By Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 1:05 PM
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray fired his chief of staff Wednesday, moments before she was scheduled to testify before a D.C. Council committee on why some members of the administration were being paid salaries that exceeded the city's legal limits.
Gray (D) said he requested Gerri Mason Hall's resignation because she was becoming a "distraction," and personnel matters were "overshadowing the work of the government."
"I have decided this is the best direction for the city," Gray said. "I requested, and she accepted, her resignation."
Hall's firing comes after The Washington Post published an article last month showing that many on Gray's staff were making well into five figures more than their predecessors in the administration of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), and that some salaries were breaking caps of $179,096 and $193,125, depending on classifications.
Another Post article reported on allegations by unsuccessful mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown that he was paid by the Gray campaign to attack Fenty. Brown said he was later rewarded with a high-paying city job.
Hall, a former executive at Sodexo, was a top administrator and was involved in some hiring decisions. Her salary was $200,000, which was $40,000 more than her predecessor's in the Fenty administration. Her son was given a job in the Department of Parks and Recreation, from which he later resigned.
In a statement Wednesday night, Hall said that "remaining in this position would only cause continued distractions for the Mayor and his administration. . . . I left the private sector to take this job - and my service to the city was a calling and never a source of self-enrichment."
The controversy has put a spotlight on Gray's hiring decisions as well as his longtime friendship with Lorraine Green, who chaired the mayor's campaign and transition.
Hall and Green have worked closely in the public and private sectors for the past two decades, and Hall's selection in December as chief of staff was widely viewed as a sign of Green's influence with the mayor.
Gray and Green have denied wrongdoing in the case of Brown's allegations. The U.S. attorney's office is assessing Brown's contention that he was paid by the Gray campaign.
The allegations have dominated the early weeks of the new mayor's administration. On Wednesday, Gray met with more than a dozen executives from the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Federal City Council.
"Obviously, we're very concerned about recent events, and we wanted to give the mayor an opportunity to give his perspective on where do we go from here," said Chamber chief executive Barbara Lang, who supported Gray's campaign and served as co-chair of a transition committee.
At his hastily called evening news conference, Gray was asked whether his meeting with the business leaders had any connection to his firing of Hall. He said it "absolutely" did not factor into his decision.
Instead, Gray said, he decided that it was best for Hall "as a human being" to leave the government to help the administration get back on track.
"There are some things that occurred that we wish would not have happened," said Gray, adding that he has "no plans" for additional staff changes.
Gray announced that Paul A. Quander Jr., deputy mayor for public safety and justice, will serve as interim chief of staff while he searches for a permanent replacement.
Gray this week started rolling back the salaries of most of the city officials whose salaries exceed the cap.
Warren Graves, chief of staff to City Administrator Allen Y. Lew, will be paid $193,125, down from $195,000.
Judy Banks, head of the Department of Human Services, will see her $180,000 salary cut to $179,096. Health Director Mohammad Akhter; Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan; State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley; Wayne M. Turnage, director of the Department of Health Care Finance; Victor Hoskins, deputy mayor for Planning and Economic Development; and De'Shawn A. Wright, deputy mayor for education, will also have their pay reduced to $179,096.
But Gray said he will make some exceptions to the cap, including for Lew's $295,000 salary and for Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who makes $275,000.
After the previous salaries were made public, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) announced plans to scrutinize Gray's hiring practices and pay increases.
On Wednesday morning, Hall and Lew were scheduled to testify before the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment to explain how Gray's hiring decisions were made.
Cheh, known as a Gray ally, kicked off an oversight hearing Wednesday by chiding the administration, stating that the D.C. government is not for "self-enrichment."
For most of the morning, Hall sat in the hearing room waiting for her chance to testify while Lew answered Cheh's questions.
But Cheh adjourned the hearing shortly before 2 p.m. and walked up to the mayor's office. She returned about 30 minutes later and informed reporters that she had been told that Hall would not be testifying, and to expect an "important announcement" soon.
"I was expecting a very vigorous session with Ms. Hall," Cheh said. "I was going to be very vigorous in both scope and types of questions I would ask."
Cheh plans to reconvene the hearing Thursday. Gray said Quander will be there to answer questions.
Staff writer Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.