A veteran lobbyist’s appointment to the D.C. Water board of directors has been delayed at least two weeks after a D.C. Council member threatened to object during a vote Tuesday.
Roderic L. Woodson was nominated by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) in March to the utility’s board, which oversees a yearly budget exceeding $420 million. Woodson is a partner at Holland & Knight, the powerhouse law and lobbying firm that is among the most active players in local legislative and land-use issues.
Woodson appeared poised to sail to appointment at today’s D.C. Council meetings until Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) asked that his confirmation be removed from the “consent agenda” — a group of noncontroversial bills and resolutions passed en bloc at most legislative meetings. Before Wells could explain on the dais, Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) — who had moved the nomination through her Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation — moved to table the nomination until July 10.
Wells, in an interview Tuesday evening, described some unease with the potential that Woodson’s firm might have business before the utility.
“It’s hard to believe Holland & Knight would forego any issue that’s related to [D.C. Water],” Wells said, noting that Woodson as a partner shares in the firm’s profits generally. “I don’t know how he could be walled off from benefitting. Mr. Woodson has a lot of integrity. This has nothing to do with whether he has integrity or not, but with the nature of business of Holland & Knight.”
Wells said he was concerned that Woodson had represented Skanska, the multinational construction giant, at least once previously — at a hearing last year on the 11th Street Bridge project. Skanska is part of a joint venture that recently won a $330 million contract to build a huge sewage storage tunnel for D.C. Water.
Woodson, in answering a council questionnaire ahead of his confirmation, said he had no “interest, financial or otherwise, that may directly or indirectly pose a conflict of interest” in his duties as a board member. But after the Skanska issue was raised, Woodson pledged to Cheh in a June 4 letter to recuse himself from matters related to the company.
Holland & Knight, Woodson said Tuesday, is not currently doing any business with D.C. Water, and he added that any thought it might in the future was speculative. “If you’re disqualified because of something that might happen in the future, then who could qualify?” he said.
Woodson noted that he’s served in government positions previously, including four years as chairman of the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and has an unblemished record in 38 years as a member of the bar.
“I certainly know how to conduct myself professionally and ethically,” he said. “I’m not a stranger to the professional requirements of my chosen avocation, and I have adhered to these assiduously throughout my career.”
Cheh said she supports Woodson but that Wells was not alone on the council in having concerns. “It’s not one council member, I’ll put it that way,” she said, adding that they “should have been a little quicker to the dance” with their objections. Pedro Ribeiro, a mayoral spokesman, said Gray continues to support Woodson and urges the council to “confirm him as soon as possible.”
Wells made pains to note he has no reason to question Woodson’s personal integrity but said “you really need to err on the side of the angels with public trust.”
Said Woodson, “In this kind of environment, with this kind of heightened scrutiny, I understand that. At the same time, I believe one who is willing to give of himself and his time and his energy in public service should be given the benefit of the doubt.”