WHEN SHE was on the D.C. Council, a notable accomplishment of Muriel E. Bowser (D) was pushing through legislation that established an independent board to investigate and enforce government ethics rules. Members of the new board were sworn into office in 2012 and — under the leadership of former D.C. attorney general Robert J. Spagnoletti, who served as its first chairman — quickly made an impact. Sadly, the board seems to have lost the vigor that gave it such a promising start in changing the landscape of government ethics. Ms. Bowser, now mayor, needs to work with the council to strengthen this critical agency.
Recent events, including a controversy surrounding council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), have raised questions about the effectiveness of the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. Did it delay starting an investigation into Mr. Evans’s interactions with a sign company wanting to do business in the District? Did it fumble handoff of the investigation to federal authorities? What role will it play now in getting answers to the questions that surround Mr. Evans’s conduct?
The board last week issued a reprimand of former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Antwan Wilson. Coming a full year after he was forced to resign after revelations his daughter was given preferential admission to a desirable high school, the reprimand only underscored a seeming lack of relevance. “Timely addressing of ethics issues is important to protect against future wrongdoing and to keep public confidence. This doesn’t do either” was the apt tweet from WAMU political analyst Tom Sherwood. There have been other problems, notably the disastrous rollout of a new system under which lobbyists make their required registrations and officials file their financial disclosures.
Brent Wolfingbarger, hired by the board in December 2017 as director of government ethics, did not return our phone call, so we’re not sure why it took a year to conduct an investigation that appears to have consisted of talking to two people and didn’t measurably advance understanding of last year’s events. The five-member board has been operating with two vacancies, and the planned departure in April of chair Tameka Collier would leave the board with just two members. One candidate nominated by Ms. Bowser failed even to get a hearing from the council. The mayor and council need to reach consensus on new members — and on how to get the board back on track.