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Posted at 08:39 AM ET, 04/29/2011

Key witnesses missing at council hearing on hiring

Judy Banks, the former interim director of the District’s Department of Human Resources, will be the sole witness Friday at a third D.C. Council hearing looking into the hiring practices of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration.

Banks, who oversaw human resources for the first few months of Gray’s administration, appeared last month before a council committee but later testimony from other employees and former employees contradicted her previous statements.

The Committee on Government Operations and the Environment has been investigating allegations of nepotism and cronyism as well as criticism over high salaries in the administration. Several people have been fired or have resigned in the wake of the controversies, including Gerri Mason Hall, Gray’s former chief of staff, and four of five children of top aides in Gray’s campaign on administration.

The committee was hoping to question other witnesses, including fired employee and former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown. But according to a memo penned by Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), the committee was having difficulty with Brown and others. Both Brown and Cherita Whiting, who resigned from her job as a special assistant, had been avoiding service of subpoenas, according to the memo.

Both Whiting and A.Scott Bolden, her attorney, disputed the claim. “My understanding is that they attempted to serve her on two occasions. She was not at home on two occasions,” Bolden said. “That’s not avoiding. They failed to serve her ...We don’t need a subpoena. We are in active discussions about dates.”

Brown said in a statement that Cheh has no proof “for making such a reckless and loose statement.”

“Her allegation has no merit, like her investigation,” he said.

Brown has made his own allegations, claiming that he was promised a job in Gray’s administration in exchange for bashing then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on the campaign trail during the Democratic primary last year. He also said he received payments from Lorraine Green, chairman of Gray’s campaign and transition, and Howard Brooks, a consultant on Gray’s campaign, to continue the attacks on Fenty.

Gray, Green and Brooks have denied Brown’s allegations, and The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify any payments.

Brown landed a $110,000-a-year job as a special assistant in the Department of Health Care Finance in the Gray administration. But he was dismissed. Though District officials have not commented on his termination, citing personnel laws, Talib Karim, the department’s former chief of staff, said Brown was fired after allegations of harassment. Brown has denied harassing other employees.

Brown said he is cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a congressional committee, which launched separate probes of his allegations.

The council committee was also hoping to call Brooks and his son, Peyton Brooks, who resigned from his special assistant job in the administration. According to Cheh’s memo, father and son have informed the committee that they will assert Fifth Amendment privileges so they will not testify at this time.

Meanwhile, after some scheduling conflicts with her attorney, Green is now set to testify May 13, according to the memo. And subpoenas were issued again to compel Brown and Whiting to testify the same day.

Initially, Hall’s son was scheduled to testify Friday, but Banks is now the only witness.

Vandy Jamison, Banks’ attorney, also had some scheduling conflicts so the hearing will not begin until 3:30 p.m., council staff said.

Jamison is also representing Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who is on the government operations committee investigating the allegations, in a dispute over the repayment of federal school loans.

Thomas said he does not believe it would be a conflict of interest for him to participate in the council’s investigation. “I know we wouldn’t discuss her case,” he said of conversations between him and Jamison.

But Thomas said he would consult an attorney on his council staff. “If there’s a conflict, I will recuse myself,” he said.

By  |  08:39 AM ET, 04/29/2011

 
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