D.C. Council panel moves on ethics bill; Thomas is absent

December 5, 2011

Kwame Brown, center, showed up to rescue Bowser, second from left, and her ethics bill. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), whose home was raided by federal agents Friday, did not attend the meeting of the Government Operations Committee, of which he is a member.

For a time Monday morning, it was in doubt whether the ethics bill would have enough support to immediately leave the panel.

Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), the panel’s chair and lead author of the bill, introduced a rewritten version of the bill that incorporated several recommendations from a hearing last week. Her staff has sent the new draft bill to fellow committee members late Friday, but Michael Brown (I-At Large) raised objections, saying he had not had an opportunity to familiarize himself with the bill.

Under council rules, there must be 24 hours’ notice of a meeting, and a council attorney said Bowser had met the requirements. Brown protested that his legislative director was out of town Friday and asked for a 24-hour delay.

With Vincent Orange (D-At Large) openly opposing the bill, Brown’s opposition could have meant a 2 to 2 deadlock, preventing the bill from moving to the full council and complicating hopes that it might pass the council by the new year.

But while Michael Brown and Orange lodged their objections, Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) arrived and spoke in favor of moving forward with the bill. As chairman, Kwame Brown is entitled to vote on all committees.

After private consultation with Bowser and the exhortations of David A. Catania (I-At Large), Michael Brown agreed to vote in favor of the bill “procedurally” to allow it to move to the full council — a distinction that has little practical meaning.

With both Browns voting in favor, the measure passed 4 to 1. It is likely to see an initial vote by the full council at tomorrow’s legislative meeting; Orange sent a memo to his colleagues saying he was preparing a substitute bill.

Bowser’s rewritten bill includes several changes, including extending the terms for members of the new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to six years and reserving one of three seats for a minority party member. It would also lower the signature requirement to place the recall of an at-large council member on the ballot, and it would for the first time disqualify mayors and council members convicted of felony offenses while in office.

Currently, public officials are disqualified only when incarcerated for a felony. The change, however, would require an amendment to the city charter, requiring an act of Congress or D.C. voter approval.

Kwame Brown, who had not made a public statement on the Thomas raid, was swarmed by reporters as he left the meeting room on the John A. Wilson Building’s first floor. Brown said he had no comment on the Thomas matter, but said the council would meet privately later in the day to discuss it.

The meeting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. in a Wilson Building conference room, according to council sources.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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