The D.C. Council on Tuesday reprimanded its longest-serving member, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), and announced plans to dilute the power of his committee after he repeatedly used his government staff and email to solicit business from law firms that lobby the city, offering his influence and connections to help their clients.
The unanimous vote came as the veteran lawmaker is also the target of a federal criminal investigation of his business dealings and faces the threat of a recall election.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) swatted away calls from activists, community groups and five of the council’s 13 members to strip Evans of his chairmanship of the Finance and Revenue Committee.
“What is before us is discipline, and anyone who might suggest that this is not painful should put themselves in Mr. Evans’s shoes,” Mendelson said. “This is a public meeting. It is a specially called meeting. There is one item of business. I have repeatedly invoked Jack Evans’s name in condemnation of his conduct . . . We do this to make clear to the public that Mr. Evans’s actions do not reflect the council’s values.”
Mendelson proposed to take away some of Evans’s responsibilities, shifting oversight of tax abatements, tax increment financing, the Washington Convention and Sports Authority/Events D.C., and the Commission on the Arts and Humanities to committees led by other lawmakers.
But Evans would retain oversight of other key agencies, including the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the D.C. Lottery, which is set to regulate the city’s new sports betting program — a lucrative initiative he championed.
And Evans would still have influence over tax abatements, since that responsibility would shift to the Committee on Business and Economic Development, where Evans is one of five members.
The changes require a separate vote by the council, scheduled for April.
Stripping Evans of his committee chairmanship would be premature, Mendelson said.
“To remove a chairmanship based only on allegations will set a precedent that we will not only regret someday but that disregards due process,” he said.
A subdued Evans spoke from the council dais Tuesday.
“I brought embarrassment to this council, to myself and my family,” he said, pausing as he struggled to maintain his composure. “Going forward, I will work tirelessly to restore the trust of my constituents, of my colleagues here on the council and of the residents of the District of Columbia.”
While most council members were silent, several offered kind words about Evans, 65, who has occupied his office since 1991.
“This is an anguishing issue,” said Elissa Silverman (I-At Large). “It involves a core issue of public trust, but it also involves a colleague who we know not only as a legislator but as a dad, as a friend and as an influential member of our community, so it’s not to be taken lightly.”
Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) said he’d known Evans for “a very long time” and recalled bonding with him over the problem of homelessness. “He and I worked together closely trying to resolve as sensitively as we could people who were homeless in Ward 2 . . . I came away with an enormous appreciation for the sensitivity that council member Evans brought to that experience.”
The Washington Post obtained emails Evans sent on his office’s government accounts to law firms in 2015 and 2018 in which he highlighted his ability to attract private clients as a lawmaker and as WMATA chairman.
The reprimand focused on Evans’s use of government resources for nonofficial business and the fact that he “knowingly used the prestige of his office and public position seeking private gain.”
“A Councilmember must perform the duties of the office to which he or she is elected in a manner that maintains the confidence of the public and must take no action that violates or threatens the public trust,” the resolution of reprimand reads.
Evans declined to comment after the vote.
A reprimand vote is an expression of disapproval, but is not considered discipline and does not carry any consequences. Earlier in the decade, then-council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) were reprimanded over contracting scandals and lost committee responsibilities.
The five members of the council who wanted Evans to lose his chairmanship — Silverman, Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), David Grosso (I-At Large) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) — seemed mostly content Tuesday with removing some of his responsibilities.
“This is an appropriate punishment for the time being,” said Grosso, who had unsuccessfully argued for an internal investigation of Evans by council members.
But some activists said the council’s actions were not sufficient.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough,” said Mat Hanson of D.C. Working Families, which circulated a petition urging the council to remove Evans from his leadership post. “The seriousness of the allegations against him undermines the public faith and confidence in his ability to chair that committee impartially.”
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has suggested that Evans, an ally, should keep his chairmanship. She offered a shout-out to Evans in her annual State of the District address Monday night.
“It was, after all, through our own fiscal responsibility, our commitment to good government, and the responsible leadership of public servants like council member Jack Evans and Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWitt that in less than two decades, our city went from a federal control board to a AAA bond rating,” Bowser said.
The reprimand says Evans violated council rules but does not address the ties between Evans and private companies that are part of the federal probe. Multiple lawmakers said they are waiting for the federal investigation to be completed.
“I make no judgment regarding whether the council member broke the law,” said Anita Bonds (D-At Large). “Other government bodies are employed precisely to make those determinations, and furthermore, the council member has not been charged with any crime.”
A federal grand jury issued a subpoena last fall to the city administrator, seeking documents related to connections between Evans and a digital sign company that offered him consulting fees, stock shares and a summer internship for his son before he drafted legislation that would have benefited the company. Evans has said that he returned the fees and stocks and that his son never took the position.
In recent weeks, the D.C. Council and the mayor’s office received additional subpoenas, seeking records and information about Evans and a wide circle of businesses and entities, suggesting that the investigation was expanding.
Evans has declined to discuss the federal investigation. WMATA has also launched an internal ethics investigation.
In a closed-door meeting of the D.C. Council last week, Evans told colleagues that he would stop his consulting work, according to several people present. Council members are allowed to hold second jobs, but only Evans and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), a law professor at George Washington University, report significant outside income.
Evans is up for reelection in 2020, but voters may have a say before then.
Adam Eidinger, who led a successful 2014 ballot measure to decriminalize marijuana in the District, filed paperwork with the D.C. Board of Elections on Monday to force a recall election against Evans.
If the petitions are approved, recall supporters must collect signatures from 10 percent of the roughly 52,000 registered voters in Ward 2 to trigger a recall election.
It would be unprecedented; no member of the council has ever been recalled. Once the Board of Elections approved their petition, supporters would have 180 days to collect the necessary signatures. If the signatures were verified, the board would have 114 days to call a special recall election. If Evans was ousted, the board would have another 114 days to call a special election to fill the vacancy.