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Gray hires more senior staffers than Fenty did, and is paying them significantly more

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By Nikita Stewart
Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray has hired more senior staffers than his predecessor and is paying his top managers tens of thousands more a year amid city employee furloughs and looming budget cuts.

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Only a handful of executive office employees are making less than their counterparts in the administration of former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) - and others are being paid more than city salary caps allow.

Gray's chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, received a 25 percent salary increase to $200,000 a year, putting her over a $193,125 cap for her job category; Linda Wharton-Boyd, his communications director, is getting $160,000 - $40,000 more than her predecessor. Budget director Eric Goulet, who has the added title of deputy chief of staff, has a salary of $152,240 - about $27,000 more than his predecessor. In addition, several other employees now earn five figures more than the people who held the positions before them.

In Hall's case, the Gray administration said it would submit legislation to increase the caps, according to Judy Banks, interim director of the Department of Human Resources.

"We've always had exceptions," she said. "This is not new."

Banks, a friend of Gray confidante Lorraine Green, is scheduled to return to her job as human resources director at the Washington Convention Center Authority on March 4. At the convention center, she makes $127,000. Banks, who is on a leave of absence from the convention center, is earning $180,000 annually in the interim.

Her salary exceeds a $179,086 cap on her type of position. "I like to deal in round numbers," Banks said.

When asked about the pay increases, Banks said they were based on the employees' work histories and that city government agencies would have to adjust their budgets to free up funds for the additional expense. She added that she did not look at other comparable cities' salaries but noted that some jurisdictions offer senior managers a car and driver, housing allowances and other benefits the District cannot provide.

"You're looking at positions and money," she told a reporter. "I'm looking at positions and experience."

Gray (D), who approved Banks's salary recommendations, said his decision to boost pay was necessary. "The decision-making is certainly involving me in, one, who we hire and two, how much they make," he said."I think the titles are the same, but the jobs are very different."

Wharton-Boyd, a public relations veteran, has taken on broader responsibilities, including advising the mayor.

Gray also said Hall, whom he lured from her executive post at the food services company Sodexo, earns less since joining his administration. "I think she's eminently qualified," he said. "She took a huge pay cut. . . . She works 14-, 16-hour days. The important thing is we want to attract quality people to these jobs."

Hall has been more visible than Fenty's chiefs of staff - first Tene Dolphin and most recently Carrie Kohns. She attends news conferences, leads cabinet meetings and is quickly becoming known around D.C. politics for being as powerful as city administrator Allen Y. Lew.

Hall is also a protege of Green, who hired her to work in District government in the 1990s when she was personnel director under Mayor Sharon Pratt. Green's daughter and Hall's son now have jobs in the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development and in the Department of Parks and Recreation, respectively, as initially reported by WAMU.

In the Department of Health Care Finance, new hires include chief of staff Talib Karim and special assistant Sulaimon Brown. Both men ended up being players in Gray's election against Fenty. Karim, who is being paid $133,000, made news when he announced his support for Gray because brother Omar Karim, a friend of Fenty's, was embroiled in a controversy over parks and recreation construction contracts. Brown, who is being paid $110,000, was a minor mayoral candidate who would bash Fenty and praise Gray on the campaign trail.

As council chairman during the Fenty administration, Gray often criticized Fenty for appointing friends, fraternity brothers and fellow athletes to boards and commissions. But Gray defended the hiring of Green's daughter and Hall's son. "They're not people who are my running buddies," he said. "They are highly qualified in what they do."

Gray also said that some employees at all levels are earning less than their predecessors in similar posts under Fenty. He said, for instance, that Jason Cross, Gray's executive assistant, makes $80,000 a year while Fenty assistant Veronica Washington earned $107,000.

In addition to higher salaries, Gray has restored the deputy-mayor government model, which relies on clusters of agencies reporting to a deputy mayor who then reports to the city administrator. Under Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), the government had four deputy mayors overseeing operations; planning and economic development; children, youth, families and elders; and public safety and justice.

Fenty streamlined his executive suite, eliminating the office of the chief of staff. He also cut the number of deputy mayors to two, one for education and another to head planning and economic development. Gray has added to the two Fenty had: one deputy mayor for health and human services and another for public safety and justice.

Lew, who served as director of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization under Fenty and reported to the deputy mayor for education, said he prefers Gray's reorganization. If there were no deputy mayors, "it would be like having 75 agency heads come to the city administrator every day," he said.

Fenty's management style was to eliminate bureaucracy, and cutting deputy mayor slots took a layer of intermediaries out of the decision-making process. Fenty staffers said he preferred having direct access to agency directors.

"There are definitely advantages and disadvantages, depends on who you talk to," said Clark E. Ray, who worked in the Fenty and Williams administrations. Having deputy mayors "gives agency heads a direct line to someone if they can't get to the mayor."

Max Brown, former deputy chief of staff under Williams, said the reorganization also reflects the disparate styles of Fenty and Gray. "Given the complexities of government, I think Gray's got it right, especially when you're trying to get your arms around the budget," he said. Think of a $7 billion corporation. Pay them well and make them accountable."



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