D.C. COUNCIL MEMBER Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) has characterized his intervention with city health inspectors on behalf of a food store owner as “in the past . . . clearly acceptable constituent service.” No doubt his behavior was in keeping with D.C. political customs — which is why Mr. Orange’s acceptance of an admonishment by city ethics officials is a promising sign of the new board’s ability to raise the bar on how public business is conducted.
A ruling issued by the new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability last Thursday concluded that Mr. Orange violated the council’s code of conduct by abusing the “prestige of the office.” At issue was a visit he made Dec. 21 to a city produce market that a health inspector was trying to close for rat infestation and other issues. The owner had been a campaign contributor to Mr. Orange, but Mr. Orange said he was motivated only by his worries about 40 employees being put out of work four days before Christmas.
Mr. Orange, according to the board’s report, asked that the market be allowed to remain open and then demanded to talk to the inspector’s supervisors. The inspector left without shutting the stand down but returned later that day to issue a closure notice. That order was lifted the next day when the problems were deemed to have been corrected.
The ethics ruling was the result of a negotiated settlement, and Mr. Orange says that he wants to learn from the experience. He told us he only thought he was advocating for a constituent’s rights, but that he realized from discussions with the board’s director that his actions could have been seen by the health inspector as intimidation. He has agreed to complete ethics training and not engage in such conduct in the future.
We trust other council members are paying attention to what Mr. Orange aptly called the “new sheriff in town.” Not only has the board filled a void in which city officials were rarely held to account, but its investigation of Mr. Orange, along with its earlier inquiry into council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), shows a grounded and judicious approach.