. He said former mayors Anthony A. Williams and Adrian M. Fenty never asked him to meet with anyone, nor did members of their staff.

Wayne Turnage, director of the Department of Healthcare Finance, said Mr. Brown was already working for the agency when Mr. Gray hired him from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Mr. Turnage said he decided to fire Mr. Brown because he was “not a good fit for the agency.”

“It was a very difficult conversation, as you can imagine,” Mr. Turnage said.

He said Mr. Brown acted like Mr. Turnage didn’t have the authority to fire him, and said he should check with the mayor’s office.

“He was given to making those kind of statements,” Mr. Turnage said. “I just didn’t give it any thought or consideration.”

Before Mr. Turnage could return from some meetings and go over separation papers, he said Mr. Brown had to be escorted out of the building.

Sharp exchanges

The all-day hearing was marked by a series of contentious comments from council members David A. Catania and Marion Barry, who defended the mayor’s right to make political appointments even when it was disclosed that some of those hired were the children of high-level staffers.

Judy Banks, interim director of the D.C. Office of Human Resources, testified that it was fair to say Ms. Hall hired her child and established his salary at the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“I want that to linger for a second, so we all understand what’s going on,” said Mr. Catania, at-large Democrat.

When pressed, Ms. Banks agreed that hiring one’s own child and setting his or her salary amounts to nepotism.

Ms. Banks said she also processed the hiring of Gray campaign supporter Cherita Whiting for a position in the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) at the direction of Ms. Hall.

“It was known to human resources this particular applicant disclosed conviction of a felony,” Mrs. Cheh noted.

The chief of staff said they still wanted to make the appointment, Ms. Banks said.

Council member Muriel Bowser said fellow DPR employees making an average of $40,000 have their concerns about the allegations.

“They have questions about how someone who could be making $65,000, a lot more than they do, for less responsibility,” said Ms. Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat.

Mr. Catania, who pointed to what he said looked like a “caste system” in getting D.C. government jobs, also said it was odd that so many children of senior officials were selected before actual department heads.

He noted that Mr. Turnage served as a chief of staff for the Virginia governor, and is in a unique position to understand the situation in the District.

“Would it have occurred of you to put your child on the payroll?” Mr. Catania asked.

“No,” Mr. Turnage said.

“Do you think that’s consistent with good government?” Mr. Catania continued.

“No, I do not,” Mr. Turnage replied.

Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, disagreed.

“It’s not illegal,” he said. “We shouldn’t punish the young people.”

Other witnesses

Mrs. Cheh has tentatively scheduled another hearing for April 7, with a list of some of the most anticipated witnesses: Gray campaign manager Lorraine Green, Ms. Hall and, most notably, Mr. Brown.

Outside the hearing, Mr. Catania said he was frustrated with indirect answers he received from witnesses. 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.

“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.”

He referred to Mr. Brown, who attended the hearing, saying he heard about it on a television newscast.

“I’m here to say I’m not running from anyone,” said Mr. Brown, who abruptly left the chamber during Mr. Barry’s comments.

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

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