Loose Lips

Rochelle, Rochelle

A little more than a 100 days ago, then-not-quite-yet-Mayor Vince Gray introduced the District to Rochelle Webb, his pick to lead the troubled Department of Employment Services. Last Friday, Gray had her unceremoniously shitcanned without a peep as to why.

It was a sharp and unexplained about-face for a pick that’s important to the mayor. When he first named Webb in December, Gray was two weeks away from inauguration after running a campaign with a central theme of getting District residents back to work. On the campaign trail and at town hall forums after the election, Gray would cite individual wards’ high unemployment rates from memory and point to DOES’ lack of viable job-training programs as part of the problem.

“I’ve tasked Dr. Webb with a dramatic transformation of DOES in order to better equip our residents with the tools they need to get off the unemployment rolls and into the job market,” Gray said in introducing Webb, who had been the administrator of the Employment Administration within the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Webb was recruited through a search firm, and despite the ridiculous rumor LL heard multiple times this week, is not a cousin of Gray’s campaign and transition chairwoman Lorraine Green.

Webb was also supposed to dramatically transform the long-troubled summer jobs program, which had a history under Mayor Adrian Fenty of busting its budget and doling out ill-defined jobs, sometimes to non-residents.

But Webb won’t be doing any more of anything at DOES. On Friday afternoon last week, Gray’s interim chief of staff Paul Quander, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Victor Hoskins, and an H.R. rep met with Webb and asked her to resign, according to Webb.

“I said, ‘No thank you, I have no reason to resign,’” says Webb. She adds that Quander immediately told her she was fired. (She’s set to leave city government with four weeks’ severance pay, which comes to about $14,000.)

Exactly why Webb was fired isn’t clear. Gray hasn’t given a reason, and his communications shop released a statement Friday saying only that the mayor had “withdrawn” her nomination to lead DOES.

The dominant view at the Wilson Building is that Webb was a tone-deaf bureaucrat who was too eager to take advantage of District taxpayers and whose missteps kept adding up. LL first broke the news that Webb had a DOES employee chauffeur her to and from the W Hotel, where her room was paid for by taxpayers. And her son, Brandon Webb, was one of a handful of children of top Gray aides who were hired into District government and promptly resigned once news broke of their employment.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, according to one upper level Wilson Building source, was Webb’s approval of moving expenses for an aide who joined her from Arizona—expenses that included things like towels and furniture.

But there are signs that Webb might not be entirely responsible for the clumsy political maneuvers that have come to define her.

Exhibit A, the W Hotel. Receipts show that Webb’s rate at the W was a reasonable $181 a night, and she didn’t bill for room service, pay-per-view movies, or any other expenses. Her total bill for 29 nights was $5,249. Webb says she never requested to stay at the W, and her arraignments were handled by Lisa Mallory, DOES’ operating officer, who is now serving as Webb’s replacement. Malloy could not be reached for comment by deadline.

And it’s worth noting that Webb wasn’t the only new agency boss being put up in pricey temporary housing for the first month on the job. The new director of the Department of Health Care Finance, Wayne Turnage, testified recently that the District paid more than $4,000 for him to stay one month in a furnished apartment when he first began work.

Exhibit B, the chauffeur. As LL noted when the story first broke, former DOES director Joe Walsh says he didn’t have a driver when he ran the agency, but past DOES directors have had chauffeurs, and it wasn’t an unheard-of practice for the boss to be driven around town. Webb probably should have been wise to the fact that getting chauffeured in a city ride isn’t the smartest move, especially once Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown’s Lincoln Navigator(s) became front-page news. But Webb says she again relied on Mallory’s guidance about the driver.

Exhibit C, her son’s employment. Webb said she asked former interim human resources director Judy Banks about a job for her son. Banks told Webb to send her Brandon’s résumé.

“The next day she contacted me back saying she had a position for Brandon, and how soon could he get here?” says Webb.

Banks said under oath at a council hearing last week that that conversation never happened, and Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe was the one who requested Brandon Webb be hired.

Either way, Webb’s probably guilty of poor political judgment in trying to get her son a job. But it’s hard to fault her too much, when it looks like it was open season in the Gray administration to get jobs for the politically connected. At the hearing last week Banks testified that Gray’s former chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall, had her son hired and set his salary. Hall has been fired, but there’s no indication that Gray’s spokeswoman, Linda Wharton-Boyd, has been punished because her son was hired into city government (he later resigned, too).

Exhibit D, the aide’s moving expense. Webb says that when she was hired, the mayor gave her permission to bring in her own team. Webb says she approved the salaries of some aides from Arizona, which included money for moving expenses.

One of Webb’s aides submitted $3,800 worth of receipts, which include about $1,000 worth of purchases that raise eyebrows. But Webb says she never approved or even saw those receipts. And a source close to Webb says that DOES’ H.R. staffer’s advice was, “You never know what they are going to approve, so just submit everything.” An email obtained by LL shows that a DOES H.R. staffer went the extra mile to make sure that the aide included a $105 bill from Banana Republic in the relocation expenses.

The receipts include a $470 bill at Bed Bath and Beyond for things like sheets and towels, a $40 bill at Ikea that includes a $10 table lamp, $150 for wireless Internet equipment from Best Buy, and $66 for groceries at Whole Foods. The receipts don’t include anything particularly outrageous like a TV, as had been rumored at the Wilson Building.

A DOES H.R. staffer submitted the aide’s moving expenses to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which turned down the expenses, citing city rules that only allow relocation expenses for employees who are filling hard-to-find positions. There’s no indication in the forms submitted that Webb signed off on them or even saw them before they went to the CFO.

“That did not come to me, I did not see it,” says Webb.

H.R. staff at DOES declined to comment. If that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, it seems like an exceedingly light straw to bring down an agency head.

Which means it’s probably time to mention that Webb also had quickly acquired a reputation for outspokenness, butted heads with at least two councilmembers, and according to another councilmember, wasn’t making friends with either the business or labor community.

Shortly after Webb took over DOES, she was chastised at a hearing by Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry for not having any men on her senior leadership team, which a person more cynical than LL might understand as Barry being upset that one of his male friends wasn’t in Webb’s senior leadership team.

And Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham says he was going to vote against Webb’s confirmation for several reasons, including her opposition to using District funding to pay for summer jobs for undocumented Latino youth. Webb had “a kind of Arizona point of view” in immigration matters, Graham says, adding that he’s glad Gray isn’t pressing forward with Webb.

“It’s best to be done with this and move on,” says Graham.

For her part, Webb says she’s never been given a reason, and her once frequent phone calls from Gray—including one where she says he told her not to worry about Graham—stopped two weeks ago. Her best guess? The administration was concerned about what she was going to say during a council hearing on Gray’s hiring practices.

“I told them I could not lie under oath,” Webb says of a meeting she had with Gray’s top staff the Monday before she was fired.

LL’s not so sure about Webb’s theory. She’s still set to testify Thursday, and she’s now got a lot less motivation to be a team player. Gray aides say it would be inappropriate to comment on Webb’s tale while the council is still investigating.

And as for thoughts on the Gray administration, Webb says they’ve lost their way.

“They’re creating so many cover stories that they’re lost in their own stories,” says Webb.

KWAME THE VERY BAD RECORD KEEPER

Kwame Brown

The Office of Campaign Finance released a long-awaited audit of Kwame Brown’s finances this week, and boy, was it a doozy. He and his brother Che Brown can’t properly account for the previously unreported $240,000 that flowed directly from Brown’s 2008 uncontested re-election campaign account to his brother’s sales coaching firm, according to OCF. Brown’s campaign also failed to initially report 210 contributions totaling $103,000 and 53 expenditures totaling $169,000.

It seems it’s not just campaign finance records that are difficult for Brown to locate. At the beginning of the year, The Washington Post ran a profile of Brown that mentioned he’d ordered his old office to be connected to his chairman’s office at a cost of $13,000. LL filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all records related to that renovation and got more than 120 documents back. The results are revealing, but in the bad kind of way.

First and foremost, there were exactly zero records related to renovations mentioned in the Post article. There was only one requisition order for $1,685 to move furniture in Brown’s office and the “removal of built-in desktop,” but that order was dated March 17.

The rest of the FOIA response consisted mostly of multiple copies of the daily news round-up LL sends out each morning by email that mentioned the Post article and other random emails that have nothing to do with Brown’s office renovations.

LL’s favorite was an email from Tom Downs, Gray’s transition director on transportation issues, to other transition members. The subject line reads “Transition data” and with an attachment labeled “Email attachments.” The email’s body: “A little late, but here you are. Thanks for joining this effort. Tom Downs.”

The message then goes on to describe how Downs was personally renovating Brown’s office using 18th century tools and techniques he learned at Amish camp. (Does LL need to add that he’s just kidding?)

LL reached out to Brown’s office for an explanation, but his spokeswoman says the records LL got in his FOIA were the only records Brown’s office had of the renovations. As we know now, thanks to OCF, that’s typical.

Got a tip for LL? Send suggestions to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 650-6951, 24 hours a day.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • IKnewIt

    Now isn't this a mess. Good article LL. The city's story never made sense and I am glad to see that someone is investigating the corruption in DC government.

  • Confused City

    Let me get this right. We are mad at this woman for not giving Summer Youth Employment jobs to people who are not residents to US citizens and we are mad because she has a lot of women in her staff.

    How ass-backwards is this town?

  • Wendy Washington

    "Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham says he was going to vote against Webb’s confirmation for several reasons, including her opposition to using District funding to pay for summer jobs for undocumented Latino youth. Webb had “a kind of Arizona point of view” in immigration matters, Graham says,..."

    Jim Graham needs to explain why he perceives this as a bad thing. One of the complaints about budget overruns has been that non-residents were participating in the program. Why should undocumented youth (of any persuasion) be allowed to participate in the summer youth program?

  • DC Cred?

    It will always be easy for Kwame Brown to accept responsibility when he faces no consequencies - except for having no public integrity in an election a couple years from now.

  • NWDC

    And as for thoughts on the Gray administration, Webb says they’ve lost their way.

    “They’re creating so many cover stories that they’re lost in their own stories,” says Webb.
    -----------------------------------------------

    Ain't that the truth!

  • AnotherDCResident

    Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. In a typical "you haven't done shit for me lately" attitude, Webb is throwing Malloy (or is it Mallory, LL? Check your typos.) under the bus because she can't accept responsibility. Now her son is talking? Too bad they're not as crazy as Suilamon Brown, or this would be some good fucking entertainment!

  • VOICE OF REASON

    I am baffled by Jim Graham's comment. How can he possibly justify spending money on children of illegal immigrants who are not permitted to work when DOES has cut the summer jobs program nearly in half for actual DC residents?

    Why would it be ok to spend local tax dollars on undocumented youth?

    This madness needs to stop. I plan to email him to express my frustration. If you are tired of his backwards policies then please do the same:

    jgraham@dccouncil.us

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  • Comendation4grayfrafentysupporter

    Is Rochelle Webb actually saying "the b--ch set me up?". I am sorry but I do not buy any of it. Watch her first performance hearing....she didn't know her numbers and she threw CFO under the bus. She and Joe Walsh were supposed "friends" and she threw him under the bus. With friends like her who needs enemies? Just because someone In the administration told her her unethical decisions were "ok" that all of a sudden makes it right? Dir. At DPR didn't when it came to whiting joining his staff! She's just mad because she got caught and we've seen this story many times in dc.

    I actually applaud gray for biting the bullet. He could have taken a different route, kept her in position and dealt with the negative pr he's dealing with now. It took guts to take action with such a critical agency to the district. And kudos to brown for admitting an error when he had shown such public support for her. And btw I voted for Fenty!

  • Rake

    LOL'z at Webb: And as for thoughts on the Gray administration, Webb says they’ve lost their way.

    Oh, you think so, Dr.???

  • DANG!

    This shit is getting funnier by the day. I voted for Gray. Hate I did. Live and Learn. The schools suck, principal who stole money was reinstated, jobs being given away to family members, SUV's, hotel rooms. All the while I am number 79 on the list to get my child into on one of the better DC public schools. Can we clean house and start over. Goodbye Barry your time is up. Let him go to the retirement home. Kwame lets go. People can we start grooming our next Mayor. Okay Fenty I know you were had shit with you too. But perhaps you can come back in four years. Im just saying!

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/looselips/2011/04/06/brandon-webbs-side-of-things/#comments AZGAL57

    In response to comment #8 Comendation4grayfrafentysupporter
    April 7th, 2011
    7:35 am
    I HEAR YA- pissed because she FINALLY got caught; couldn't have happened to a more deserving person. LOL!!!
    KARMA is actually good in this circumstance, Arizona let her get away with alot more, while employed at Department of Economic Security, She cannot be trusted. God help us if she gets her "unfilled" position back, takes her "old" job back from someone (interim)and her pals who are also very deserving of the same KARMA. Like to see this happen in Arizona!!!!!!!!!

  • http://windows Arizonian

    Dr.Webb (as she insist she be addressed this way) got exactly what was coming to her! she manipulated her way as well as others with unethical acts long before she left Arizona. It was a pleasure to see her relocate to include the others that were led by her coat tail leaving their longtime positions with AZ Dept Economic Security, all done out of greed. I just hope they dont return, their all yours D.C.

  • Fabrisse

    My favorite typo says Mallory handled Webb's "arraignments" -- that could be interesting.

  • itsjustamess

    @Arizonian - We don't want Rochelle Webb or her offspring! Return to Sender! Help Not Wanted! Let the Doorknob Hit Where The Good Lord Split You! You Ain't Got To Go Home But You Got To Get The Hell Out Of Here! No Loitering Allowed! Hit The Road Jack and Don't You Come Back No More, No More! Let's Just Kiss And Goodbye! Goodnight Sweetheart, Well, It's Time To Go! I Guess Neither One Of You Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye! I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together...Seems We've Just Got Started And Before You Know It Comes The Time When We Have To Say So Long! So Go On and Go, Go Out The Door, Don't Turn Around Now, You're Not Welcomed Anymore! By The Time You Get To Phoenix...

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/looselips/2011/04/06/brandon-webbs-side-of-things/#comments AZGAL57

    to it's just a mess, eek! anytime I hear one of those songs it is going to remind me of her.......Rochelle Webb

  • Typical DC BS

    Finally, people are waking up in DC to the issue of illegal immigrants and the costs associated with having them here! When times are good, every idiot politician (and Jim Graham tops that parade) in Democratic cities spouts nonsense about how they don't want to harass "good people" who just happen to be here ILLEGALLY!

    VOTERS in DC should be harassing idiot Graham every chance they get why tax dollars are being used to hire illegal immigrants for summer jobs. This is just insanity.

  • AZ Hopeless 2manyblackhaters

    I am so sure that most of these comments from AZ was left by the Latino race who hate blacks and get away with it. You see the State Of AZ either Laid Off or out right terminated the Blacks starting with the Directors and Managers that was Black in Nov. 2008 the same week of Thankgiving, and your's truly Janet Napolitano is full of it too, she works for Obama. But Obama do not know that she hates blacks and only worked for the Latino's since her lover is one. So in Arizona nothing get done for blacks other than blocks, and if a black have a good Job the Latino's will lie on you to get your job. So it look like the same old shit is going on in DC like in AZ. All I can say is good luck to all of the bullshiters that keep getting away. I thought that Rochelle was a very nice person when she was here in AZ.

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