I met Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) nearly 30 years ago when I was a Post editorial writer and he was an advisory neighborhood commissioner. At the time, he was running in the 1991 Ward 2 special election to replace John Wilson, who had become council chairman.
With his long experience, Evans has had a stabilizing and, in some ways, a positive impact on the D.C. Council. Currently, however, Evans is coming across as anything but a shining example of legislative excellence.
Which may explain why he’s facing: a council-sponsored reprimand resolution; demands from some D.C. Democratic officials that he resign from party leadership; progressive groups that want him to be stripped of his committee chairmanship, and investigations by the city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability and a federal grand jury. Officials want to know if Evans has exploited his council position and chairmanship of the Finance and Revenue Committee for private gain or if he has acted unethically or unlawfully on behalf of business interests.
Seven years ago, I wrote about Evans and an unrelated potential line-crossing episode. That piece centered on an innocuous-sounding bill called the Real Property Tax Assessment Evidence Clarification Act, which Evans introduced in December 2011.
The bill received a public hearing in February 2012 before the council’s Judiciary committee, chaired by Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). After the hearing, I learned about the bill from an angry government source who advised me that if the Evans bill were become to law, it would cost the District millions of dollars.
I then spoke with Evans, who told me that he had introduced the bill on behalf of Douglas Jemal, a real estate developer who owned some land that the District might seek to take in an eminent domain proceeding.
Evans said he didn’t speak directly with Jemal, but he received language that served as the basis for the bill from a lawyer, Norman “Chip” Glasgow. Glasgow then confirmed to me that he had asked Evans to introduce the bill on Jemal’s behalf.
As Glasgow explained the bill, its purpose would be to allow property owners and developers to introduce tax assessments as an indication of fair market value in eminent domain proceedings. Such assessments were not allowed under D.C. procedures — but in Maryland, he said, owners were allowed to introduce those assessments when they were higher than the state’s estimate of a property’s fair market value.
At the hearing, William Burk, chief of the Land Acquisition and Bankruptcy Section of the D.C. attorney general’s office, testified against the bill. He cited judicial holdings that “appraisements of property by tax assessors for purposes of taxation are not reliable guides of market value, and consequently not admissible in condemnation proceedings.” Several states, he said, have similar rules.
If the Evans bill became law, Burk said, it would result in the District paying more than the fair market value to acquire land.
Lawyers representing building industry interests testified on behalf of the bill, along with two advisory neighborhood commissioners, speaking as individuals. Jemal’s name, however, was never mentioned.
Mendelson, it should be noted, was the only council member present at the public hearing. He told me afterward that he was not inclined to move the bill forward.
Evans said he introduced the bill without fully appreciating the impact it would have on city finances. Once he came to understand that, he said he would “not support it going forward.” The bill subsequently died in committee.
A veteran finance committee chairman not understanding the impact of his bill on city finances? Puleeze.
My 2012 column raised scant public attention, although it was an angry city leader who tipped me off. Other officials with knowledge of the situation may have preferred to look the other way.
But the eyes of officialdom are on Evans now.
Faced with calls to step down over a range of serious ethical questions, and sharing the chamber with Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who want to take away his committee assignments, and another council member, Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who thinks he should face more than a reprimand, Evans said this week, “In retrospect, I would have done things differently, and I clearly made some mistakes.” He apologized to everybody: his constituents, D.C. residents and council colleagues — and asked for their understanding.
That’s probably the most he can expect.
On Friday, all 13 council members were notified by their general counsel that the D.C. Council had received a federal subpoena for a wide range of information concerning Evans and his private clients, and they were warned to preserve all documents or information related to those subjects or potentially face “serious criminal or other penalties.”
Darker days may lie ahead.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.