Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) continues to expand his influence over the city agency that oversees spending on health-care programs, ousting a former aide to council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) from the office.
From 2008 through last July, Genee Unger served as chief operating officer for the Department of Health Care Finance, which oversees spending on Medicaid and other government-run health-care programs. Unger then went to work as the agency’s “director of internal improvements.”
But Unger, an at-will city employee, recently received word from the mayor’s office that her “services were no longer needed,” said Wayne Turnage, whom Gray appointed in January to lead the agency that controls one-fourth of the city budget.
“She served at the pleasure of the mayor as we all do,” said Turnage, who declined further comment, calling it a personnel matter.
Before joining the agency, Unger served as a deputy committee clerk under Catania, chairman of the Health Committee.
In recent years, some city leaders have accused Catania of trying to micromanage the health-care agency from his perch as a committee chairman.
Catania has long denied that he helped Unger get a job at the agency, but her role within the agency has become fodder for Catania’s critics, including council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).
Although former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) gave Catania wide latitude to influence decisions within the agency, there have been mounting signs that Gray wants to dilute some of his power over the direction of health policy.
In January, Gray hired former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown as a $110,000-a-year special assistant within the agency. In interviews with The Washington Post, Brown alleged that he was hired to help keep Catania’s influence within the agency in check.
But Turnage fired Brown a few weeks later after several agency employees complained about his behavior, including giving a Valentine’s Day gift to a young female staffer. Questions were also raised about Brown’s résumé and arrest record.
When told last week of Unger’s dismissal, Catania said the Gray administration is “doing their best to cleanse themselves of all of their talent.”
“Before Genee Unger came along, Medicaid every year was a material weakness in our (budget), but she went there a couple years ago to right our system and … it appears she was fired for that,” Catania said. “It is interesting who this mayor has selected to bring into this administration. It seems to be based a lot on personal petty vendettas and not competence.”