The Ethics Board's Ethics Come into Question
The D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations held a public hearing on the (slow) formation of the Board of Ethics and Government on Tuesday.
Delays in the debut of the District of Columbia Board of Ethics and Government have some District residents concerned about the board’s own ethics.
The Board of Ethics and Government emerged after the D.C. council passed ethics reform last year. The board will have power to subpoena documents, conduct investigations on officials, punish unethical behavior and request financial disclosures that may reveal conflicts of interest between a politician and another individual or organization.
As Councilwoman Muriel Bowser said in an oversight hearing Wednesday about the boards’ formation progress, the board will be the “chief sheriff” of ethics enforcement in the District of Columbia government.
Officials’ financial disclosures were originally slated to be due May 15 of this year. But because the Board of Ethics and Government was not mandated to form until Oct. 2, the Council pushed the collection date back to Oct. 2 to correspond to the board's formation. More recently, the Council pushed back the disclosure date to May 15 of 2013, citing concerns that the ethics board would not be prepared to receive disclosures. In so doing received officials another year from the original date to file.
The concern raised by several public witnesses Wednesday was that such a delay allows council members to slip past accountability this election season.
The filing delay is not the only concern.
On on Sept. 28 the ethics board announced that Darrin Sobin, the current ethics officer for the D.C. Attorney General, would be the board’s executive director.
Sobin will not officially take position as executive director of the ethics board until Nov. 5, though he is already working with the board. The ethics board and the attorney general's office arranged for Sobin to serve in his current position until Nov. 5.
Councilmember Muriel Bowser was not pleased with the delay in Sobin’s official start date, as the board has already made other delays.
“In my view, it’s already too late,” said Bowser, during Tuesday’s hearing.
Bowser said if Sobin is not able to fulfill the position by Nov. 5, she believes the board will have no “choice, but to move on.”
On top of that, Dorothy Brizill of DCWatch raised concern about Sobin’s ability to carryout his future role and remain independent from government officials for whom he has previously served, namely the OAG.
“The ethics board is supposed to be separate and independent,” said Brizill. “Mr. Sobin continues to sit in the office of the attorney general in the Wilson Building…which is a part of the mayor’s office. We need a separate and independent staff.”
Brizill suggested that Sobin’s placement in the ethics board could potentially be “wired."
But Ethics Board Chairperson and former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti argued that Sobin was chosen by merit.
“After considering a number of qualified candidates, we were fortunate to select Darrin Sobin, who has been with OAG for more than nine years,” said Spagnoletti, “He has an in-depth knowledge of the district government, and, more importantly, and in-depth knowledge of district government ethics.”
Spagnoletti said the board conducted interviews with over five individuals for the executive director position.
Ethics board member Laura Richards said Sobin’s ethics will be audited and the board will evaluate him “after several months.”
Do you think the board will be able to fairly and sufficiently provide oversight and investigate potential wrongdoing within the District government?