Share

Critics say D.C. council ethics reform bill too soft

|
Local,DC,Liz Farmer
Newly released ethics reform legislation by a D.C. Council committee will likely face fire at an upcoming hearing from those who say it doesn't go far enough to control a council that has seen five of its 13 members touched by scandal over the last year.

Critics of the council said the legislation released Friday afternoon was a "step in the right direction" but pointed to areas like open government where more could have been done.

"Does it have enough teeth, is the question," said Terry Lynch, a civic activist and executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. "I think the answer is no."

The legislation is the result of the Committee on Government Operations' task to merge nine proposed ethics bills into a single reform bill. The 58-page proposal includes forming a new Board of Ethics and Accountability with the authority to censure elected officials, requires elected officials to disclose outside income and business clients who have a stake in council activities, reduces constituent services fund caps to $40,000 and sets limits on expenditures from those funds.

But critics are already poking holes in what is included in the legislation -- and what isn't. Lynch said a bill that banned council members from having outside employment should have been included in the reforms.

Political consultant Chuck Thies said he objects to a provision that allows the council to meet behind closed doors to discuss a Board of Ethics censure of another council member.

"Put it on camera or don't bother to do it," Thies said.

Thies is also concerned the estimated $600,000 to $800,000 cost of the bill is too low to allow a new ethics board to succeed. The bill provides for a three-member board appointed by the mayor and approved by council with a staff of up to 12 people.

Paul Craney, executive director of the D.C. GOP, said he has already signed up for his organization to testify for the Nov. 30 hearing, which will likely play host to a who's who list of city council candidates and administration critics.

Craney said the ethics board was "too vague" and that it should go further.

"Under any ethics reform proposal, if the legislation does not force unethical elected officials to resign, like [Councilman] Harry Thomas, then not enough is being done," he said.

Federal investigations are underway against Thomas and the campaigns of Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment