D.C. Council Passes -- and Barry Praises -- New Ethics Code

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009; 2:30 PM

D.C. Council member Marion Barry said today the new ethics code for council members is "a step forward" that demonstrates Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray's "progressive thinking."

In an unanimous vote, the council approved emergency legislation that establishes the city's first "Code of Official Conduct" for council members.

The proposal, for example, 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." Some of those standards were already scattered through out city code, but Gray concluded the ethical policies dealing with the council were confusing and too dispersed.

The new code marks the first time since the council was formed in 1973 that members can access a unified, written ethics code.

Barry, whose been battling ethical questions all summer, praised Gray for bringing up the issue.

"This is a step forward," Barry said. "This part of a series of efforts to try to make sure the council is moving forward."

The new ethics policies took on a greater urgency after it was discovered this summer that Barry had awarded a city contract to a girlfriend. But Barry and his colleagues sought to downplay the role the controversy played in efforts to develop the ethics code.

"Thanks for bringing this," Barry told Gray. "It's a situation that most us can be proud of. All of have followed [the rules] anyway. It's just a matter of putting together."

Earlier in the day, Dave Mallof emailed members of the council and the media demanding that Gray first hold a public meeting on his emergency ethics resolution before it is voted on.

"This is not just about putting lipstick on the troubled ...situation with Mr. Barry," Mallof wrote. "The conflicts and need to disclose run far, far deeper in this town, and require improved public disclosure. A public hearing on the bill is essential."

But Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) argued the council need to act quickly in approving the emergency resolution. The resolution will expire in 90 days, at which time it will likely be replaced with permanent legislation.

"If this is not an emergency, I don't know what is," Thomas said. " I think the chairman is moving in a very expeditious manner...This is not some knee-jerk reaction."

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