Communication by Executive Order

By Yolanda Woodlee and David nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 17, 2007

When D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty decided not to reappoint Wilma A. Lewis as chairman of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, he didn't inform her.

Fenty (D) stripped Lewis of her prestigious title with little fanfare, according to sources who say Lewis did not get even a courtesy telephone call.

She learned about her replacement in an executive order that was retroactive to January 2007. She resigned from the board immediately. But in her May 4 resignation letter, Lewis raised an interesting question: Would her actions as chairman after January be open to challenges?

The mayor's decision "may raise uncertainty regarding the impact of the Order" when it comes to the board's actions after Jan. 8, Lewis wrote.

Calls to Fenty's office regarding Lewis were referred to the mayor's legal counsel, Peter Nickles.

The move to make the appointment of the new chairman, Charles R. Lowery Jr., effective in January was a mistake, Nickles said in an interview last week.

He added that he is confident that the board's actions during the four-month period are legitimate.

"That was obviously a mistake, but a mistake with no legal effect," Nickles said. "The actions of the board are fine. There's no legal problem with any decisions that were made because [Lowery] was not sworn in."

Although the law authorizes the mayor to designate a chairman, it does not require that a sitting member must be sworn in again, according to Board of Elections officials.

Lewis, who was appointed by former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), knew her job was on the line when Fenty took office. But she learned through a mayoral order issued April 18 that he had replaced her as chairman with Lowery. Lowery, who lives in Ward 4, where Fenty also lives, had been a Williams appointee to the board.

Lewis did not return telephone calls to her law firm office. Her three-year term expired last summer, but Board of Elections members serve until their successors are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

Williams had renominated Lewis in his last months as mayor but withdrew his decision because Fenty wanted to make the appointment.

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