Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DC Council & Mayor Expulsion for Felony on Nov. Ballot

Monday, Oct 15, 2012, I participated in the well attended Congress Heights candidate forum held at the Petey Green Center on Martin Luther King Ave.  After all the candidates had given their 3 minute statements, Philip Pannell, the moderator, brought up the issue of the Council's proposed Charter Amendments V, VI, and VII to deal with illegal behavior by our elected officials.

I had covered this issue in an earlier blog post: "Harry Thomas Inspired Council Act Received by BOEE", and a detailed Comment at that post providing the Council approved revised language.  I had attended the BOEE's regular meeting to deal with a specific DC Statehood Green Party matter, but found the BOEE's treatment of this material forwarded to them by the Council most interesting.

After they reviewed the material submitted, 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 had planned to do that a few days later, but unfortunately they untabled the matter 2 days afterwards, May 10, and sent their recommendation back to the Council. My email letter was not sent until May 14, 2012.  BOEE further indicated that they liked having the public attend and wished more would do so.  Only about 8 of us were there altogether.

The final language approved by the Council and to appear on the November ballot establishes that:
   Charter Amendment V "would permit the Council to adopt a resolution to expel a Councilmember upon a 5/6 vote...upon demonstrating that Councilmember's gross failure to meet the highest standards of conduct and upon establishing procedures for the expulsion...."
   Charter Amendment VI "would make anyone who is convicted of a felony while holding the Office of Councilmember ineligible to remain in office and ineligible to ever hold the office again."
   Charter Amendment VII "would make anyone who is convicted of a felony while holding the office of Mayor ineligible to remain in office and ineligible to ever hold the office again."

Mr. Pannell explained the seriousness of these 3 ballot measures and then invited people to speak for or against each of the 3 Amendments.  I spoke to explain what had originally happened at the BOEE.  I pointed out that I had raised the issue of whether the expulsion was only for the remainder of the term, or forever, or some in between period like 10 years.  The issue of whether an expelled Councilmember or Mayor could run for the opposite office has not been addressed at all.  There will probably be an election in a few months for the Chairman's replacement, and perhaps a Charter Amendment VIII could be approved by the council and put on the ballot at that time to cover this issue.

Someone spoke in favor of each of the 3 Amendments, but there were strong statement against as well.  There is deep distrust of the use the establishment or other powerful interests might make of these measures to get rid of politicians they do not like.  There is lack of specificity regarding what "gross failures" or "felony convictions" might merit expulsion.  In recent decades we have seen gross theft of  $1/3 million from young people's activities, personal dishonesty or failures regarding loan documents or income taxes, or so-called victimless crimes involving drug use.  I imagine there are those who fear that entrapment could be used to depose the unpopular.  Also, what if there is a felony conviction and then some years later this kind of "crime" is decriminalized?  Sodomy and marijuana use come to mind.

[12/15/14 -- Now that the elections are over and we have memorialized the life of former Mayor and Council member, Marion Barry, voters are once again facing political action to replace the late Ward 8 Council member, and the soon to be vacant Ward 4 seat of Mayor elect, Muriel Bowser.  In a recent City Paper, Loose Lips column, NBC4's Tom Sherwood was mentioned as suggesting the man mentioned in the preceding paragraph might try moving to Ward 8 to replace the former Mayor.  Since Charter Amendment VI was approved in November 2012, I immediately wondered if this were even possible.  He resigned from the Council January 5, 2012, and was sentenced May 3, 2012.  Thus he was not a Council member when CA VI was voted in.  Loose Lips thinks that his required residency in a court ordered halfway house not in Ward 8 until March makes any run impossible.  One can wonder whether the fact that his attorney was Attorney General elect, Karl Racine, would help or hurt his ambitions.  And of course the big question.  While Ward 8 voters were forgiving of Marion Barry's personal failings and legal problems, would they be equally forgiving of stealing, for personal profit, from children much like their own?]

When I was working for a member of the DC Board of Education in the late 1970s my boss would joke that the most popular local newspaper was holding a "secret expose" over the head of the incumbent Mayor to make him toe the line.  I never knew if this was more than a joke, but given the situation with our current Mayor, it is a thought that deserves pondering.

[1/14/14, Mayor Gray has filed and is running for Mayor in  the Nov. 2014 General Election.  This despite the fact that legal actions regarding the $650,000 "shadow" campaign issue has not been resolved, and more arrests are rumored.  Today's telephone poll of a little more than 1,000 people by the Washington Post indicated that more than 50% felt the Mayor was untrustworthy.  Mayor Gray received 24% in favor, Muriel Bowser and No one/none 12%, Jack Evans/Tommy Wells/No opinion 11%, Vincent Orange 9%, Andy Shallal 5%, Reta Lewis and Christian Carter 1%.  This poll was half land line and half cell phone.  Land line  would tend to express the views of older settled voters.  Younger voters might favor someone like Andy Shallal.  Polling a population the size used can have around a 4% error rate.]

[the 1/14/14 poll has statistics on 32 questions with interactive information on some including race, age, income, education, etc.  It also includes some of this information on the more important candidates.]

All in all, BOEE Chairwoman Nichols' statement that this is "much too serious to rush through" may still be valid.  People with opinions on this topic will need to contact their Councilmember's office.  Muriel Bowser, I believe, was spearheading the Ethics improvements in government at the Council.  My April 3rd blog post lists a number of Council Member's email addresses (of course there have been some changes since then).

If you have thoughts on this issue, I hope you will provide a comment so I will have some ideas, opinions and statements to work with in the coming months as I campaign and lobby.

1 comment:

  1. The Dupont Current has printed a front page story, 10/24/12, titled "Mendelson, elections board clash over charter proposals." I'm not sure what is going one here. The BOEE was reported to have returned the measure to the Council May 10th apparently with the issue I had raised as to whether dismissals were for the remainder of the term or forever included. Since this was sent before I sent them the letter they had invited, my thought that some other penalty like 10 years before they could run again was not addressed. Nor was the issue of ability to jump from Mayor to Council or Council to Mayor covered. The Dupont Current article makes no mention at all of this very glaring omission by our ethics supporting? political leaders. Is this a lack of imagination or something else???