The nominations come as government watchdogs are looking to the panel to help restore public confidence in elected officials after a spate of criminal and ethical misconduct at the John A. Wilson Building and in city political campaigns.
In the past month, a federal judge has sentenced former council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) to prison for stealing from the city, and two former campaign aides to Gray have pleaded guilty in a widening probe into the mayor’s 2010 election campaign. Meanwhile, federal authorities are also investigating D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown’s 2008 reelection campaign.
Gray and Spagnoletti fielded questions Tuesday about a potential conflict of interest because Spagnoletti served as the mayor’s personal attorney two years ago. “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 said he weighed all potential conflicts of interest but is “absolutely sure” he can do the job.
In an interview on Monday, Spagnoletti said he was “honored to be asked” to lead the board because it is “going to serve an incredibly important role to make sure [D.C.] employees and public officials live up to high standards.”
“I do not intend to let my role on the board lead to a whitewash or papering-over of things,” said Spagnoletti, 49, who lives in Shepherd Park. “The board has incredible power. ... Unlike many other investigative boards that have limited authority, this board has authority, and used judiciously, it can can have a good bit of influence.”
In addition to Spagnoletti, Gray 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 Tuesday they were looking forward to serving. Richards, a Republican, said she accepted the nomination in the “spirit of bipartisanship.” Lathen said in an interview that she wants to look at best practices in other cities for guidance on how the new board should govern.
In December, as the D.C. Council tried to contain the fallout from several ethical lapses, it created the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability as part of its rewrite of city ethics rules.
The board will be responsible for investigating alleged ethical violations by public officials and employees and for imposing sanctions, including recommending impeachment or possible criminal prosecution.