Ethics Charter Amendments are 'a Start'
District voters passed three ethics charter amendments that may have some holes.
District of Columbia voters approved three charter amendments on ethics reform that may do little to remedy the ethics of D.C. politics, though some say “It’s a start.”
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Charter Amendment V allows for the city council to vote on the removal of a member exhibiting “gross misconduct.” Charters VI and VII call for lifetime resignation from current position for a council member or mayor convicted of a felony while holding office.
The amendments were written by the council in response to recent federal investigations of former Councilmen Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas, Jr. regarding campaign finance violations and Mayor Vincent Gray's "shadow campaign" concerning a $653,800 underhanded campaign donation.
Charter Amendment VI and VII
Amendments VI and VII were passed by 78 percent, according to numbers released by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Nov. 6. The Washington Post voiced skepticism about the same amendments that passed by a wide margin before the election calling the laws “problematic because of confusion.” Though a mayor or councilmember convicted of a felony would have to resign and remained barred from that office forever, the Post noted:
“...A council member convicted of a felony is free to run for mayor (and vice versa) and that a member who resigned just before conviction, as did Harry B. Thomas Jr. and Kwame R. Brown, would be free to run again.”
Thus, not solving the problem of convicted city officers continuing to sit in seats of power.
Patch spoke with voters standing in polling place lines in the Georgetown area about their thoughts on the charter amendments on Tuesday.
Shoshana Danon-Perkins, who was waiting to vote at Christ Church, said Amendments VI and VII should be called “the Marion Barry measure,” citing the former Washington, D.C. mayor who was convicted of possessing cocaine while serving as mayor in Oct. of 1990, but later won a council seat in 1992 and was reelected as mayor in 1994 through 1999. Barry currently serves as the Ward 8 councilman and was reelected Tuesday.
Mali Brink, a Glover Park area mother, told Patch she felt Amendments VI and VII were too “arbitrary” and “badly written.” Brink said she did not vote for them, as she came out of Guy Mason Recreation Center after voting in favor of only Amendment V.
Council Chair Phil Mendelson was also worried about the laws’ language. In a letter sent to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Oct. 9, he stated that the council did not intend the laws’ language to read that convicted officers would never be able to hold their current office again.
According to the DCist, Mendelson told The Current newspaper:
“The summary statement speaks of a lifetime ban, but I think that the summary statement’s incorrect…We [the council] do have a belief in our society that a person who has done his time can then re-enter society and then be able to contribute as a productive member of society.”
Al Amori, who cast his vote at Duke Ellington School of the Arts on Tuesday night, said he saw no problem in barring officials for life from the position they were convicted in.
“If we had a couple of those charters in place when Marion Barry was serving, he probably would have been removed,” said Amori.
If the new laws had been in place, Barry would not have been able to run for mayor in 1994, though he could still sit on city council, as he now does.
DCist writer, Martin Austermuhle, explained the hole in the law this way: “Get booted from the council, run for mayor!” And vice versa.
Charter Amendment V
Austermuhle said Amendment V has issues too. Amendment V was passed by a larger margin of 86 percent, according to numbers released by the DCBOEE on Nov. 6. Austermuhle wrote that Amendment V “set an impossibly high bar,” requiring 11 out of 13 councilmembers to vote in favor of removing a fellow member due to “gross misconduct." A member would only need to win the favor of two peers to remain in his or her position.
However, Austermuhle notes that the only current way to remove a councilmember is “they are physically locked up for committing a crime.”
Georgetown resident Victor Huser, who was standing in line to vote at Christ Church in Georgetown yesterday, told Patch he was not completely satisfied with the laws’ language, but he planned to vote for two of the three amendments.
“Something is better than nothing,” said Huser. “It’s a start.”