New Chairman Must Order Evans to Comply with Conflict of Interest Laws

November 28, 2010

Dear Chairman-elect Brown:

First off, congratulations on your election to be D.C. Council chairman. I wish you the best in leading the Council in the years to come.

My main purpose for writing you is to call your attention to a conflict of interest matter that has been lingering for 17 months regarding Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and the convention center hotel public financing legislation. You may already be aware of this troubling matter.

Despite my repeated requests to outgoing Chairman (now mayor-elect) Vincent Gray, the Office of Campaign Finance and the Board of Elections and Ethics to do something about it, all of those offices have ignored my requests. I would hope — in the spirit of transparency, adherence to the law, and conflict-of-interest-free good government  — that you (unlike your predecessor) would take appropriate action to require Mr. Evans to comply with the D.C. conflict of interest laws and regulations contained in the D.C. Official Code and the D.C. Municipal Regulations, as well as in D.C. Council Rule 202.(Various portions of the applicable law are quoted in this letter and in my various enclosed communications with Chairman Gray’s office.)

My concerns regarding this matter are stated in some detail below in the letters and emails that I exchanged with Mr. Gray’s office and the OCF and the BOEE. Here in a nutshell, though, is the gist of the troubling matter regarding Councilmember Evans’s failure to comply with the provisions of the District’s conflict of interest laws and the Council’s own rules on same:

1) In June and July 2009, Mr. Evans on five occasions recused himself from voting on the $272 million public financing package for the Marriott International convention center hotel (twice in a Committee of the Whole mark-up session, and three times in subsequent Council votes). Theretofore, Mr. Evans had been the leading proponent of the legislation and had spearheaded the public financing package right up to the point of final action — and had given no indication up until then of any issue necessitating his recusal. A July 1, 2009 article in the Examiner newspaper reported that Evans had recused himself “because his law firm, Patton Boggs, represents Marriott” — if accurate, about as big a conflict as could be imagined in this deal. 

2) When a councilmember recuses himself or herself because of an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of one, the laws, regulations and rules are quite clear. For example, in the language of Municipal Regulations 3303.1, 3303.2 and 3303.3, a councilmember who recuses himself “shall prepare a written statement describing the following: (a) The matter requiring action or decision, and (b) The nature of the potential conflict of interest with respect to such action or decision” and then “shall deliver a copy of the statement to…The Board of Elections and Ethics, in care of General Counsel…The Director of the Office of Campaign Finance” and the “Chairman of the Council.” Mr. Evans, some 19 months after his recusals on the convention center hotel legislation, has not filed such a written report and has never declared publicly in any forum the reason for his recusals. (I filed Freedom of Information requests with Chairman Gray’s office, the OCF and the BOEE –and all informed me that no such written statement had been filed by Mr. Evans.) He is NOT in compliance with the law.

* Notwithstanding Mr. Evans’s recusals and his failure to file written statements explaining those recusals, Mr. Evans nonetheless continued to involve himself in the convention center hotel matter, even after the financing legislation was passed. Press accounts cited in my previous letters to Chairman Gray, the OCF and the BOEE (below) noted that Mr. Evans worked behind the scenes earlier this year to untangle a thorny legal dispute involving Marriott that was delaying the convention center hotel project. A recusal on a matter means “hands off.” It does not mean you can recuse yourself on a particular matter one day, and then float in again several months later on the same matter to keep the deal going — the way Mr. Evans did.

Given this set of facts, it is clear what must be done: As soon as you become chairman you must require Mr. Evans to obey the law and submit to you and the OCF and the BOEE the written statements explaining his June and July 2009 recusals on the convention center hotel public financing legislation.

I should note that Chairman Gray did not respond to my request that he do his duty under the conflict of interest law, either by requiring Mr. Evans to file the written statement or by ordering Mr. Evans to have nothing further to do with the convention center hotel matter. And I believe you should take this matter of noncompliance with the law into consideration as you determine who should head various committees of the Council, in particular the Committee on Finance and Revenue that Mr. Evans now heads. 

I trust that you (unlike Chairman Gray) will do me the courtesy of responding to my questions regarding this matter and that in your response you will state that you, using your authority as chairman, intend to get Mr. Evans to comply with D.C. law and council rules (to say nothing of the D.C. Bar ethics code). This no small matter. The citizens of the District of Columbia have a right to know under the law, and in the interest of good government, exactly what Mr. Evans’s conflict involves.

Best regards,

John Hanrahan

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