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D.C. councilman admonished for role in business council

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Local,DC,Michael Neibauer

Updated: 10:30 am

D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. has been formally admonished by the District's campaign finance office for allowing a top aide to work for a nonprofit while she was supposed to be doing her government job.

Thomas, the Ward 5 council member, was cleared by the Office of Campaign Finance of the worst allegation -- that he facilitated a $55,000 contribution to the Ward 5 Business Council from developer EYA in exchange for his support for a project the contractor was pursuing.

But the investigation did find that Thomas allowed his policy director, Victoria Leonard, to serve as co-founder, board member and treasurer of the Ward 5 Business Council, and to perform work on behalf of the organization during business hours using government equipment.

The council member was admonished for violating two provisions in the District's personnel manual, directed to review employee conduct policies, and ordered to avoid any action that might adversely affect the confidence of the public in the government.

"Anything to make sure the public trust is protected, we will strengthen those measures and move in that direction," Thomas told The Examiner on Friday.

He added, however, that "all of the things that were alleged were pretty much proven not factual."

OCF began its investigation last July, shortly after Abigail Padou, editor of the Brookland Heartbeat newsletter, requested an informal opinion of Thomas' dealings with EYA. The developer had sought zoning changes for a 237-unit town house project near the St. Paul's College campus.

Padou claimed that Thomas asked the Zoning Commission to back the development the day after EYA agreed to include the $55,000 contribution as part of the project's "amenities package." But OCF found no evidence to support those allegations.

"The admonishment was a slap on the wrist given the evidence that Thomas wrote a letter of support for the EYA/St. Paul's development only after the developer promised to pay tens of thousands of dollars to an organization controlled by Mr. Thomas," Padou said.

Brian Flowers, the council's general counsel, warned Thomas last May that Leonard's service as treasurer would be a conflict of interest if "she
engages in the activity during working hours, or it involves the use of government property." Flowers, in his written legal opinion, also suggested it would be "prudent for Mrs. Leonard to abstain from any fundraising on behalf of the Ward 5 Business Council."

Like Thomas, Leonard was formally admonished by OCF. She said Friday she has resigned from the business council board and as its treasurer.

In a May 2 memo obtained by The Examiner, D.C. Council General Counsel Brian Flowers advised the council member that Leonard's service "would be a conflict of interest only if she is assigned to work for the private entity either by her superior, in the activity during working hours, or it involves government property."

Padou is appealing the decision against Leonard.

mneibauer@washingtonexaminer.com

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