WAMU 88.5 : Morning Edition

Ethics Bill Passes D.C. Council

Several stricter reforms left out

Play associated audio
D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., left, was one of the 13 members that unanimously voted in favor of an ethics reform bill Dec. 6. Thomas, who is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, had little to say during the hearing. 
Patrick Madden
D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., left, was one of the 13 members that unanimously voted in favor of an ethics reform bill Dec. 6. Thomas, who is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, had little to say during the hearing. 

The D.C. Council has taken its first crack at passing ethics legislation, as a wide-ranging bill aimed at overhauling the city's ethics laws passed its first vote Tuesday. The measure received unanimous support from all 13 council members, including embattled Ward 5 representative Harry Thomas Jr.

Thomas dodged reporters and TV cameras as he hurried into yesterday's legislative session.

The council member's home was searched Dec. 2 by FBI and IRS agents, a sign of an intensifying federal probe into allegations he diverted $300,000 of public funds into his own pockets. Thomas, so far, has avoided making a public statement. The council, as a whole, has been criticized for remaining silent about the situation.  

Council Chair Kwame Brown held a closed-door meeting with his colleagues on Monday about Thomas. When it ended, he promised to talk with Thomas about possible sanctions or solutions. But as of yesterday's hearing, that hadn't happened. Brown said he had only spoken to Thomas to schedule a meeting. 

The Thomas situation has also ratcheted up pressure on the council to pass a tough ethics overhaul. But during yesterday's vote before the full council, members spent most of the day pushing back on specific ethics proposals. 

For example, amendments calling for bans on council members holding outside jobs, corporate bundling for campaign contributions and so-called constituent service funds were either withdrawn or roundly defeated.

Some say one of the major problems with the city's current laws is that there is no expulsion mechanism for city officials convicted of a serious crime. When one member suggested making it a super-majority vote, Council member Tommy Wells said he feared it would be used for political retribution.

"As someone who has a close-up view of that, I would not trust this body with that power," says Wells, who seemed to get a taste of such retribution earlier this year when he was stripped of the chairmanship of the council's transportation committee. 

The bill approved yesterday would set into motion the process for kicking out a mayor or council member convicted of a felony, but that will require the approval of District voters. (Currently, a mayor or council member is not disqualified from office until he or she is physically incarcerated.)

Council members admit the bill itself will likely change before the second and final vote later this month. Council member Marion Barry summed up the tension facing the body as it figures out how to police itself.  

"Elected officials have a higher standard of conduct than non-elected officials," says Barry. But, he adds, if the rules are too burdensome, no one of quality will run for office.

NPR

Hieronymus Bosch Died 500 Years Ago, But His Art Will Still Creep You Out

Known by some as "the Devil's painter," Bosch depicted imaginary animals and souls being violently tortured. At least one critic believes he's the father of modern art.
NPR

With A Zap, Scientists Create Low-Fat Chocolate

Scientists say they've figured out how to reduce the fat in milk chocolate by running it through an electric field. The result is healthier, but is it tastier?
NPR

The View From The Northeast Corridor: Deep Divisions Ahead Of 2016 Election

Despite a history of Democratic electoral solidarity, a trip through the Northeast finds Republicans hoping to make inroads in November and Democrats pushing for the voting power of immigrants.
NPR

President Obama Acknowledges 'Brexit' To Silicon Valley Crowd

President Obama delivered a speech Friday at Stanford University, and remarked on the Brexit vote in front of a crowd of young, tech-forward, pro-globalization attendees from 170 countries.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.