D.C. Council passes ethics reform

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Local,DC,Liz Farmer
The D.C. Council on Tuesday passed a sweeping ethics reform bill after a year that saw five of the city's council members -- and the mayor -- touched by scandal.

But some say the reform doesn't go far enough and question how long it will take to implement changes that include establishing a new city board at a time when the District is tightly managing its budget.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown, whose 2008 campaign is under federal investigation, had been adamant about passing ethics legislation before the end of the year. But when asked whether he'd institute a similar deadline for establishing the Board of Ethics outlined in the bill, he was vague.

"We're going to do everything we can to move quickly," he said after the vote.

Dorothy Brizill, a council critic and founder of DC Watch,said she was skeptical residents would see any quick results.

"It took us almost two and a half years to get a third member of the Board of Elections [and Ethics]," she said. "You've got to appoint a director and a staff ??-- where are we going to get the money?"

The legislation that passed totaled more than 100 pages, and several amendments were added Tuesday, including one by Brown that laid out a process for the council to censure or expel a member.

Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells was the lone vote against the proposal, saying the council didn't take the reforms far enough, especially in disclosing campaign contributions from firms that are vying for city contracts.

"We could put some checks on that," Wells said, adding there should be no perception that campaign contributions warrant favors from elected officials.

But Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry strongly objected to Wells' amendment requiring such disclosures, saying "there's been no charges against anybody for 'pay to play.' "

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," he told Wells.

Last year, an Office of the Inspector General report found that Barry had awarded a contract to his then-girlfriend, who used her contract earnings to pay back money she owed him. Barry had already been under an ethical cloud as he has not filed his taxes on time since 1998 and tested positive for cocaine in 2005.

Meanwhile, Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign is under federal investigation following allegations that staffers used Gray money to fund a minor mayoral candidate who would verbally attack then-Mayor Adrian Fenty on the campaign trail. The candidate, Sulaimon Brown, says he was offered a job by Gray in exchange for the effort.

And earlier this month, Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr.'s home in Northeast was raided by the Internal Revenue Service and FBI. The IRS agents' involvement indicated a months-long federal probe into questionable spending practices within his nonprofit had expanded into Thomas' own finances.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Farmer

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner