D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, who lost his primary race for reelection in June, has a new job: president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. But Orange says he will start his private-sector job as the face of the D.C. business community next month — while he continues to serve out his remaining five months on the D.C. Council.
Orange’s decision has roiled the council. Members are intensely divided over Orange’s apparent conflict of interest, with several saying he should step down or be removed from power.
They say it is impossible for Orange to simultaneously chair the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and act as the Washington business community’s chief advocate for pro-business legislation.
While D.C. Council members are allowed to hold jobs outside of their elected posts, one has not sought or accepted a private job with such an apparent conflict in recent memory, several D.C. lawmakers said.
And during the period when Orange would serve in the split role, the council is expected to vote on several pieces of legislation that could cost businesses a combined $350 million or more annually in higher taxes and operational expenses.
In an interview, Orange said he had consulted with the city’s ethics commission and the council’s attorney. “Together, we are going to make sure I am in compliance and going to make sure everything is aboveboard,” he said.
Orange said he was staying on the council to protect his staff. “I’m worried about my staff,” he said. “All 14 would be out of a job,” he said.
Five of seven council members reached Friday said that Orange should either step down or assume a reduced role.
“This is a big deal. . . . It’s a massive conflict,” said Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who sits on Orange’s committee. “[Orange] has every right to go have other employment and figure what he is going to do next, but this job definitely creates a conflict.”
Two others on the committee, Council members Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Elissa Silvermann (I-At Large), agreed.
“Our job is to do the best job we can to represent the interest of the people, and that’s hard to do when you are being paid to represent a special interest,” Silverman said.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) called it “almost stunningly incomprehensible.”
Nadeau said the conflict raised immediate questions about whether Orange has interfered with a pending pro-labor bill that the D.C. Chamber is opposing.
The legislation Nadeau was referring to would make D.C. the largest jurisdiction in the United States to stop “just-in-time” scheduling, a practice that has become widespread by employers who schedule workers according to the time of day or month that they expect the most business, requiring them to be available at a moment’s notice and sometimes sending them home if business is slow. The practice helps minimize labor costs, but it results in erratic pay and makes it difficult to schedule child care, commit to a second job or take part-time classes.
Orange tabled the bill this month. In interviews Friday, it was clear he was under consideration for the industry job when he delayed the vote.
“It looks bad,” Nadeau said. “This is the kind of thing happening over and over again on the D.C. Council that voters and residents look at and think, ‘Why would I trust these people?’ ”
But Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Council Member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) defended Orange, saying it was legal. “There’s a significant difference between what the public might see as a conflict and what the law prohibits,” Mendelson said.
Another pro-worker bill pending would require private employers to provide paid family leave.
Neither Orange nor Chamber Board President Carl A. Hairston would disclose how much the council member will be paid.
But according to city records, Orange makes almost $135,000 as a council member, meaning he will draw $56,188 in salary from taxpayer funds while also getting paid by the chamber.
Ironically, Orange was once opposed to the idea of council members holding outside jobs.
“Quite simply, it is difficult for residents to accept that outside employment does not carry the potential for conflicts of interest, unethical behavior, corruption and divided loyalties,” Orange wrote in 2012.