Is Mayor Gray’s investigation independent enough?

On Sunday, District of Columbia mayor Vincent Gray acknowledged "missteps" in the vetting process for administration jobs. This follows accusations by former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown that he was offered a city job in exchange for making attacks on their then-opponent, former mayor Adrian Fenty, during the campaign.

Gray then did what countless leaders before him have done when they find themselves or their organizations in the midst of a scandal or controversy: He launched an investigation. The Post is reporting that Gray will ask city attorney general Irvin B. Nathan, who was appointed by Gray and is waiting to be confirmed, to lead the investigation.

I'm all for people in power taking the lead on sorting out any crisis of confidence in their organizations. And Gray is right that if indeed some of his aides made payments to Brown, or offered him a job in exchange for attacking a lead candidate, "they ought to be subject to whatever justice is required."

But the council members who say the investigation should not be led by a Gray appointee--chairman Kwame Brown is even referring the matter to the inspector general for "independent review"--are right. The only way for the public to have confidence the issue has been truly resolved is to hand it over to someone with no strings attached.

This would seem obvious if it didn't happen so often. CEOs hire--and thus, pay--outside law firms to investigate charges of poor conduct by employees, and then quietly remove the offender while staying hush hush on the findings. Politicians launch investigations into offenses by their aides that may result in the employee being fired, but do little to examine the culture of the organization that let such behavior thrive.

It is not clear whether or not the charges Sulaimon Brown has leveled against the mayor's administration are true--top advisers to Gray have said they would be shocked if anything like that happened, and Gray himself has said he "would never condone anything like that, period, point blank." The Post reported that it could not independently verify any of the alleged payments from Lorraine Green, Gray's campaign chairwoman, to Brown.

Still, Gray would have done better to call for an investigation by a party completely unrelated to his campaign. It is only someone in that position who can act with complete credibility and ask the bigger questions--if the matter turns out to be true--about what led it to happen in the first place.

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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