.DC. COUNCIL member Charlene Drew Jarvis has been in a series of nasty disputes with city election officials in the past couple of years. The earliest of these involved failure to file required campaign finance reports and filing some that were said to be false. Those charges were finally disposed of last fall in a settlement that included payment of some fines. Now the last and perhaps most serious of these disputes has also been resolved. The city's Board of Elections and Ethics has ruled unanimously that Mrs. Jarvis did not violate the law when she went to New York in 1985 and 1986 at the expense of Citicorp, which then had business before the council, and when she then failed to disclose the $2,542 the bank holding company had spent in her behalf.
Mrs. Jarvis' accuser in these matters, Keith Vance, director of the office of campaign finance, had maintained the money was a gift. Had that been true, Mrs. Jarvis would have been obliged both to disclose it and to return most of it, since gifts to council members are limited. The elections board ruled to the contrary, that it was not a gift, in that Mrs. Jarvis had gone on bona fide fact-finding trips; Citicorp was then promising to make certain investments if allowed to buy a bank here, and she apparently went to New York to inspect similar investments it had made there. Under the law -- a similar standard applies to Congress -- a council member is both entitled to have expenses paid on such a trip and under no obligation to report them.
The board had no trouble reaching its decision. "I don't understand why there is a question, frankly," said its chairman, Edward Norton. The implication is that Mr. Vance brought a hasty charge. Do there need to be better guidelines for that?
There continue to be other issues with regard to Mrs. Jarvis. The U.S. attorney's office is still investigating whether she used her position as chairman of the council's housing and economic development committee to obtain preferential treatment from banks and to steer business to a longtime friend. But that's for another day. On the issue before the elections board Mrs. Jarvis was cleanly vindicated.