D.C. Council member David Grosso called Friday for the creation of a special committee to investigate ties between fellow lawmaker Jack Evans and a digital-sign company.
Grosso’s comments came after The Washington Post reported Thursday night that a consulting firm owned by Evans received stock in the sign company shortly before Evans promoted legislation that would have benefited the company.
Evans (D-Ward 2), the council’s longest-serving member, told The Post in a text message Thursday that he returned the stock “as soon as it was received.” He declined to answer additional questions and did not return calls Friday.
Most council members did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Those who did were circumspect, saying they wanted to wait for the results of an ongoing ethics investigation into Evans’s ties to Digi Outdoor Media and its founder, Donald E. MacCord.
Grosso (I-At Large) voiced the most forceful criticism of Evans. He said that in addition to the investigation, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) should remove Evans from the council’s judiciary committee, which oversees the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability — the agency that has a pending investigation of Evans.
“Even if the investigation does play out that Jack didn’t do anything wrong, which I hope is the case, then the perception itself is reason for us to take pause and look closely at this,” Grosso said.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) also said that Evans should be removed from the judiciary committee — to which he was tentatively assigned this week as Mendelson formed committees for the council’s coming, two-year legislative session — as the ethics investigation unfolds.
But Silverman, like Grosso, stopped short of calling for censure of Evans, saying she would await the probe’s findings.
“I think we have to let the authorities investigating the case make their conclusions and recommendations,” Silverman said. “I would just ask them to act expeditiously, because the council is making important decisions about public policy and we want to make sure those decisions have integrity.”
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), chairman of the judiciary committee, said Evans sitting on his committee during an open ethics investigation would be “problematic” but declined to say whether he would be removed. He said he would be discussing the matter privately with Mendelson.
In recent months, the ethics board suspended its inquiry. Board officials declined to give a reason, but in other cases they have stepped aside in deference to law enforcement investigations.
Committee assignments will not be final until the council votes on them next month.
Council members Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) declined to comment. Mendelson and council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) and Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) did not respond to requests for comment.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
On Thursday night, The Post reported that NSE Consulting, a firm owned by Evans, received 200,000 shares of stock in Digi Outdoor Media in October 2016.
“Jack, I hope you are having a wonderful bithday and a great week,” MacCord wrote in an email to Evans’s personal AOL account. “Attached are the share issuances we discussed. I owe you a great birthday dinner. Let me know when we can get together.”
A copy of a stock certificate was attached, along with a FedEx tracking number, to an email that was among exhibits attached to a sworn deposition related to civil proceedings in California involving MacCord’s divorce.
The stock in the privately held company was worth perhaps $100,000, based on transactions made by other shareholders in the previous year.
A month after receiving the stock, Evans asked Mendelson to place emergency legislation on the council agenda that would have allowed Digi to install digital signs that were at the center of a brewing legal dispute between Digi and the D.C. government. However, Evans did not move forward with the bill after it became clear it did not have the votes to pass.
The stock issuance was the latest revelation of close ties between MacCord and Evans, who has served on the council for nearly three decades. As chairman of the powerful Committee on Finance and Revenue, Evans has steadfastly promoted business-friendly policies aimed at fostering economic development.
The website District Dig initially reported on the relationship between Evans and MacCord and disclosed that MacCord’s company had offered an internship to Evans’s son — an offer was not ultimately accepted.
In May, The Post reported that NSE, Evans’s consulting firm, received two checks totaling $50,000 that Evans said he subsequently returned to MacCord. Evans said the payments had been a retainer for future consulting work.
In a letter Evans provided to The Post, dated Aug. 25, 2016, and accompanying the returned checks, the council member wrote that it would be best if they did not begin a consulting arrangement while Digi was involved in a dispute over its signs with the D.C. government.