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Government and People
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
BOARD OF ELECTIONS AND ETHICS
In re: Challenges Filed to Initiative No. 68,
Administrative Hearing No. 04-020
STATEMENT IN MITIGATION OF PEDRO ALFONSO, VICKEY M. WILCHER AND MARGARET GENTRY
This Board in a letter from its General Counsel invited Pedro Alfonso, Vickey M. Wilcher and Margaret Gentry to address the issue of whether any organization or person "should be held responsible for the determined violations [of the District of Columbia's election laws and regulations] and how the Board should determine the amount of fines to be assessed for such violations." As the Board is well aware, Mr. Alfonso was Chairman of the Citizens Committee for the D.C. Video Lottery Terminal Initiative ("Citizens Committee") during the operative period of time and a Proposer for Initiative No. 68. Ms. Wilcher was also a Proposer for Initiative No. 68 and the Treasurer of the Citizens Committee. Ms. Gentry was the Citizens Committee's Custodian of Documents and Records.
Mr. Alfonso, Ms. Wilcher and Ms. Gentry have read the document styled: Statement in Mitigation of the Citizens Committee far the . .C. Video Lottery Terminal Initiative and Johnny Clinton Hyatt ("Hyatt Mitigation Statement"). We would adopt and incorporate the majority of what is set forth there. We provide the following additional details for this Board's consideration.
Before late December, 2004, Mr. Alfonso, Ms. Wilcher and Ms. Gentry were the sole members of the Citizens Committee. Individually, and collectively, they expended numerous hours, all to bring to fruition the right of the people of this city to vote, whichever way they saw fit, on the question of whether video lottery terminals, or video gambling, should be allowed in this city. This Board should never forget that these citizens of the city only sought to empower the populous with the right to vote on this issue.
As the Hyatt Mitigation Statement points out, there were only six days available to the Citizens Committee after the termination of the litigation in Superior Court by the challengers and the approval by this Board of the Petition Sheet on July 1, 2004. It was, of course, the objective of the Citizens Committee to have the Initiative Question on the ballot for the November 2004 election. Since the efforts of the Citizens Committee to place the Initiative on the ballot began in April, the objective of a placement on the November ballot was not initially unrealistic. Achieving that target became more difficult as the challengers' litigation consumed a block of time originally dedicate to the process of obtaining signatures.
Robert Newell of North Atlantic Investments, LLC, a financial backer of the Initiative, wanted to employ a national firm with whom he had previously worked to handle the signature gathering process. Mr. Alfonso looked for, but was unable to locate a firm in the metropolitan area, which was large enough without the assistance of other groups to handle the task. Mr. Newell had formerly worked with Progressive Campaign Incorporated ("PCI"), and so he contacted that organization, contracted with them for their services, and kept in touch with their efforts, but ultimately reported the corporation's actions to the Citizens Committee. The Citizens Committee never relinquished final authority nor the ultimate decisions on matters during this process.
Mr. Alfonso, Ms. Wilcher and Ms. Gentry additionally assembled a group of local people who were headquartered at 1501 M Street, N.W. ("the 1501 M Street Group") to seek signatures from citizens of the city. With the direct assistance of their then counsel, John L. Ray, Esq. of Manatt, Phelps, Philips, LLP, they recruited Norman Neverson, the former head of the D.C. Democratic Party and others. While the Committee and Mr. Neverson were well acquainted with people here who could help, the severely truncated time period in which they had to gather the required number of signatures for Petitions obviously impacted upon their operations. Meanwhile, Mr. Alfonso, because of his familiarity with people in this city, directly worked with the 1501 M Street Group, as well as other companies from the area, which worked with the Citizens Committee.
The Superior Court litigation from the challengers did not achieve its ultimate goal of stopping Initiative No. 68, but it did restrict the timefrarne, requiring the Citizens Committee to undertake a Herculean effort to obtain a sufficient number of signatures to merely reach its potential of allowing the people of this city to vote on this issue. We must always remember that the Initiative's actions would never impose video lottery terminals on the public, it merely permitted them to express their individual opinions on a ballot regarding this issue.
If there had been more time, surely the Citizens Committee would have been able to put into place a review process, which would consume weeks reviewing the validity of each signature on every petition as well as the process by which it was obtained. Instead, the Citizens Committee set up education materials for those who sought signatures and caused the petition gatherers to sign statements vouching for the correctness of the method used to obtain signatures when the petition sheets were turned into the Citizens Committee. Managers or supervisors were tasked with counseling the signature collectors and to do their best to roam areas of the city to be available not only for observation but also to answer questions should they arise.
When problems were discovered, the Citizens Committee did their best to find the facts involved and to insure that any potential wrongful actions were not repeated. For example, when Ms. Wilcher saw, for the first time, that some signature gatherers were wearing T-shirts with unapproved wording, boasting of the benefits of the Initiative, workers were then and there instructed to cease the use of that clothing. Also, Ms. Wilcher was criticized when she visited the home of a woman who claimed, in an article published in the Washington Post, that she attended a so-called signature party. It was suggested by some that Ms. Wilcher's phone call and appearance at the woman's house for an interview were a bit heavy-handed. Yet, what would be this Board's reaction if the Citizens Committee ignored a complaint of improper activities? More importantly, was it not altogether proper to approach the source of that information, that is the woman who made the statement, to verify the accuracy of the complaint? Surely the actions taken were responsive to the information received, for the first time through a newspaper article.
In sum, Mr. Alfonso, Ms. Wilcher and Ms. Gentry found themselves faced with a very difficult task, a short time in which to perform, a need for wide-ranging assistance in gathering signatures, and the overwhelming need to supervise all those involved. No intentional improper actions were taken by the Citizens Committee. Appropriate directions were provided to the signature gatherers. Even the Metropolitan Police Department cannot categorically say that none of its officers will ever perform in a less than proper manner, despite all the statutes and regulations covering criminal law, in addition to the supervision and guidance supplied by the written opinions of courts ranging from the U.S. Supreme Court down to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
No fines should be assessed against the Citizens Committee and clearly no fines should be assessed against Mr. Alfonso, Ms. Wilcher and Ms. Gentry.
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
This is to certify that a copy of the foregoing Statement in Mitigation of Pedro Alfonso, Vickey M. Wilcher and Margaret Gentry was hand delivered this 16"' day of February, 2005 to the offices of:
KENNETH J, McGHIE, ESQ.
GEORGE W. JONES, JR., ESQ.
Copies were also mailed, first class postage prepaid, to:
REV. DEAN SNYDER
Finally, copies were sent by facsimile to:
RONALD DRAKE, ESQ.
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