December 5, 2011

THE JUXTAPOSITION couldn’t have been starker. In the morning, D.C. Council members met to mark up proposed ethics reform in a much-ballyhooed effort they promise will go a long way toward cleaning up government. Hours later, they hid behind closed doors to discuss what to do about a member whose continued service brings disgrace to the legislative body. The best they could come up with: plans to chat with council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5).

“I look forward to having a conversation with council member Thomas . . . so he’s clear on where his colleagues are and what they feel,” said D.C. Council chair Kwame R. Brown (D) following Monday’s meeting.

Where are they and what do they feel? Mr. Thomas may learn, but the council doesn’t seem to think the public is entitled to know. The rationale for shutting the press and public out of Monday’s meeting was that it involved discussion of government personnel matters. That would be laughable if it were not so insulting. Mr. Thomas is an elected official who is accountable to the public.

So too are his colleagues, and the citizens of the District of Columbia should know where they stand on this critical issue of integrity. It has been several months since Mr. Thomas agreed to repay the city $300,000 in public money that an investigation by the attorney general alleges was diverted from youth programs for Mr. Thomas’s personal and political use. Mr. Thomas has proclaimed his innocence but has yet to explain his actions, foremost being why he would give the city $300,000 if he has done nothing wrong. Underscoring the seriousness of the charges facing Mr. Thomas is the spectacle of Friday’s raid by federal agents on Mr. Thomas’s home.

The council is limited in actions it can take against Mr. Thomas; expulsion, unfortunately, is not a possibility. Nor would it become one under the proposed ethics reform, by the way; council members don’t want to be held accountable in that way. But, aside from three council members who called some time ago for Mr. Thomas to resign, the city’s politicians, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray, haven’t even managed to speak out against wrongdoing. Their silence is sadly eloquent.