WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 13: District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee (R) and City Council Chairman Vincent Gray attend a news conference October 13, 2010 at Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. Rhee has announced her decision to down from her position and Mayor Adrian Fenty has picked Deputy Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to become the interim chancellor. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
After a series of reports on hires with dubious backgrounds, Mayor Vincent Gray has ordered additional background checks on “Excepted Service employees” -- that is, political hires.
The Washington Post reports Gray’s order “to vet current and future employees comes after revelations about the legal troubles of some of his hires rocked his administration.”
The move comes as Washington City Paper reports that Talib Karim, “a Gray backer who recently began a $133,000-a-year job as chief of staff in the Department of Healthcare Finance, appears to have used physical force on his ex-wife, according to D.C. Court of Appeals rulings that upheld a protective order against him issued by a Superior Court judge.”
In a statement, Gray said, “While a vetting process was implemented, it is clear that the approach was not thorough enough to address all relevant issues and questions for Excepted Service appointments. … While it is hoped that candidates for jobs such as these would voluntarily reveal significant aspects of their history that could influence the decision to hire them, clearly that has not always occurred.”
Elsewhere in the DMV:
* D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown “has enlisted the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute to ‘make recommendations regarding the best means by which the Council can stay within the boundaries of ethics rules,’” City Paper reports, calling it a “smartish move in the ongoing Kwame Brown image rehabilitation tour. Yesterday, Brown told reporters he’s eager to put the Navigatorgate scandal behind him and ‘make the legislative branch move forward.’”
The news comes as the Washington Examiner reports the D.C. government “prepaid about $17,000 on the two Lincoln Navigators leased” at Brown’s request, according to two sources. The city “is now negotiating to get back some of the cash” it already paid.
At Greater Greater Washington, Mitch Wander offers three sensible “quick fixes to D.C. Council credibility”: “Repeal the parking ticket exemption” that exempts members “from many parking regulations while on official business”; “Stop accepting free tickets from sports and entertainment venues”; and “Release purchase or credit card transaction data for official and constituent services expenses.”
* In his Washington Post column, Robert McCartney writes, “What a debut. In their first two months in office, the most memorable stories” about Gray and Brown “revealed that they spent taxpayers’ money on apparently nepotistic hiring and luxury SUVs. These are only mini-scandals, because relatively little money was involved. But the damage to the city’s reputation is unavoidable.”
* The Washington Times reports Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, “who sponsored a 2009 bill to double the amount council members can raise for their constituent services fund,” has spent less than 5 percent of the money she has raised over the past four years “to help constituents with urgent needs,” and instead has spent most of the money “on catering, consultants, advertising and supplies for community events and fundraisers.”
* The Post reports the Service Employees International Union has endorsed interim At-Large D.C. Councilmember Sekou Biddle in the April 26 special election, which could give him a significant boost. The union “said in a statement that it’s supporting Biddle because he has ‘promised to safeguard our tax dollars, create good jobs and make’ schools more secure.”
* The Post reports new property assessments “show modest growth in the city’s tax base, making up the ground lost by last year’s declining assessments.” While many homeowners are seeing their assessed value rising after several years of declines, that also means an increase in property taxes.
* The Examiner reports Greater Washington Board of Trade President Jim Dinegar says a government shutdown “could cost up to $5 million a day in business” for member businesses that rely on federal employees for their profits.
* Washington Business Journal reports the D.C. Department of Transportation has officially launched its search for a streetcar operator.
* Though small, Democrat-rich D.C. will have little say in the 2012 Republican presidential nomination race, the District and Maryland could both get more delegates to the GOP convention -- and the Democratic one that will almost certainly renominate President Obama. The Examiner reports D.C. and Maryland are considering scheduling their primaries for April 3, which would get them a “25 percent delegate boost” for “holding their primary between April 1 and May 1.”
* The Examiner reports Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, “who is being urged to run by Virginia Democrats of all stripes for retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Webb’s seat, is on vacation until Monday.” He is said to be using the time away to decide whether to run. The Post reports Kaine will most likely announce his decision “as soon as next week.”
* The Examiner reports Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said the U.S. Supreme Court’s “ruling that the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests at military funerals are protected by the First Amendment ‘vindicated’ his office’s decision not to join an amicus brief” against the church. Cuccinelli said, “While, as both the court in its 8-1 decision and this office have recognized, the speech at issue was vile and reprehensible, it is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.”
* In an editorial, the Falls Church News-Press praises Virginia state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, who will retire at the end of this term, saying she has offered “intelligent, level-headed and articulate leadership” that will be hard to replace.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC