Friday, May 11, 2012

Harry Thomas Inspired Council Act Reviewed by BOEE

While at the regular meeting of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics on May 8, 2012 to protest their treatment of our DC Statehood Green Party write-in candidates the following occurred.  They were reviewing language sent over by the DC Council regarding expulsion of Councilmembers and Mayors for egregious wrongdoing.

This, no doubt was prompted by the Harry Thomas conviction for stealing from a youth sports program, among other questionable happenings.  Reading between the lines regarding "free speech", there was perhaps also concern about the recent dust up between Councilmembers David Catania and Marion Barry.  I raised a question about the legal language, which resulted in an interesting request of me by the Board Chairwoman, which appears at the end of this post.

Specifically, BOEE was considering the "Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and Comprehensive Ethics Reform Amendment Act of 2011", including 3 separate proposed Charter Amendments.
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     1)  Proposed Charter Amendment V, "The Councilmember Expulsion Resolution Charter Amendment" appears below:

          Section 401 (D.C. Official Code Paragraph 1-204.01) is amended by adding a new subsection (e) to
 read as follows:

"(e)(1)  By a 5/6 vote of its members the Council may adopt a resolution of expulsion if it finds, based on substantial evidence, that a member of the Council took an action that amounts to a gross faillure to meet the highest standards of personal and professional conduct.  Expulsion is the most severe punitive action, serving as a penalty imposed for egregious wrongdoing.  Expulsion results in the removal of the member.  Expulsion should be used in cases in which the Council determines that the violation of law committed by a member is of the most serious nature, including those violations that substantially threaten the public trust.  To protect the exercise of official member duties and the overriding principle of freedom of speech, the Council shall not impose expulsion on any member for the exercise of his or her First Amendment right, no matter how distasteful the expression of that right was to the Council and the District, or in the official exercise of his or her office.

"(2)  The Council shall include in its Rules of Organization procedures for investigation, and consideration of, the expulsion of a member.".

     2)  Proposed Charter Amendment VI, "The Councilmember Felony Disqualification Charter Amendment" appears next:

This Charter Amendment, if passed, would make anyone who is convicted of a felony while holding the Office of Councilmember ineligible to serve on the Council.  The amendment says:

          Section 402 (D.C. Official Code Paragraph 1-204.02) is amended by striking the phrase "to be held; and (d) holds" and inserting the phrase "to be held; (d) has not been convicted of a felony while holding the office; and (e) holds" in its place.

     3)  Proposed Charter Amendment VII, The Mayoral Felony Disqualification Charter Amendment"  is the final proposal:

This Charter Amendment, if passed, would make anyone who is convicted of a felony while holding the office of Mayor ineligible to serve as Mayor.

          Section 421(c)(1) (D.C. Official Code Paragraph 1-204.21(c)(1) is amended by striking the phrase "to be held; and (C) is" and inserting the phrase "to be held; (C) has not been convicted of a felony while holding the office; and (D) is" in its place.
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Within ten (10) days of the publication of these formulations in the D.C. Register, any registered qualified elector who objects to the same may request a hearing before the Board, pursuant to 3 DCMR Chapter 4, to raise any objections and to correct any alleged inaccurate or prejudicial short title or summary statement.
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After they reviewed the above material, I had the impression that the Board was ready to approve it.  However, I asked whether "ineligible" meant for the duration of the term, or forever.  Also, whether this would prevent a dismissed Councilmember from running for Mayor, or a dismissed Mayor from running for Council.  These thoughts were discussed for a minute among the Board members.  Then the Chairwoman, Deborah Nichols, said, "this matter is much too serious to rush through", and it was tabled.

Then she asked if I would like to submit suggested language to her regarding and including the issues I had raised with my questions.  I intend to do this early this week and if anyone, especially a lawyer, has a comment I would love to hear it.  They further indicated that they liked having the public attend and wished more would do so.  There were only about 8 of us altogether, including Don who went with me.  I am also wondering why only 10 days is allowed for comment, whereas 30 days was allowed after publication in The Register of our write-in matter.


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  2. Follow-up on BOEE action. A few weeks ago I attended a Gertrude Stein Democratic Club meeting (Sept. 2012) where the updated Council measure was shown to us. It was dated May 10, 2012, 2 days after the May 8th meeting I attended and before they received the suggested language changes I submitted at Chairwoman Nichols invitation. I did not realize that "too serious to rush through" would be acted on in 2 days. The matter of whether an offending Mayor or Councilmember should be removed for the remainder of the term or forever had been modified to say FOREVER. However, the issue of whether a convicted politician could switch offices was NOT. So as of that reading, a convicted Councilmember could become Mayor, and a convicted Mayor could run for Council. Is this really what we the PEOPLE want???

    The Short Title for Charter Amendment VI now reads: Disqualification from Office for Felony Conviction, D.C. Council. The Summary Statement has deleted: ineligible to "serve on the Council," and added "remain in office and ineligible to ever hold the office again."

    The Short Title of Charter Amendment VII now reads: Disqualification from Office for Felony Conviction, Mayor. The Summary Statement has deleted: ineligible to "serve as Mayor" and added "remain in office and ineligible to ever hold the office again.

    I did not find ANY changes in the Legislative Text, but lacking the DC Official Code could not see if the above changes would actually confer LIFETIME INELIGIBILITY. As I said earlier, the issue of having lifetime ineligibility for one office affecting eligibility for the other was NOT addressed on May 10th.

  3. On Oct. 13, 2012 I received my voter Guide. The three Charter Amendments were printed as I had seen them. No additional move was made to disqualify a Mayor from running for Council, or a Council Member from running for Mayor after being declared ineligible to ever hold one of those offices again. There will be an election in a few months to fill a Council vacancy. Perhaps we can lobby our Council to correct this serious oversight. Muriel Bowser, I believe, was spearheading the Ethics improvements in government at the Council.