Embattled D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. showed up at Tuesday’s council meeting as the body prepares to consider a broad series of reforms to District government ethics laws.
Shortly before 11 a.m., minutes before the council meeting was to begin, Thomas walked into the chamber. A throng of reporters and cameraman greeted him, but he declined comment.
“I can’t have any comment,” said Thomas (D-Ward 5), whose house was raided Friday by the FBI and IRS following allegations he diverted $300,000 to from city youth programs for his personal use.
On Monday, in the aftermath of the raid on Thomas’ Northeast home, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) convened a closed-door meeting for members to discuss the situation. According to published reports, a majority of members said they wanted Thomas to take a paid leave of absence while federal investigators conduct their probe.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Brown said he and Thomas spoke by phone and are planning to meet to discuss the members’ concerns.
“I’ve had an opportunity to talk to Harry Thomas and we scheduled an opportunity to meet and we will be meeting shortly, and when we finish meeting, we can have a conversation after that,” said Brown, who declined further comment on the matter.
Few observers or council members expect Thomas, who has not been charged with any crime, to take a leave of absence. As the meeting got underway, Thomas co-sponsored several bills from the dias. But it’s unclear how actively he will participate in Tuesday’s ethics debate.
Earlier Monday morning at a council breakfast meeting, which Thomas did not attend, members debated for more than an hour about how they wanted to proceed on the ethics bill.
Several members expressed concerns about some provisions in the bill as well as Brown’s effort to have a final vote before Christmas.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and at least four council members want to hold the final vote in January to give the body more time to examine the 100-plus-page bill. .
“I’ve been on the on this council for 13 years and there are a lot of things you don’t see,” said Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At large). “I continue to support this legislation, but I think we’ve ought to do it right.”
But Brown and Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), chair of the Committee on Government Operations, maintain the legislation needs to be approved by Christmas.
“The real question is where we are on being serious about ethics reform in the District of Columbia,” Brown said. “The commitment from Council member Bowser and myself is we were going to get it out by the end of year.”
Several members, however, have major concerns about some provisions of the legislation.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said the council would “regret” a provision that slashes the amount members can raise for their constituent service funds from $80,000 to $40,000 per year. At one point, Evans suggested only the media and the city’s “chattering class” were interested in the council approving a broad ethics reform bill.
“The outside pressure is making us make decisions and I think we will regret it,” Evans said. “
Evans and Council member David A. Catania (I-At large) - both lawyers with six-figure incomes in addition to their $125,000 council salary - also raised questions about a provision of the bill calling for a study on whether members should be allowed to hold two jobs.
“The notion those with outside employment, because we choose to work two jobs instead of one, is somehow suspect, is quite offensive,” Catania said.
Other council members, including Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-At large), and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), are preparing to push a series of amendments to try to bolster the provisions of the bill. Wells, for example, will introduce an amendment to ban the bundling of campaign donations.