Barry may face censure, committee demotion after disclosing payments from contractors

A special D.C. Council panel is expected to vote Monday on a proposal to censure council member Marion Barry and take away his committee chairmanship in response to his recent disclosure that he accepted cash payments from city contractors.

The five-member disciplinary panel is leaning toward approval of the proposed punishment, according to members interviewed late last week who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

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But it is uncertain whether the full council would agree to strip Barry (D-Ward 8) of his position atop the Workforce and Community Affairs Committee.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) has set a council vote on the disciplinary panel’s recommendation for Tuesday.

The panel’s chairman, Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), and its other four members — Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), Anita D. Bonds (D-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and David P. Grosso (I-At Large) — declined to comment publicly in advance of their vote on the recommendation.

Frederick D. Cooke Jr., Barry’s attorney, also declined to comment on the potential punishment.

The Washington Post reported in June that Barry had filed a financial disclosure report indicating he had accepted two gifts last year totaling $6,800 from D.C. construction companies with business before the city. The District’s ethics law prohibits public officials from soliciting or accepting gifts from government contractors.

Barry also appeared to breach the council’s code of conduct by voting on matters involving one of the contractors, Forney Enterprises, without disclosing the gifts in advance. Barry co-introduced a resolution approving a contract payment for Forney and joined his colleagues in approving it unanimously. He recused himself from a contract approval involving the other firm, F&L Construction, in June.

The city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability subsequently investigated the matter and came to a settlement with Barry, who agreed in July to accept a censure from the board and pay a $13,600 fine.

After the ethics sanction, Barry highlighted his voluntary disclosure of the gifts.

“No one had to look under a rock for it,” he said. “I disclosed it.”

The ethics board sanction, under council rules, triggered the review by Barry’s colleagues.

People familiar with the panel’s investigation said Barry and Keith Forney, the owner of Forney Enterprises, sat for interviews with panel members in August. Freddie Winston, the owner of F&L Construction, declined to be interviewed by the panel, the people said; he had also declined to be interviewed by the ethics board.

The interviews, two people said, revealed that at least one of the cash payments was passed from Forney to Barry during a meeting at the Stadium Club, a Northeast Washington strip club co-owned by Forney.

The panel is poised to report that there is no convincing evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement between Barry and the construction firms, the sources said. Barry and Forney, they said, characterized the payments as an arrangement between friends rather than a business deal.

Under the panel’s proposed recommendation, Barry would retain his seats on various council committees. Losing his chairmanship of the Workforce and Community Affairs Committee would mean a significant loss of prestige, funds and staff. A committee chairman has control of a $409,000 budget and a staff of five full-time employees.

Workforce and Community Affairs oversees agencies such as the departments of Employment Services and Parks and Recreation. Should Barry lose the committee gavel, it could pass to Grosso or Bonds, who are the council’s most junior members and do not lead any committees.

A council censure, according to the body’s rules, is a “punitive action” reserved for circumstances in which a member exhibits a “gross failure to meet the highest standards of personal and professional conduct.” Imposing a censure requires a two-thirds vote of the council, or nine of 13 members.

Members of the disciplinary panel said privately that they think their vote Monday will be unanimous, but they said it was uncertain as of Friday afternoon whether the full council would endorse a disciplinary package that included the loss of Barry’s chairmanship.

Other members have questioned in private consultations whether the council should impose discipline above and beyond the fine and censure dealt out by the ethics board, they said.

Barry has faced discipline from his colleagues before.

The council voted to censure him in 2010 after a special counsel’s probe found that Barry had improperly given a council contract to a girlfriend and directed city funds to nonprofit groups he created and controlled. He lost a committee chairmanship but regained it the next year.

 
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