There is a notable outtake from my interview last week with Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi: Speaking ahead of his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Gandhi made his most expansive and pointed comments to date on the lottery-contract-related lawsuit that has dogged him for more than two years now.
In the course of discussing the lottery contract generally, Gandhi blasted Eric W. Payne, the former contracting director who is suing him for wrongful termination. Gandhi called Payne a “very poor manager” who was fired for being “nasty to people” and “rude to outsiders” — not, as Payne claims, as retaliation for his refusal to bow to political pressure to tamper with the lottery procurement.
“Nobody has ever asked me, fire that guy — nobody, no mayor, no council member. It was my decision,” Gandhi said. “Look, you can be walking on water here, but you cannot be nasty to people. You cannot be rude to outsiders. People get this notion in their head that they are procurement people, they can do what they like. I cannot have it that way.”
He added, “We should have basically gotten rid of him earlier than we did, because the problems were noticed.”
Payne’s lawsuit has been no small pain for Gandhi, providing a steady drip of new details on the lottery procurement and other matters inside the CFO’s office — including Gandhi’s practice of using his personal e-mail account for work purposes. The suit has also vexed other city officials, as Payne has successfully forced Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) to participate in depositions themselves.
Gandhi said he felt free to speak about the case after participating in a sworn deposition last November, but noted, “I’m not saying anything new that I did not say under oath.”
Payne, asked to respond to Gandhi’s comments, provided three job evaluations done by supervisors between 2006 and 2008 showing he “Exceeds Expectations” or “Significantly Exceeds Expectations.” He also provided a October 2007 statement from his supervisor at the time, Gandhi’s operations deputy, Paul Lundquist, saying that “specific evidence of ‘abuse’ and ‘mistreatment’ has been lacking” and that Payne had “worked tirelessly to bring needed change to that office.”
Payne also provided excerpts from Gandhi’s November deposition and other depositions in which Gandhi disclaims direct responsibility for Payne’s firing — in seeming contradiction of his recent claim that it was “my decision.”
While admitting he thought Payne should be fired, Gandhi said in the deposition it was “not my decision” to actually fire him, but Lundquist’s.
“[W]hether he should be fired or not has to be the decision of his supervisor,” he explained. “[M]y style is not to micromanage an agency.” Gandhi added he did not learn about Payne’s January 2009 firing until “just about the time when he was actually fired,” when Lundquist, he said, told him that Payne was “beyond counseling.”
Notably, Lundquist had pointed the finger back at Gandhi in his deposition two weeks earlier, saying that he and Gandhi had had conversations about Payne’s dismissal “over a period of time.” In late 2007 or early 2008, Lundquist said, Gandhi “did not want Eric Payne to be supervising that unit any longer.”
Gandhi’s spokesman, David Umansky, said Tuesday there is no discrepancy between the deposition and the recent comments.
In last Wednesday’s interview, Gandhi repeated other claims made in his deposition about Payne’s “abusive behavior” and “inoperative working relationship” with co-workers and denied any connection to his handling of the lottery contract.
“I am insulted by the comment that I was told by people in the political arena to fire him,” Gandhi said. “First of all, I would not compromise my integrity as a CFO and take a word from a political [figure] to hire or fire people. I don’t do that. And second, to repeat myself, this is a team, and you have to get along with the team and to be able to work together. You can’t be a rogue person behaving in a rude manner. You just don’t do that.”
The matter remains in litigation.