A majority of the D.C. Council has revived an effort to ban outside employment for lawmakers, the latest fallout from an ethics scandal swirling around council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).
Federal investigators are scrutinizing Evans’s side work as a lawyer and consultant. Evans repeatedly used his government email account to solicit business from law firms that had lobbied the city government, offering to help their clients by using the influence and connections he amassed as the city’s longest-serving lawmaker and as chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Last month, the council reprimanded him and Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) stripped Evans of some of his responsibilities as the chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee.
Many state legislatures and city councils across the country are part time and allow officeholders to hold side jobs if they recuse themselves from matters directly affecting their employers.
But critics say members of the D.C. Council should be considered full time because they are working most of the year and receive salaries of $140,000.
They also say the city’s ethics laws are open to abuse because while lawmakers are required to report outside income, they do not have to identify the source, and it is up to them to disclose conflicts of interest. Since 2016, Evans had a consulting firm but declined to identify his clients.
“There are a lot of things we need to do to restore the public trust, and this is one of them,” said council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who, with six other lawmakers, introduced the bill to ban outside jobs. “Some people might choose to go on to a different field and not stay as long if they need more income. Public service is a sacrifice in many ways.”
If the bill becomes law, it needs to be approved by voters in a referendum because it changes the city’s home rule charter. D.C. lawmakers have periodically made unsuccessful attempts to ban outside employment, usually in the aftermath of a scandal.
Of the 13-member council, only Evans and council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), a George Washington University law professor, report significant outside income.
Cheh would not be affected by Nadeau’s bill, which makes an exception for teachers and instructors. But she still opposes a ban on outside employment.
“If the complete focus is on the council, it sometimes distorts our understanding of how ordinary people live their lives,” Cheh said. “There is still some value to the citizen legislator.”
Cheh said potential conflicts of interest could be handled with stronger ethics laws instead of an outright ban on outside employment. Cheh recused herself last year from votes on legislation involving George Washington University Hospital.
Evans, who privately told his colleagues he would end his outside consulting, declined to comment on the bill. But he previously defended lawmakers’ ability to hold second jobs when then-council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-At Large) was under scrutiny in 2016 for accepting a job leading the D.C. Chamber of Commerce while he chaired the council’s business committee.
“This is not something that is unusual,” Evans said in a 2016 appearance on WAMU’s “Kojo Nnamdi Show.” “Frankly, in my experience down here in 25 years, the council members who have had outside [employment] . . . have been better council members.”
Mendelson declined to comment on the legislation, which will be referred to the Committee of the Whole, which he leads.
Council members David Grosso (I-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) signed onto Nadeau’s bill.
Aides to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who oversaw an overhaul of ethics laws when she served on the council, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the mayor.
The council on Tuesday also voted to remove several agencies from the oversight of the Evans-led Committee on Finance and Revenue. The tourism agency Events D.C. and local arts commission will instead be monitored by the Committee of the Whole.
Mendelson also plans to move bills relating to tax abatements from Evans’s committee to the Committee on Business and Economic Development, which is headed by Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5). Evans remains one of five members of that committee.
Evans also faces an effort to recall him from office, with the D.C. Board of Elections expected Wednesday to authorize supporters to collect signatures from Ward 2 voters to force a recall election.