A city panel has voted not to reappoint D.C. Office of Open Government Director Traci L. Hughes, a decision condemned by activists who said Hughes was being punished for her enforcement of District regulations on government transparency.
Hughes, who is the first and only person to serve in her post since it was created in 2013, has over the past year faulted at least two public boards controlled by appointees of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) for failures to comply with the city's Open Meetings Act. Last week, she ruled that the board of United Medical Center, the District's troubled public hospital, broke the law when it held a secret discussion and vote to close the facility's nursery and delivery rooms.
Members of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability — who are also appointed by the mayor and oversee the open-government office — voted unanimously at their meeting Thursday not to give Hughes another five-year term.
Board chairwoman Tameka Collier did not respond to requests for comment.
Hughes said that she was not informed of the rationale behind the decision.
"If, in fact, this was a political decision — and I don't know that to be true — but if, in fact, this was a politically influenced decision, certainly that means the work of the office will lose its credibility," Hughes said. "And that's troublesome, because we've done excellent work." She declined to comment further on the circumstances of her removal.
D.C. Open Government Coalition President Cori Zarek said in a statement that the board had felt "political pressure" to remove Hughes, whom she said had "carried out the mission of this new office to promote transparency within the District government despite challenges and hurdles raised by her own government colleagues."
Zarek called on the ethics board to "reverse course and reappoint Ms. Hughes to continue to serve as the public's open government watchdog."
Hughes oversees Open Meetings Act compliance by more than 170 public boards and commissions, and Freedom of Information Act compliance by more than 90 District agencies, according to her office's website.
The Office of Open Government is particularly important for policing the conduct of boards and commissions. District law does not permit private parties to sue such bodies, and only the open government director can take a board to court over noncompliance with the Open Meetings Act.
In the fall of 2016, Hughes sued the Mayor's Advisory Commission on Caribbean Community Affairs. Last fall, a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled that the commission had violated the Open Meetings Act by not notifying the public of its meetings, not preparing draft agendas and not recording its proceedings.
More recently, on Jan. 26, Hughes issued an opinion that the United Medical Center board had violated the Open Meetings Act in December when it excluded the public from a discussion and voted to permanently close the public hospital's obstetrics ward, a decision that left many women east of the Anacostia River without a hospital to give birth or seek prenatal care. The D.C. Open Government Coalition, Washington Business Journal and The Washington Post had filed complaints with Hughes about the board's action.
Six of the hospital board's 11 voting members are appointed by the mayor.
Hospital board chairwoman and former D.C. Council member LaRuby May, whom Bowser appointed last year, issued a statement this week that called Hughes's decision "disappointing" and did not indicate whether the board intended to comply.