D.C. Mayor Gray nominates Robert Spagnoletti to lead ethics board

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Tuesday nominated former city attorney general Robert J. Spagnoletti to chair the city’s new government ethics board.

Gray (D) unveiled Tuesday the nominations of Spagnoletti and two others to the three-member panel after drawing weeks of criticism for not filling the positions.

The nominations require council approval and come as many in the city are looking to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to help restore confidence in public officials after instances of criminal and ethical misconduct.

Former council member Harry Thomas Jr. was sentenced to prison last month for stealing public funds, and two former campaign aides to Gray have pleaded guilty as part of a federal probe into his 2010 campaign.Federal authorities are also investigating D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown’s 2008 reelection bid. Both Gray and Brown have denied any wrongdoing.

During Gray’s announcement, the mayor and Spagnoletti fielded questions about a potential conflict of interest because Spagnoletti served as the mayor’s personal attorney two years ago.


Robert Spagnoletti (James M. Thresher/The Washington Post)

“I represented the mayor on an isolated matter, which everyone knows was a fence around his house, which was gone and now is back,” Spagnoletti said to laughter.

Gray eventually paid a $300 fine and had to remove the $12,000-plus fence because it was too tall. When he became mayor, a new fence was installed for security reasons.

Spagnoletti, a 49-year-old who lives in Shepherd Park, said he weighed all potential conflicts of interest but is “absolutely sure” he can do the job.

In addition to Spagnoletti, Gray on Tuesday nominated Laura Richards, a lawyer and former regulator, and Deborah Lathen, a consultant and former official with the Federal Communications Commission, to fill out the board.

Both Richards and Lathen said they are looking forward to serving. Richards, a Republican, said she accepted the nomination in the “spirit of bipartisanship.” Lathen said she wants to look at best practices in other cities for guidance on how the new board should govern.

The D.C. Council has been trying to contain fallout from several ethical lapses and created the board as part of its overhaul of city ethics rules in December. It will investigate alleged ethical violations by public officials and employees and impose sanctions.

Gray was expected to nominate its members in early spring. But he encountered considerable difficulty identifying quality candidates. The Washington Post reported in March that several potential candidates, including retired federal judges, declined Gray’s invitation to join the board.

Spagnoletti, who served as attorney general under former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said he and the other board members have to get through the confirmation process before they conduct a search for a director, but he said they might begin taking “solicitations of interest.”

The board will investigate all non-election-related complaints. If a violation has been committed, the board can issue fines of as much as $5,000 in each instance.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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