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June 8, 2011

Govern Yourself

Dear Governors:

In the last issue of themail, I wrote, “The city council is unable to govern itself, much less govern the city. The council is unable even to pretend to be interested in cleaning up the funding scandals and staffing scandals and conflicts of interest of Michael Brown, and Kwame Brown, and Harry Thomas, and Yvette Alexander, and Jim Graham, and Jack Evans, and — well, add your favorite councilmember here.” This week, day by day, we’ve been buffeted from one scandal to another, from Councilmember Michael Brown’s conflict of interest in the bill he introduced to legalize Internet gambling; to the DC Attorney General’s charges against Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., for diverting earmarked tax funds from sports programs for youths to his own personal use; to the US Attorney’s revelation in the sentencing phase of council staffer Ted Loza’s trial that Loza presented a cash bribe, intended to promote a bill that would force taxicab owners to buy government medallions, to Councilmember Jim Graham, and that Graham never reported the bribe attempt, but instead continued to employ Loza and to provide a character reference for Loza vouching for his trustworthiness and honesty.

In 2009, Graham was the Chairman of the Public Services and Transportation Committee. In October 2009, after Loza was arrested, Graham agreed to give up his committee’s authority over the Taxicab Commission, which was moved to the Committee of the Whole. In March 2010, after the Bennett Report detailed Councilmember Barry’s conflicts of interest and misuse of government funds in personal service contracts and earmarks, the council voted to remove Barry from all his committee assignments and censure him. Today, after the Attorney General filed his complaint against Harry Thomas, Thomas agreed to resign from his chairmanship of the Economic Development Committee, and the Committee’s duties were moved to the Committee of the Whole. As Dorothy and I wrote in themail on February 28, 2010, “Although there had previously been several laws and rules scattered throughout the DC Code and Municipal Regulations concerning inappropriate conduct by elected officials and other government employees, it wasn’t until September 2009 that the council adopted a formal Code of Conduct for the first time (  However, that Code of Conduct is toothless. It doesn’t specify any punishments or penalties for violating the code. Chairman Vincent Gray promised at the time that the code was passed that the council would adopt further rules, including punishments and penalties for councilmembers, and establishing a procedure by which it could investigate and monitor itself, but that hasn’t been done.”

The Code of Conduct is still toothless. There are still no punishments and penalties, no procedures by which the council can investigate, monitor, and discipline itself. Columnist Marc Fisher suggests that “the scandals reflect . . . a growing propensity among city politicians to live beyond their means, taking improper advantage of the surge in campaign cash and city contracts in recent years.” It also reflects the public’s reluctance to vote out politicians who are involved in scandals and the politicians’ reluctance to discipline their colleagues. If we’re going to prevent the spread of corruption, we’re going to have to change the system that doesn’t punish it and implicitly allows it.

New links: Office of the Attorney General, Complaint for Relief against Harry Thomas, Jr., October 6, 2011,
Marc Fisher, “Scandals Are Taking DC Back to the Bad Old Days, Some Say,”
Alan Suderman, “Did Jim Graham Break City Rules By Not Reporting Ted Loza,”
“Did Jim Graham Do Enough in Turning Down a Cash-Filled Envelope?” Washington Post editorial,

Gary Imhoff


Ethics Reform?
Dorothy Brizill,

During his inaugural address on January 2, Kwame Brown indicated that ethics reform was one of the new policy initiatives he intended to undertake as the chair of the city council. Weeks after the inauguration, Brown would often tell me how he had directed his staff to research ethics laws and regulations across the United States and how other governmental jurisdictions and, especially, legislative bodies enforced those laws and regulations. After concluding that he could not rely solely on his council staff and transition committee, on March 2 Brown issued a press release announcing “a novel partnership with the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute (GPPI)” in order “to bring greater transparency and accountability to the council.” The press release goes on to state that “Chairman Brown has tasked Dr. Edward Montgomery, Dean of the GPPI, with reviewing best practices nationwide, and recommending options for the establishment of a council body to conduct ethics investigations and to provide advice to council members regarding ethics regulations.” The press release also suggests that a goal of the pro bono research is to assist in the creation of a single District agency so as to streamline the “ethics review and investigations of councilmembers.”

It is against this backdrop that on May 17 Kwame Brown and Mary Cheh introduced Bill 19-297, the Comprehensive Ethics Reform Act of 2011, which doesn’t just focus on the council, but instead seeks to reform the District’s ethics, public integrity, and lobbying laws as they apply to all District employees and officials. For anyone concerned about truly improving ethics in the District government, the draft bill is sorely wanting. For example, the bill creates an Office of Government Accountability (OGA) and an Ethics Advisory Committee (EAC). The OGA is a toothless entity that will be “established within the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics,” with a director appointed by the mayor. Under the bill, the OGA can investigate “any violation of laws, rules, regulations, or policies within the OGA’s jurisdiction,” including lobbying, conflict of interest, financial disclosure, and other ethical matters and standards of conduct; and the OGA shall then “forward to the appropriate authority a report.” The term “appropriate authority” is never defined in the bill.

The Ethics Advisory Committee will consist of five members; “the mayor, or his or her designee . . . shall serve as chair.” Other members of the EAC are two individuals appointed by the mayor, the Chairman of the council (or his or her designee), and one member appointed by council resolution. In addition to not being independent of the District’s elected officials, the committee’s role is very limited. According to the bill, the EAC “shall, from time to time, make recommendations to the council and the mayor about proposed changes and updates to District laws, rules, regulations, or policies concerning conduct of lobbyists, government employees, conflicts of interest, ethical conduct of public officials, and other ethics matters.”

After Bill 19-297 was introduced, I wrote to Kwame Brown and to Dean Edward Montgomery of the GPPI, to get a copy of any research that was done on how to reform or improve ethics in the District. My curiously stemmed from the fact that I couldn’t believe that the Comprehensive Ethics Reform Act of 2011 was based on the best practices of jurisdictions across the nation. Despite repeated requests, Brown’s office never provided the Georgetown “report.” GPPI did respond, however. In an E-mail dated June 8, Mark Carl Rom, an Associate Professor of Government and Public Policy at Georgetown University, stated that, “At the request of Chairman Brown’s office, I provided the opportunity for my graduate students in the class ‘Ethics and Values in Public Policy’ to conduct group research projects on DC ethics reform. Three teams of students volunteered to work on this project. Brown’s office provided us some background briefing materials. Each team wrote a memo offering recommendations on ethics reform as a class project for part of their grade. We shared these memos with Brown’s office per our agreement. Brown’s office then had the opportunity to use these memos to inform their reasoning and decisions.”

The council’s Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Mary Cheh, will hold a public hearing on Bill 19-297 on June 13 at 12:00 noon in the Council Chambers.


DC Councilmember Under Investigation
Robert Kabel,

Last October, the DCGOP and the Tim Day campaign requested that the DC Attorney General investigate Ward 5 DC Councilmember Harry Thomas. Yesterday, the DC Attorney General released a blistering report, and is suing Mr. Thomas for a million dollars. The DCGOP and the Tim Day campaign spent months researching Mr. Thomas, his LLC, his unregistered nonprofit and his luxury SUV vehicle. We knew that Mr. Thomas was using his DC council office to promote an unregistered nonprofit he operated. We felt certain DC government earmarks were being awarded to legitimate nonprofits and in return some nonprofits would give money to Mr. Thomas’s unregistered nonprofit, but we didn’t know how shameful the story would get.

The Attorney General held a press conference Monday and filed a civil lawsuit for a million dollars in damages. Yesterday, the US Attorney and the FBI confirmed they have also launched their own investigations. Mr. Thomas held a press conference and showed no remorse. Rather, he showed a defiance to defend his “reputation, legacy, and heritage.” Mr. Thomas, who allegedly funneled money to buy an expensive SUV, arrived to his press conference in the SUV that is in question.

Monday, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, and the Washington Examiner all had front page stories on Mr. Thomas, and many give credit to the DCGOP and the Tim Day campaign. The truth is that our city is better served with a strong two party system, when checks and balances are in place. Mr. Thomas is refusing to resign but we believe justice will be served. We have stated, as has the Washington Post editorial board, that Mr. Thomas should resign. The Attorney General and the city believe money is owed to them by Mr. Thomas. If you have any questions, please contact Paul at (202) 407-7069 or at



Ward Three Democratic Committee, June 14
Shelley Tomkin,

The Ward Three Democratic Committee is proud to welcome speakers Alice M. Rivlin, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, to speak on the financial implications of DC budget autonomy or statehood, DC Councilmember Phil Mendelson to speak on the DC redistricting process; and Elissa Silverman of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and Edward Cowan, author of Reports to DC Voters, to speak on the 2012 DC budget.

June 14 at 7:45 p.m. (after a short business meeting starting at 7:15 p.m.), at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle Street, NW, in the Great Hall. For more information, contact Shelley Tomkin, Chair, Ward Three Democratic Committee, 363-8387 and


Making Strides for MS, June 14
Megan Vanderbur,

Making Strides for MS is the new young professionals’ group at the National MS Society’s National Capital Chapter. The group is dedicated to raising awareness and funds through social events geared towards young professionals in the greater DC metro area. Funds raised will support research initiatives as well as local programs and services for the more than eighteen thousand people affected by MS in our community.

We will be having a happy hour on Tuesday, June 14, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., at Bar Louie’s in Gallery Place in Chinatown. Ten dollars at the door will get you half price appetizers, $1 burgers, $3 drafts, $5 wine, and $7 martinis! We’ll also be awarding fabulous door prizes: four dugout tickets to the Washington Nationals game of your choice, three $15 gift cards to Mixt Greens, a $50 gift certificate to Cleveland Park Bar and Grill, tea for two at Teaism, and a Bar Louie martini party for ten. The event is on Facebook at You can find more information about Making Strides at and at


Social Networks and the Courts Panel Discussion, June 15
June Kress,

On Wednesday, June 15, from 7:00-8:30 p.m., the Council for Court Excellence will host an exciting program with a panel of experts who will discuss the use of social networks and computer technology in the trial courtrooms in the District of Columbia. The program will be held at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, 7th Floor. Panelists include Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, US District Court; Judge Herbert Dixon, Jr., DC Superior Court; Scott Higham, The Washington Post; Adam Liptak, New York Times; Mike Semel, The Washington Post; Charles Tobin, Holland & Knight; Ronald Machen, US Attorney for DC (invited); Michele Roberts, Skadden (invited); Pierre Thomas, ABC News (invited); and Ashley Messenger, National Public Radio (invited). The program will be moderated by Frank Sesno, former CNN anchor and Director of the George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.

There is no charge for this event. Please RSVP your attendance to Peter Willner at or 785-5917.


National Building Museum Events, June 16
Stacy Adamson,

June 16, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Smart Growth: Active Design Joins the Fight Against Obesity. Free, registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Active Design enlists our built environment, and those who design it, in the struggle against the obesity epidemic and related health problems. Jack L. Robbins, project architect and senior urban designer at Perkins + Will, outlines how architects and planners can help America shed pounds and save lives. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at



Get a Spa, Support MOMIE’s TLC
Ingrid Drake,

During the month of June, you can book yourself a massage at the Tenleytown-based Spa Room, and get a $5 discount, plus ensure that $5 goes to support the work of the Brightwood DC-based MOMIE’s TLC. To schedule, use this link: Or if you would like to schedule your massage by phone, at 241-6095, make sure you use the code: MOMIESTLC. The Spa Room offers a number of bodywork techniques, such as Swedish, sports massage, or prenatal massage. Book one for yourself, and then purchase a gift certificate for your partner, your child’s teacher, or your friend.


Capital Fringe Festival Free Store Donations
Lida, Capital Fringe Festival Coordination Intern,

Greetings from the Capital Fringe Festival! Again this year we are please to offer to the community The Free Store where — you guessed it — everything is free. We present The Free Store as part of our commitment to promoting recycling and reuse, so this community project is funded 100 percent by the people, for the people. Bring clothes, books and music you can’t use to The Free Store, and take any clothes, books and music that you can use. We at the Capital Fringe Festival are now accepting donations for The Free Store. Please check your closets, check your bookshelves, check your garage. The Free Store can only happen with your donations, so we need your help! We are accepting clothing, books, and music at this time. All clothing must be washed and in fair condition.

This year The Free Store will be open from July 7 to 24 at The Apothecary (a Fringe venue located at 1013 7th Street, NW). Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 5:00-8:00 p.m.; Saturday, 1:00-8:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. We are now accepting donations. All donation drop-offs will be at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Avenue. To schedule a drop-off time, please E-mail me at


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