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Posted at 4:52 PM ET, 03/10/2011

D.C. Council tensions erupt over Gray hiring allegations

By Mike DeBonis

What should have been an uneventful, low-profile D.C. Council committee meeting this afternoon erupted into a tense debate over Mayor Vincent C. Gray's hiring practices and how the council should respond to them.

Member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairwoman of the Government Operations and Environment panel, presented colleagues with a draft report looking into allegations that Gray's administration has hired employees at unusually high salaries, and that family members of top officials have gotten city jobs. The report found that while Gray has paid some agency heads and political appointees more than city law allows, Gray can ask the council for exceptions to the caps.

The report found that average salaries for employees in Gray's executive office and in City Administrator Allen Y. Lew's office "have increased by more than 10 percent from September 2010 to March 2011." But the report said it is "difficult to conclude the actual cost" for those offices because Fenty's office often "detailed" executive employees to other agencies' budgets -- raising the possibility that there is merely "more transparency" in identifying employees in those two offices.

Regarding the nepotism allegations, the report noted that "the circumstance of intra-familial hiring has occurred in previous administrations" -- citing a Washington Post report that the wife of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's city administrator was hired in the Office of the Attorney General. It also noted that two of the questioned hires -- the son of Gray Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall and the son of Communications Director Linda Wharton Boyd -- have both resigned, and furthermore that there have been no "specific allegations that either official had exercised any influence during the hiring process" or that local and federal nepotism laws would apply at all.

The draft report recommended that Gray either reduce the illegal salaries or ask the council for exceptions; inform employees of nepotism rules; examine "internal pre-employment screening practices;" and, with the council, look at the current salary limits for agency heads. The report contains no call for further investigation.

Member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) questioned Cheh on whether further answers were required; she said that she planned to take up the matter in the course of already scheduled oversight hearings set for the coming weeks. At that point, David A. Catania (I-At Large) pressed Cheh for a separate hearing on the hiring allegations, and questioned why she was not delving more deeply.

"This is a whitewash," he said, adding that the public impression of the Gray administration is that "you have to know someone in mayor's office to get a job. .. It's the friends and family club, the full employment act."

Cheh, in turn, took offense to Catania's "whitewash" characterization as "overly dramatic."

Said Catania in reply, "You asked for my opinion." He later criticized Cheh for making "no expressions of concern in the report, just explanations and excuses ."

Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) -- who, like Cheh, supported Gray's mayoral campaign -- offered support for her handling of the report. But Wells agreed with Catania -- both had been publicly neutral in the mayoral race -- that the council had to "act more forcefully" to investigate the hiring. By the meeting's end, Cheh said she was "inclined" to hold a separate hearing.

After hearing, Catania said he does not think Gray was personally involved in the hiring decisions but that he had "misplaced trust in a lot of people."

"Every day another shoe drops," he said, questioning why, if Hall's son and Boyd's son were qualified for their jobs, they would resign so suddenly after the hires were publicized.

Catania was asked if Hall should resign: "I think that would be a conversation that would be in my head if I were her," he said. Cheh, asked the same question, said, "I think I'm going to be quiet on that for the moment."

Cheh, afterward, said she was "flabbergasted" by Catania's objections to her "earnest" report.

"I don't know what he wants to be, but he's trying to do it at my expense," Cheh said. She questioned whether he was motivated by her pursuit of a potential council education committee, which Catania also sought..

"Maybe this is one manifestation of his pettiness and bitterness," she said.

By Mike DeBonis  | March 10, 2011; 4:52 PM ET
Categories:  David Catania, Vincent Gray  
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Next: Howard Brooks hires former Prince George's state's attorney


"Maybe this is one manifestation of his pettiness and bitterness," she said.

I have a feeling she'll regret saying this. Name calling is not the response we need to a crisis of confidence.

Posted by: streff | March 10, 2011 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I emailed each councilmember and asked simply, "Why is Cherita Whiting still employed?" To date, only Mary Cheh has responded. If any of you and this includes the Mayor, are under the very wrong impression this wind will soon blow over, please be advised it is only garnering more strength and when it comes again, Cyclone Cherita will return with the vengeance of a scorned woman. Hell hath no fury...Oh, what tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. I strongly suggest to anyone providing her cover to count up the cost of protecting her. It's higher than the price of gas. I'm reminded of the Last Supper with Jesus and the twelve (12) councilmembers, I mean, disciples. Before one of them betrayed him, each of them asked, "Lord, is I?" That question seems most appropriate right now. Look among yourselves and ask, "Is it I?" Will I have a starring role in the soon-to-be-released saga, "A Scandal Gray Can't Handle!?" By the way, David Catania is only partly right. To land a job on the Gray-V train, you have to be a member of the 4-F Club - Family, Friends, Freeloaders and Felons.

Posted by: itsjustamess | March 10, 2011 8:02 PM | Report abuse

Since there are openings, how can I get one of the $110,000 jobs?

Posted by: wheresthemoney | March 10, 2011 8:08 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Catania...the report was quite timid. The excuses for the nepotism is ridiculous and to think Hall and Wharton-Boyd had nothing to do with the hiring of their kids is quite foolish. These two along with Judy Banks and Lorraine Green made these decisions. The transition was a joke with these four ladies locked in a closed room making all the "top secret" plans. It is shamful and Gray is to blame.

Posted by: DCJUSTICE | March 10, 2011 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Vince Gray had better pull his socks up really quickly ... lest he look more pitiful than Little Lord Fentleroy.

Posted by: polecatx1 | March 11, 2011 5:25 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Chen do not trash your rep by trying to defend Gray and new band of crooks.

You put a lot on the line supporting him but he is a disappointment to many like the Hardy parents and children.

Catania is just being true to his nature.

Posted by: harrypotter2 | March 11, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Catania is absolutely right. The report is a timid whitewash.

Taxpayers should demand an independent federal investigation.

Posted by: TheHillman | March 11, 2011 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Catania IS petty and bitter. Mary Cheh knows as everyone knows in their hearts that political patronage is nothing new and that it exactly why the Council created excepted service positions. Someone should look at how the Council hires and fires people. All the staff at the Council are excepted service and a whole bunch of them were let go and replaced with people who were paid higher salaries to do the same thing when Kwame Brown became chair.

As for the recent resignations, I would resign too, if I didn't want my whole life and character under attack!

As for Cherita, it really is up to her boss to decide whether to fire her. Why does the public care? Her crime was a long time ago and if she hasn't reoffended she should be given the opportunity to work. Instead of being in jail or on welfare she is working and paying taxes like the rest of us.

Also, I don't know what all the whining is about! Gray has kept a lot of Fenty's agency directors in place, and because of that, a whole lot of Fenty's excepted service people. By contrast, Fenty did a slash and burn attack on long time employees.

For the record, I am a Gray supporter and I did not get a job. There were a whole lot of us that didn't (partly because those pesky Fenty appointees are still in place).

Posted by: tacard1 | March 11, 2011 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Boy, Mary Cheh is certainly a lightweight disappointment. Ward 3 - put a fork in her!

Posted by: SoCali | March 11, 2011 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Cheh should just stick to what she knows best...spending countless hours and city dollars writing "how to treat a squirrel" and "plastic bag tax" legistlation.

The woman is a ridiculous joke who is no more qualifed to be a councilmember than she is to fly to the moon.

Then again, our council is filled with the like.

She is simply trying to "whitewash" the heavy support she gave to both Gray and Brown during campaign season, which has immediately come back to bite her in the rear.

Posted by: Nosh1 | March 11, 2011 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Please, Ward 3, your cup runneth over with lawyers and policy wonks. Can you not find one of them to take Mary Cheh's seat away from her? She does not deserve it.

Posted by: trace1 | March 11, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Does it strike anyone else as odd that not one of the African American city councilmembers have spoken up or out about these breaking scandals? Their white counterparts are salivating so profusely, I hear a sump pump had to be installed in CC chambers. Gray wanted to run with the big dogs but he still squats like a puppy. If he knows what I know, he'll throw Lorraine Greene, Howard Brooks, Kwame Brown, and anyone else under a Bolt bus quicker than Bill Howland can deliver a fully loaded Navigator. And, I'm only going to say this once more, toss Cherita Whiting off the taxpayers' dole like she stole something. Wait! She did steal something...approximately $200,000. If not, we all will soon find out what "socializing" with her really means. Get Chuck Brown to pen a "go-go" beat for her while she "run joes" out of DC government. Just name the tune, "Those Who Know, Know!" Otherwise, the media is going to be "busting loose" with more scandal "cause it don't mean a thing, if it ain't got the "freak-a-deek" wop, do wop, do wop!!!!

Posted by: itsjustamess | March 11, 2011 7:05 PM | Report abuse

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