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Jim Graham may face D.C. Council reprimand

Veteran D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) could be publicly reprimanded by his colleagues next week over ethics allegations and faces losing his coveted oversight of the city’s liquor licensing agencies.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said Thursday he intends to introduce a resolution reprimanding Graham and reassigning oversight of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and its regulatory arm to another member’s committee.

The council will take up the measure at a special meeting Monday, Mendelson said.

Graham was scolded by the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability this month after it found “substantial” evidence that he broke the District’s code of employee conduct in 2008 by intervening with a local businessman in a Metro land deal. The board declined to sanction Graham, saying it could not levy penalties when there were no penalties in place for council members at the time of Graham’s conduct.

In an interview Thursday, Graham said he had no comment on Mendelson’s recommendation but added that he has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to get the ethics board finding tossed out.

Graham said he would be in court Thursday morning seeking a temporary restraining against the board. He and his attorney will argue that Graham’s right to due process was violated because the board did not give him enough opportunity to defend himself.

“This was public punishment, all of which was done without an opportunity for me to be heard, and opportunity for me to provide evidence,” Graham said. “They have exceeded the statue, and they have not applied the statue they have been charged with implementing.”

Graham said he will comment on Mendelson’s recommendation after his court hearing.

Mendelson’s resolution cites the board’s report, as well as previous investigations by the Metro board of directors and the District’s inspector general, in stating that Graham’s conduct was “a clear violation” of the council rules. It further states that after “two years of controversy, the three investigations, and widespread public comments,” Graham “adversely affected the confidence of the public in the integrity of the District government.”

Graham and his attorneys have insisted that he broke no ethics rules, saying that his alleged suggestion that businessman Warren Williams Jr. drop out of a Metro land deal in return for Graham’s support of his lottery contract bid was no more than an “offhand comment” and “sharp-elbowed political behavior.”

On the council dais Tuesday, Graham suggested that his colleagues tread carefully, lest the ethics board find fault in their own political activity: “Every member of this council needs to know you may also be subject to an advisory opinion.”

Mendelson is pursuing the less serious of two sanctions available under council rules. A reprimand, according to council rules, is a “formal statement of the Council officially disapproving the conduct of one of its members” but “it is not punishment or discipline and, therefore, does not require an investigation or separate hearing.” It can be levied by a simple majority vote of the council.

The more serious step, censure, requires the appointment of a five-member committee to investigate and vet the ethics claims, including in a public hearing. It is, according to the rules, “a punitive action, which serves as a penalty imposed for wrongdoing,” and it requires a two-thirds vote of the council.

Graham, a council member since 1999, has maintained oversight of alcoholic beverage regulation since 2005, keeping close watch over those matters even as his committee portfolio has shifted from regulatory affairs to public works and transportation and, most recently, human services.

The council stripped then-member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) of oversight responsibilities in 2010, when a council investigation found that Barry had acted improperly in awarding office contracts and budget earmarks. Barry lost the chairmanship of the council’s housing panel but regained a committee gavel the next year. In 2011, Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) voluntarily gave up his chairmanship of the economic development committee after the District’s attorney general accused him of diverting city funds into a nonprofit he controlled. He would later plead guilty to federal charges and is now serving a three-year prison term.

Tim Craig contributed to this post.