D.C. Ethics Bill Moves Forward

In November, the D.C. City Council proposed an ethics reform bill, headed by Ward 4 Council Member Muriel Bowser (D), who is the Chairman of the Committee on Government Relations.

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The bill would place new restrictions on disclosure rules and tighten up on ethical misconduct.  The first vote on the bill was held the Tuesday before Christmas and the council passed it will little debate.

Approved by a 12-1 vote, the bill calls for the tightening of reporting requirements for elected officials and government employees, bars elected officials convicted of felonies from serving and gives the District’s Attorney General the power to prosecute elected officials who have unethical conduct.  Council members also agreed to establish a three-member board to have oversight.  Ward 6 council member, Tommy Wells (D) was the lone dissention on the vote, claiming the language of the bill isn’t strong enough.

One amendment that caused debate was the proposal that would allow council members to remove one of their fellow members by a two-thirds vote, although five members of the council would have to initiate an investigation by the ethics board.

The controversy of the bill comes after a string of ethical violations by members on the council; with the latest being Ward 5 Council Member Harry Thomas Jr.’s (D), whose house was raided by the FBI and IRS after allegations by D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan that Thomas diverted $300,000 in city money for his personal use.

Many of his colleagues have suggested that he take a leave of absence until the federal investigation is over, but Thomas attended the meetings and the first vote on the reform bill.

Other inclusions in the bill are the reduction of money a member and the mayor can raise for a constituent services fund.  The bill reduces it from $80,000 to $40,000.

The bill is expected to go to Mayor Gray for approval and have final vote by the year’s end.