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Hiring Girlfriend Was Legal, and He'd Do So Again, D.C. Council's Barry Says

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), pictured with spokeswoman Natalie Williams, gave Donna Watts-Brighthaupt a $5,000-a-month city contract two months after they began dating.
D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), pictured with spokeswoman Natalie Williams, gave Donna Watts-Brighthaupt a $5,000-a-month city contract two months after they began dating. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

D.C. Council member Marion Barry said yesterday that there is nothing wrong with city lawmakers hiring girlfriends or boyfriends and added that he would do it again.

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In his most extensive public comments since a controversy erupted last week around his relationship with Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, Barry said in an interview that the people criticizing him don't understand how things work in the District.

"You all think it is inappropriate to hire a girlfriend. I don't think it is. In fact, there is no law against it," Barry told The Washington Post. When asked whether he would hire another woman he becomes romantically involved with, Barry said, "Unless the law changes, why not?

"Some people either don't know the law or have their own conservative views," Barry said. "As long as it is not illegal, citizens ought to allow people to do what they want."

Barry's remarks are in response to allegations that he might have misused public funds by giving Watts-Brighthaupt a $5,000-a-month city contract two months after they began dating.

Yesterday, the D.C. Council formally approved a resolution giving Robert S. Bennett, a Washington lawyer best known for defending former president Bill Clinton against sexual harassment charges, subpoena authority to investigate Barry's actions. Bennett will also help the council create an ethics policy.

City officials say council members are not prohibited from putting family members or people with whom they have personal relationships on the payroll if they are qualified for a job.

In preparation for Bennett's probe, Barry released a 30-page document that he says proves Watts-Brighthaupt did enough work to justify her salary. According to council records, Watts-Brighthaupt was paid $15,000.

"She produced a quality work product worth more than $15,000, worth probably $30,000," Barry said. "She put the time in. . . . She certainly wasn't just sitting around talking to me. Some people talk like all we did was pillow talk."

The document suggests that Watts-Brighthaupt researched and formulated guidelines to implement the Emerging Leaders of Ward 8 program.

According to the terms of the initial contract proposal submitted by Barry in October 2008, Watts-Brighthaupt was supposed to focus on "poverty reduction" issues. But the former mayor said yesterday that he asked Watts-Brighthaupt to shift her energy to the leadership program.

"One of my regrets is I never put together a second- or third-tier group of young leaders in the city," Barry said.

Barry said Watts-Brighthaupt, who has a political science degree, worked under the supervision of Brenda Richardson, a longtime Barry aide. Watts-Brighthaupt completed the proposal in May.

But he was unable to explain why the phrase "First Submission 7/9/2009" appears on the document.

Barry also sought to refute a Washington City Paper article that alleges he directed nearly $1 million in tax dollars to social service organizations that appear to be run by members of his staff.

Barry said the entire council had to approve those grants in early 2008. The City Paper reported that in at least two cases the signatures on the incorporation papers appeared to be fraudulent.

Barry declined to comment on the forgery allegations but said Richardson was helping the organizations get accredited. Last year, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) pushed the council to implement new requirements that organizations have nonprofit status to receive city dollars.

Several council members scrambled at the time to help organizations obtain the status.

Barry said the council has put in "a lot of safeguards" to ensure that nonprofit groups follow rules. Barry said he and Richardson consulted with groups' leaders about how the money was being spent because he was interested in "accountability."

Nevertheless, council member David A. Catania (I-At large) wants the Office of the Inspector General to investigate Barry's earmarks.

Barry said Catania "has a vendetta" because Barry was the lone dissenter on a bill that would require the District to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. Catania, who is openly gay and was a key supporter of the bill, dismissed Barry's criticism.

Barry vows he will not be chased out of office by the controversy.

"It takes a lot more than this to break my spirit," Barry said. "I have been in wars worse than this."


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