Vincent C. Gray Proposes Ethics Code for D.C. Council

Vincent C. Gray says an ethics code
Vincent C. Gray says an ethics code "will help create more clarity." (Marcus Yam - The Washington Post)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

As the investigation into Marion Barry's use of tax dollars intensifies, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray unveiled a proposal Monday to establish the city's first "Code of Official Conduct" for council members.

Under the proposal, which Gray (D) plans to introduce as emergency legislation Tuesday, the council would have a unified written ethics code to guide members for the first time since it was formed in 1973.

The proposal states that council members need to uphold "unusually high standards of honesty, integrity, impartiality" and that the "avoidance of misconduct and conflicts of interest on the part of council members is indispensable." It largely would put into place the formal ethical guidelines that many state and local governing bodies have been guided by for decades.

"This will help create more clarity in the future," said Gray, adding that he might late propose additional rules.

Gray's efforts come as he and other members continue to try to respond to this summer's controversy over council member Barry's decision to award a city contract to a woman he had been dating. Barry (D-Ward 8) has also been battling allegations he funneled council earmarks to nonprofit organizations in his ward that were controlled by his staff.

The controversy exposed what many consider to be gaping holes in how the council polices its members.

Gray said a review by a consultant concluded that the District has a confusing patchwork of ethical guidelines that, depending on interpretation, might or might not apply to council members.

"We think there may even be some conflicts in all these different statues," Gray said.

The internal review is separate from the investigation being conducted by Robert S. Bennett, an attorney at Hogan and Hartson, and five attorneys from his former firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.

In July, the council granted Bennett subpoena authority to look into Barry's contracts. Last week, investigators issued almost a dozen subpoenas to Barry advisers and organizations that received earmarks at Barry's request, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Investigators were seeking detailed financial information, including bank statements, said the sources, who asked to be remain anonymous because the subpoenas are confidential.

Attorney A. Scott Bolden confirmed that his client, Brenda Richardson, Barry's constituent services director, was served with an expansive subpoena last week. But Bolden said he is not sure whether investigators are entitled to all the information they are seeking.

"We are still reviewing it, and we will respond appropriately," Bolden said.

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