The D.C. Council removed member Jack Evans as chairman of its Committee on Finance and Revenue on Tuesday and agreed to hire an outside law firm to investigate his actions.
But the council stopped short of stripping Evans of other committee assignments — with the embattled, longtime lawmaker casting a deciding vote.
The votes followed lengthy, sometimes heated exchanges between Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and others over how to redistribute the duties of the powerful finance committee and whether taking the chairmanship from Evans (D-Ward 2) — who is under scrutiny for private consulting he did for companies with interests before the D.C. government — adequately addressed the council’s concerns about possible conflicts of interest.
David Grosso (I-At Large) proposed an amendment that would have removed Evans from all committees pending the investigation by the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, which will examine Evans’s private business dealings and relevant public actions.
“I’m not sure that we can trust Mr. Evans to serve on any committee, when there has been no investigation to capture the full depth and breadth of his potential conflicts,” Grosso said.
Mendelson argued against such a move, saying it would be unprecedented. Earlier in the day, he said stripping the committee assignments would “emasculate” Evans.
“There has not been due process, there has not been an investigation,” Mendelson said. “It would be as close as we can get to disenfranchising Ward 2 voters, because Mr. Evans is still the elected representative.”
Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) said due process doesn’t apply to council business. “This isn’t about punishment, this is about safeguarding the public’s trust,” Allen said. “We are not entitled to these committees.”
Grosso’s amendment failed 6 to 6, with council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) absent and Evans, Mendelson, Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) voting in opposition.
First elected to the council in 1991, Evans has been a fixture of city politics and an ally of the business community for decades. Since the fall, a federal grand jury has issued several subpoenas to governmental bodies seeking documents about him and his clients.
Among other things, Evans is under scrutiny for appearing to use his council position to solicit employment from law and lobbying firms, and for receiving money and stock, which he says he returned, from a sign company that benefited from legislation he promoted.
The FBI recently searched his home. Evans resigned from the Metro board last month after The Washington Post reported that an investigation found evidence that he committed ethics violations at the transit agency, where he had served as chairman.
And The Post reported earlier this week on emails that suggest Evans had a business relationship with a D.C. lobbyist who has also lobbied him on legislation, a potential violation of council rules.
Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who voted in favor of taking away all of Evans’s committee assignments, said the lawmaker’s situation has already left voters in his ward disenfranchised.
“The public has been asking for action for a long time,” Nadeau said. “We’re past the point of interim measures, we’re past the point of baby steps. We have to protect this body. We have to protect the people we serve.”
Mendelson estimated that the probe by O’Melveny & Myers will cost taxpayers between $100,000 and $200,000. The council’s general counsel, Nicole Streeter, told council members the firm’s team would be made up of several former federal prosecutors. A report from the investigation will be made public.
Mendelson said the law firm should complete its work by September, at which point an ad hoc council committee will be created to consider whether the results of the investigation warrant further action. He said he anticipated the committee will give Evans an opportunity to respond to allegations and that it should complete its work by mid-October.
The council on Tuesday also rejected legislation to remove a representative to the Metro board who made false statements about the transit agency’s ethics probe of Evans. Corbett Price, the representative appointed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and twice confirmed by the council, will remain on the Metro board after the resolution to remove him failed 8 to 4. Voting to remove him were Grosso, Nadeau, Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).
Debate erupted during the meeting after Mendelson announced a plan for divvying out responsibilities that had been held by the finance and revenue committee. Its duties were diluted in March after The Post reported that Evans repeatedly used his government staff and email to solicit business from law firms that lobby the city.
Silverman pointedly asked Mendelson whether he was reallocating the committee’s responsibilities to favor members whose votes he was hoping to secure on a vote scheduled for later in the day on a sole-source lottery and sports betting services contract.
Mendelson denied doing so, calling the question a “very bold insinuation.”
“I’m a little offended by this discussion,” he said. “In fact, I’m a lot offended.”
Silverman and others also objected that Mendelson had not consulted them on the committee moves. Mendelson said he considered a variety of factors, such as each committee’s workload, adding that proposals affecting committees are typically a surprise.
Cheh took issue with that assertion.
“That fact of the matter is when you do a reorganization, you have conversations with everybody. You take your little notes and it all works out,” Cheh said. “So, it’s not the surprise that you’re suggesting it is.”
Evans spoke few words during Tuesday’s discussions, looking tired and occasionally puffing his cheeks as he exhaled.
Even as he opposed the proposal to strip Evans of other committee assignments, Mendelson said he expected that the O’Melveny & Myers probe would eventually find Evans violated council rules.
Several times during the discussion, he said he didn’t want to be in a position of defending his longtime council colleague.
“Nobody wants to be seen defending Mr. Evans right now,” he said.
Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.