October 26, 2011
Dear Chairman Brown, Councilmember Evans, et al.:
Chairman Brown, four-and-a-half more months have gone by since I last wrote you on June 12 about Councilmember Jack Evans’ continuing violation of District of Columbia conflict-of-interest reporting laws. I first wrote you about this matter almost one year ago and this is my fifth letter to you on this matter. I am getting more than a little fed up that you have not even bothered to respond to my last letter, and have apparently done nothing to get Mr. Evans to comply with the law since you responded in March that you would “look into this matter” (the only time you have responded to me). Needless to say, I have not heard from Mr. Evans, either.
The issue is simple and would take you about 15 minutes to resolve if you are indeed serious about putting the council’s activities above reproach. Once again, here are the basic facts: Mr. Evans spearheaded the legislative drive to win approval of legislation providing $206 million in public financing for the Marriott convention center hotel. Then, right on the verge of passage of the legislation, Mr. Evans on five occasions in June and July 2009 suddenly recused himself from voting on the matter. The Examiner newspaper reported on July 1, 2009 that Mr. Evans “recused himself from the vote because his law firm, Patton Boggs, represents Marriott.” (Article here.)
Is it correct that Mr. Evans guided the public financing legislation to the one-yard line and then recused himself — as others carried the ball over the goal line — because the law firm with which he is affiliated represented a party that would benefit from the legislation? If it is correct that his law firm represented Marriott, why did Evans wait until the last minute to recuse himself?
In any event, why does Mr. Evans refuse to comply with District laws and tell us citizens and voters exactly why he recused himself? Why, even as he expresses concern over various ethical issues that have afflicted the Mayor and the Council, does Mr. Evans himself refuse to comply with basic ethics laws that are already on the books? As an attorney, Mr. Evans of all people should recognize his obligation to exercise prudence when it comes to matters of conflict of interest or the appearance of same. He is not above the law, especially laws that specifically apply to top elected officials.
As I have written in previous correspondence, the law is clear: When a council member recuses himself or herself on a matter, D.C. laws — the District of columbia Official Code (DC ST & 1-1106.01), the D.C. Municipal Regulations (Sections 3303 and 3304), and the Council’s own Rule 202 — require that he explain in writing the nature of the conflict of interest (or appearance of a conflict) and the reasons for the recusal. These written statements must be submitted to the Council Chairman, the Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) and the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). As all three offices have told me in answer to FOIA requests that I submitted in mid-2010, Mr. Evans has not submitted a written explanation as required by law to any of those entities.
Stripping the issue down to its basics: Council member recuses himself. Law says council member must explain the reason for his recusal, in writing, to the Council Chairman and to the OCF and the BOEE. Council member fails to file required written explanations for his recusals. To this day, council member remains in violation of the law. Period.
And then, compounding his failure to disclose the reasons for his recusals, why did Mr. Evans un-recuse himself later, months after the final council vote, when the deal ran into a legal snag? When a council member recuses himself, the law makes it clear he is to stay recused — and not hop back into the matter at some future date when it starts to go south. But that is precisely what Mr. Evans did. Notwithstanding Mr. Evans’ recusals and his failure to file written statements explaining those recusals as required by law, Mr. Evans nonetheless continued to involve himself in the convention center hotel matter, even after the public financing legislation was passed.
Press accounts cited in my previous letters to you and others (see below) noted that Mr. Evans worked behind the scenes in 2009-2010 to untangle a thorny legal dispute involving Marriott and JBG Cos. — a dispute that was blocking completion of the convention hotel deal. News articles credited Evans with helping resolve the problem to clear the way for the convention center hotel deal to go forward. A recusal on a matter means “hands off,” but not “jump back in when you have to.” If, in fact, Patton Boggs represented Marriott, then Mr. Evans’ original recusals and his continuing efforts to overcome the legal obstacles facing Marriott constitute about as big an apparent conflict of interest I can think of. (See this article here)
Chairman Brown, in the spirit of your stated desire for ethical reform, I call upon you to do your duty as chairman and require Mr. Evans to comply with the law’s requirements that he submit to you, the BOEE and the OCF a written explanation of the reasons for his recusals. This is an important matter of council ethics, public trust and the public pocketbook that must be resolved now.