D.C. ethics board considers city government-wide code of conduct

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District's ethics board is likely to recommend that the D.C. Council create a governmentwide code of conduct after hearing repeatedly Thursday that D.C.'s existing policies are "absurd" in their complexity.

"It would be very helpful to have a centralized place for all of these various rules and regulations," Robert Spagnoletti, chairman of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, told The Washington Examiner. "It is unwieldy to have nine different places to look."

But Spagnoletti said it will ultimately be up to city lawmakers to move forward with the development of a sweeping code of conduct after his panel submits a report to the council next month.

Board to hold hearing on Graham
The D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability will hold a status hearing Jan. 18 about its preliminary investigation into D.C. Councilman Jim Graham's activities as a member of Metro's board.
Ethics board Chairman Robert Spagnoletti said the panel could decide to open a formal probe, dismiss the investigation or continue its preliminary review.
Graham, who has vigorously and repeatedly denied wrongdoing, first drew attention for allegedly trying to link his support of a bid for a Metro development deal to his vote on the city's lottery contract. - Alan Blinder

Spagnoletti's comments came after board members heard feedback Thursday about the District's current rules from experts and the public.

Kathleen Clark, a former District ethics official who is a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said the existing guidelines asked for trouble.

"Some of these ethics standards that are currently on the books invite contempt for the ethics standards because they are absurd and they are not being enforced," Clark said.

Clark and David Zvenyach, the D.C. Council's top lawyer, told the board simplified rules that would apply to all of the District's approximately 32,000 employees would be helpful.

"A universal code of conduct could promote uniform application of ethics rules across agencies, reduce administrative costs and improve the administration and enforcement of the ethics rules," Zvenyach said. "But, if a code of conduct is to be applied universally, the board should take steps to avoid vague rules or rules that are overly restrictive or burdensome."

The board also spent part of Thursday exploring how to focus and wield its power.

"We have neither the interest nor the resources in pounding the folks who make every minor transgression," Spagnoletti said of the board, which currently has a staff numbering in the single digits.

Longtime lobbyist Rod Woodson urged the panel to concentrate on agencies that have regular interactions with residents.

"Licensing and inspections are the source of never-ending ethical conflicts from outright wrongdoing to outright bribery to just not doing the right thing," Woodson said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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