Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has so far endeavored to separate himself from the University of District of Columbia’s decision to fire President Allen Sessoms. On NewsChannel 8 Thursday, he said the move by the university’s board of trustees to terminate Sessoms’ contract was “not something I’ve been directly involved in.”
Maybe so. Gray does not sit on the board, even though he has appointed most of its members at this point, and even though he has had an enduring interest in UDC since his days as chairman. But this much is clear: It would have been difficult for the board to fire Sessoms without Gray’s official action.
As Nick Anderson reported in today’s Post, Sessoms is by contract entitled to a year’s pay — $295,000 — if he is fired without cause before his contract expires in August. Such a payout would be difficult to absorb within the UDC budget, which operates with a $65 million subsidy from the District government.
Enter a budget reprogramming request sent from Gray to the D.C. Council on Monday — two days ahead of the board meeting — asking legislators to transfer $350,000 to the university for “personal services for strategic UDC personnel.” There is no further explanation of the request, aside from this line in a memo from the mayoral budget office: “If this budget reprogramming is not approved, UDC will not have the personnel resources it needs to execute its goals.”
A senior Gray administration official confirmed Thursday the reprogramming is meant to fund Sessoms’s separation. The official called it a “buyout of his contract” rather than a severance payment. It’s unclear whether Sessoms will be entitled to the full $350,000, or whether the reprogramming request was made ahead of negotiations.
Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro reiterated the mayor had no direct role in firing Sessoms: “The decision was made by the trustees, and they asked the mayor to reprogram this money to do what they wanted to do, and the answer was yes. It comes down to that.”
A council member could object to the funding shift by filing legislation to disapprove it. That has not happened, and if it doesn’t happen before Jan. 8, the reprogramming become final.