When Mayor Vince Gray (D) takes to the podium Monday evening to deliver his State of the District address, he might offer a thought or two about standards of conduct in our city government.
Recent events suggest the District is steering without an ethical compass.
This week, the principal at McKinley Technology High School was placed on leave amid allegations that he ordered student transcripts doctored.
A few weeks ago, three D.C. police officers in the 4th District were charged with attempting to possess stolen property. A fourth officer in the same district was charged with accepting money she thought was stolen during a house burglary.
And then there are the shenanigans at the top of the city’s political food chain, where the mayor and D.C. Council sit.
First, let it be said: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) should not insert his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee into a purely local matter, namely allegations by former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown that Gray promised him a city job in return for Brown’s attacks on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, and that two members of Gray’s campaign gave him payments to support his campaign. The matter is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. Issa should butt out.
Unfortunately, the District has made itself an inviting target to publicity-hungry congressional interlopers.
Today’s D.C. elected officials risk becoming much like Marion Barry after his arrest in the 1990 FBI sting operation.
Barry still has supporters. But his ability to influence people out of their respect for his standards and values is gone. It’s called moral authority, and he has none. Gray and the council are headed in that direction.
Gray’s fumbles with cronyism, the payment of absurdly high salaries to favored appointees, and his hiring, then firing, of Brown, who has had six run-ins with law enforcement, are only some of the reasons that D.C. residents are losing respect for the occupants of the John A. Wilson Building.
A cardinal principle of ethical conduct for public servants is that they satisfy their obligations as citizens, including meeting all just financial obligations, especially the payment of taxes. Consider our leaders:
l Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D), whose “fully loaded” Lincoln Navigator escapade is costing the city thousands. Then there is his messy financial situation — personal debts up the wazoo and creditor lawsuits.
l Michael Brown (I-At Large), a loud proponent of tax increases for the city’s middle class, paid $12,700 in 2007 to settle a liability for unpaid District income taxes, interest and penalties from 1999; he had a $50,000 lien filed against him by the Internal Revenue Service in April 2010 for failure to pay income taxes dating to 2004 and is now on a repayment plan. In January, when he paid his outstanding District property tax bill, he settled a debt that had been building for 18 months.
l Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). In addition to the drug conviction, the former mayor has been sentenced for failing to pay federal and local taxes, unanimously censured and stripped of his committee assignments by council members for his conduct, and most recently had his car booted for not paying nine parking tickets — about which he airily said to ABC 7’s Sam Ford, “That’s no big thing.”
l Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) is under investigation by the Office of the D.C. Attorney and the city’s campaign finance office over his dealings with nonprofit organizations he created and once ran. Public office is a public trust?
l Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) hired and befriended Ted Loza, who after turning out to be the most disreputable chief of staff in the history of an elected council, pleaded guilty to corruption charges last month. Judging from the muted condemnation of his conduct within city hall, you would think the prosecution did Loza wrong.
Impartiality is a word unheard in District government. Consider the Gray administration’s preferential treatment of Sulaimon Brown. Himself ignominiously defeated in last September’s mayoral primary, Brown landed a job interview with the city’s supposedly independent inspector general, Charles J. Willoughby, and was given a job paying $110,000 a year in the Department of Health Care Finance. Gerri Mason Hall, then Gray’s chief of staff, arranged for the IG meeting and agency placement. The IG’s office didn’t have a vacancy but,“as a courtesy to Hall,” Willoughby met with Brown, I was told this week by Willoughby’s chief of staff, Roger Burke.
Now the IG has recused himself from investigating Brown’s charges.
Residents are expected to have confidence in the integrity of the District government. Tell us why, Mr. Mayor.