TODAY IS MAY 20, 2011 — DAY 134 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

Could Mayor Vincent Gray’s early hiring controversies be more opportunity than crisis? So ponders Harry Jaffe in his Examiner column. The scandals and subsequent sunshine, he writes, “can free Gray from parts of his past that could hamper his future. Gray trusted old friends such as Lorraine Green, Judy Banks and Gerri Mason Hall. They betrayed his trust, embarrassed him, exposed him to ridicule. To many, they represent the city’s Old Guard that used the government as a place to get a paycheck. Now that they have been exposed by the city council and the media, Gray can throw off their shackles and run the government on merit rather than connections. He can choose to be free — or not. His petulance [refusing to answer questions] at [Wednesday’s news] conference makes me wonder which path he will choose.” Meanwhile, Alan Suderman wonders at Loose Lips: “Is it possible that [Sulaimon Brown] was promised a job, but [Gray] didn’t know about it?” That is what Mary Cheh thinks might have happened, but Suderman has his doubts — based, in part, on the text messages Gray sent to Brown. Also: The Examiner and AP report that Nicholas Hall, hired son of Gerri Mason Hall, contradicted what his mom said under oath about how he got hired.

AFTER THE JUMP — UnitedHealth Medicaid contract in trouble — How to clean up the rivers — Gray steps in to save baseball phenom’s high school career — Spending freeze! — More on OCME accreditation — Ethics expert not a fan of Brown/Cheh bill

*** MAIN COURSE ***

MEDICAID ISSUES — One of the city’s managed-care contractors for Medicaid “has threatened to pull up stakes amid piling losses,” Ben Fischer reports in WBJ. “Although the memo does not identify the contractor, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan, known as Unison Health Plan of the Capital Area until this year, has lost $19.2 million in the last three years on its District operations, according to reports compiled by D.C. insurance regulators. If United were indeed to stop doing business in D.C., it would place the entire managed care program in doubt. Federal rules require the city to contract with at least two managed care companies to ensure consumer choice. Without a replacement, more beneficiaries would migrate to more costly Medicaid programs run directly by the District.” The Department of Health Care Finance, Fischer reports, is “looking into its options to find an emergency replacement.” This, as the UnitedHealthcare plan has decided to no longer pay bills at MedStar hospitals.

HOW TO KEEP SEWAGE OUT OF THE RIVER — The not-a-column today looks at whether D.C. Water will be able to modify its $2.6 billion project to build river-cleaning sewage storage tunnels by using green development instead: “Rather than spend billions on three tunnels, [General Manager George Hawkins would] like to build one tunnel and work on keeping water from going down the drain in the first place. That includes building ‘green’ roofs, which, instead of having hard shingles, are covered with dirt and vegetation that capture water, which then evaporates. There are green streets and alleys, too, which use plants and permeable materials that enable water to seep into the ground rather than run into storm drains. Incidentally, Hawkins added, building green roofs, alleys and streets means good jobs for local residents. ... And let’s not forget that more trees and plants make neighborhoods nicer places to live. ... Hawkins’s challenge is to sway the EPA, green groups and their lawyers, who aren’t all convinced that ‘low-impact development’ will get the river as clean as fast as tunnels will.”

VINCE GOES TO BAT — The Post’s Alan Goldenbach tells how baseball fanatic Vincent Gray stepped in to save the high-school hardball career of phenom D’Anthony Ellis: “Gray rarely intercedes into matters of the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association, but by all accounts Ellis is a rare talent — a senior first baseman who nearly was without a team after the squad at Anacostia, where he goes to high school, folded after its first game due to lack of eligible players. According to DCIAA rules, students cannot play for more than one school in the same sport season, which would have prevented Ellis from joining another school’s team, as often happens when a school doesn’t sponsor a particular sport. DCIAA coaches, though, didn’t want to see Ellis stay off the field. They petitioned Gray to step in. He asked Acting D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to grant an exception. ‘He shouldn’t be penalized because he didn’t do anything wrong,’ Gray said. ‘We should not be taking away opportunities from this young man.’ ”

SPENDING FREEZE — Gray ordered a freeze on non-personnel spending for most city agencies yesterday to offset an expected $70 million in current year spending pressures. (Adrian Fenty froze personnel spending hikes in October.) Freeman Klopott reports in the Examiner: “The freeze will cut down on agencies’ spending on new items like uniforms, office supplies and other purchases that are often made by departments that have extra cash in their budget at the of the year. ... But some agencies already appear to be stretched thin on supplies. In a January e-mail to subordinates and command staff obtained by The Examiner, a lieutenant in the police department’s 1st District wrote, ‘I called reproduction this morning to inquire about obtaining toner for the Sergeant’s printer. The gentleman stated that we will be getting no toner in the near future. To make matters worse, there has been none ordered since September 2010.’ ”

WHY OCME LOST ITS ACCREDITATION — Why did the Office of Chief Medical Examiner lose its accreditation? Tom Howell Jr. of the Washington Times talks to the National Association of Medical Examiners’ chairman of inspections and accreditations, who “said the District’s office came a long way under [Marie Pierre-Louis] but never addressed its final concerns about her board certification. The association has developed its checklist over time, [David Fowler] said, and when not all criteria are met, ‘things tend to go wrong.’ The association recognized the talent of Dr. Pierre-Louis but will not overlook its criteria and analyze the qualities of each medical examiner, Dr. Fowler said. ‘That gets into a very subjective area,’ he said.” Also, he notes that the New York medical examiner’s office isn’t accredited either. The U.S. attorney’s office tells Legal Times’ Zoe Tillman that it doesn’t expect the loss of accreditation to “have any direct impact on our cases.” Defense attorneys tell her and Klopott that the issue could well be raised in court. Klopott notes in his Examiner follow that Gray said on NewsTalk he would “work with” NAME to restore the accreditation.

MORE WORK TO DO ON ETHICS — Robert Wechsler of CityEthics, which studied D.C. Council ethics in the wake of Marion Barry’s 2009 issues, takes a critical look at the proposed Kwame Brown/Mary Cheh ethics overhaul: “[T]his act is neither comprehensive nor does it create the accountability that the name of the new ethics office, the Office of Government Accountability, suggests. The District does not have an effective, integrated ethics program or code, although it has many parts of a program and code. There are so many parts that, when I reviewed the program for the council a few years ago, I found seven different, sometimes conflicting conflict of interest provisions. Confusion is the rule in the District’s ethics program. The draft reform act adds two more pieces to the puzzle, and both of them are toothless, that is, they have no enforcement power. Nor do they appear independent. ... The District’s government needs to take a deep breath and let go. The only way it will have a comprehensive, effective ethics program is not by adding pieces to the puzzle of District ethics, but by completely remaking the program and the ethics laws so that they aren’t a puzzle at all. ... Piecemeal changes under the control of elected officials, and with lots of room for maneuver through a series of toothless agencies, will do little to change the city’s ethics environment or how it appears to the public.”

REDISTRICTING UPDATE — Tommy Wells tweets about redistricting: “Redistricting cmte mmbr confirmed ‘Pride of Cap Hill [Eastern High School] likely to go to Ward 7.” And: “Shaw likely to be dropped by [Jack Evans] and added to Ward 6 with Ward 5 untouched. Shaw is indeed a terrific community.”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Why the city’s homeless budget is getting squeezed (DCFPI)

Gray meets with Baghdad city council members (WRC-TV)

David Kamperin, 1D commander, leaves MPD for Downtown BID (WBJ)

“Graduation trainwreck” averted by SBOE vote (The Post)

More on the ongoing closure of Skyland eminent domain cases (WBJ)

Barbara Lang on budget negotiations: “It’s a food fight on money they don’t even have yet” (WBJ)

Yes, cops can use their noses to determine if a beverage is alcoholic (Legal Times)

Why Wal-Mart doesn’t want unions in its stores (Housing Complex)

DCPS moves to evaluate principals — half on numbers, half on “leadership outcomes” (WAMU-FM)

A rundown of last night’s Covenant House gala — complete with picture of Gray and Linda Mercado Greene! (G’town Dish)

USA Today on OSSE test probe findings (USA Today)

Fenty evangelizes in Chile (Loose Lips)

Hey Jack: At least some in Georgetown like parking rates where they are (GGW)

More on Council’s Bolling plan objections (the Examiner)

What’s up with Shiloh Baptist development? No one knows. (Housing Complex)

Georgetown residents still complaining about GU campus plan (the Hoya)

Vincent Orange wants Zoning Commission to nix GU plan (Vox Populi)

John Wilson died 18 years ago yesterday (City Desk)

“Where in the World is Sulaimon Brown?” (DCist)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray visits Bike to Work Day “pit stop,” 8:30 a.m. at Freedom Plaza; appears at National Federation of Democratic Women convention, 9:30 a.m. at Loews L’Enfant Plaza Hotel; holds emergency preparedness seminar, at HSEMA emergency operations center, 2720 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE; appears at Ellington School gala, 3500 R St. NW