THE D.C. official whose job is to ensure transparency in government has been denied reappointment to a second term. She blames undue political pressure. Officials in Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s (D) administration say they had nothing to do with the decision. Members of the ethics board, who decided not to reappoint Traci L. Hughes as director of the Office of Open Government, refused comment about their secret vote.
Here is what needs to happen. The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability should live up to its title and provide the public with reasons for its decision. Ms. Bowser should show her commitment to open government by calling on the independent ethics board to do so. And Ms. Hughes should waive any confidentiality protections that might bar public discussion of her situation.
Without naming names, Ms. Hughes has said she faced pushback for some of her actions to get city agencies to adhere to laws on public disclosure and open meetings. There is no question that Ms. Hughes, in office since 2013, has crossed swords with the administration: She sued the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Caribbean Community Affairs, disagreed with its initial policy governing release of footage from police body cameras and questioned the legality of appointments of administrative law judges. Her recent decision faulting the board of D.C.’s only public hospital for holding a secret vote was seen as embarrassing to Ms. Bowser, who appoints members of the independent board, at a time she is seeking reelection.
Was any of that a factor in the board’s recent vote not to continue Ms. Hughes’s tenure after her term expires in April? John Falcicchio, the mayor’s chief of staff, says no, telling us he is not aware of any pressure, either overt or subtle, by the administration to influence the board’s decision. It is no secret that Ms. Hughes had been at odds with the board over budget and governance issues, and there were complaints about her management style. Certainly she was not automatically entitled to reappointment. But given the questions that surround her departure and the importance of open government, D.C residents are entitled to more information.
It’s good that the D.C. Council’s judiciary committee has scheduled an oversight hearing on the ethics board for Thursday. Equally important is that in selecting a successor to Ms. Hughes, the board find someone with the strong credentials and unquestioned independence to insist on sunshine in city government.