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Cheh: 'Hiring Issues Must Be Dealt With'

Dorothy Rowley | 4/7/2011, 1:08 a.m.
Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh / Courtesy photo  

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh said that while the outcome of hearings she's convened on the high salaries, nepotism and cronyism that have plagued Mayor Vincent Gray's administration, bottom line is that they are issues that must be dealt with. No matter how boring or minuscule they might appear to observers -- including Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry --- who says the meetings are ridiculous.

Cheh, 60, initially called for a March 28 hearing to determine if any wrong-doing had occurred with the Gray administration's hiring practices. But the daylong testimonies produced little substantive evidence, she told the Washington Informer.

This week's hearing on April 7 was slated to include testimony from Gray's former chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall, his campaign manager Lorraine Green, and Sulaimon Brown -- the disgruntled former Health Department employee who touched off a firestorm of concerns after he went to the press in the wake of his abrupt firing in February.

Since then, Brown's allegations that he bowed out of last fall's mayoral race to throw support to Gray in exchange for the job he lost two weeks later, has cast a black eye on the Gray administration. The mayor has denied the allegations and retained go-to-attorney Robert Bennett.

Cheh said that last week's hearing revealed Brown "as sort of a pest - one who was struck by his own importance in the campaign."
Otherwise, she said Barry's perspective is one to be kept in mind.

"We have 30,000 employees [in local government] and the mayor has only about 100 who head agencies," Cheh said.

"The mayor hires and fires at will and it's not unusual for him to fill posts with people he's worked with and has confidence in."
But Cheh said there are limits in terms of salary, and that some people in Gray's administration were hired with pay checks that were above the cap.

However, "that was explained by saying that all along they were going to come to the Council and offer a resolution to allow that," Cheh said. She added that a case that plainly reeked of nepotism was that of Hall's son, who was quickly terminated.

"Because Gerri Hall was chief of staff for the mayor, she sat at the pinnacle and any job she gets for one of her family members would arguably be within the nepotism limit," Cheh said.

"But the nepotism law calls for a remedy-that you fire that person -and he's gone."

Cheh also noted a problem with people being properly vetted. She said the law allows for minimal qualifications. "But we didn't find anyone who fell below that threshold," Cheh said.

She added that "cronyism means you're hiring someone unrelated to you, whether they can do the job [or not] or you're only hiring them because they are a pal."

She said former Mayor Adrian Fenty used to send over his "running buddies" for various posts. But they weren't automatically considered because they lacked job qualifications, Cheh said.

"Even though you can hire and fire at will in executive service, there are questions about who set their salaries," Cheh said. "And with respect to Brown, the question would have been who sent him over there and why."