D.C. Councilman Jim Graham backs off youth board post

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,D.C. Council,Jim Graham

After pushing for a seat on the board of a youth nonprofit that had its pockets picked by one D.C. Council member, Jim Graham is backing down.

Ward 1 Councilman Graham sent Council Chairman Phil Mendelson a letter Thursday saying he was withdrawing his request for a nonvoting position.

That shift came after the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp.'s chairman, Robert Bobb, sent Graham a letter forcefully condemning the request.

"I believe that such an appointment could potentially impact the Trust's ability to create a broader donor base, further develop relationships with the non-profit community, and serve the children and families of the District in the most effective way possible," he wrote.

Graham's request and Bobb's resistance are both rooted in one of the city's big scandals of 2012: former D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas Jr.'s conviction for stealing $353,500 from the trust by funneling the money through intermediaries and then using it for personal expenses. He received a three-year prison sentence.

Graham says his bid to sit on the board was meant to make it a more transparent body. He said Thursday that he wanted to pressure the trust to release its audit for fiscal year 2010.

"I think they've gotten the message," he said.

Mendelson declined to weigh in on the public quarrel between Graham and Bobb. Still, Mendelson said, "Two years is a long time to be completing an audit. But my understanding is at this point the audit is at its final stage and the audit will be forthcoming shortly."

Keva Sturdevant, director of development and communications for the trust, confirmed that the audit is nearly finished: "It is complete. They're just fine-tooth-combing it, and we expect it fairly soon."

Bobb wrote in his letter that Graham, who already has oversight over the trust as the chairman of the council's Human Services Committee, would set the organization back if he joined.

"I believe that measures must be taken to prevent repeating the problems of the past by erecting a barrier between the Trust and elected officials," Bobb wrote in his letter. "Appointing a Councilmember to the Board, even in a non-voting capacity, would not only represent a rejection of that idea but would essentially serve to institutionalize the very dynamic we are seeking to avoid."

Whether the effort to separate the council and the trust, which receives a large bulk of its funding from the council, is successful is still an open question.

Unlike his predecessor, who did not appoint trust board members, Mendelson said he is working to fill three voting member slots on the trust's board. He declined to say who he was considering to fill the positions.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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