Open Letter To Chairman Kwame Brown and Councilman Jack Evans

March 27, 2011

Dear Chairman Brown and Councilmember Evans,

You and other council members have recently — and correctly — focused on a number of issues that raise ethical questions and open government issues in both the executive and legislative branches of the D.C. government. Both of you in particular have issued statements stressing the need for the D.C. government to put its ethical house in order.

Given this stated consideration for ethics, isn’t it about time that you, Councilmember Evans — after ignoring the requirements of the District’s conflict of interest laws and regulations for the past 21 months — finally comply with the law and explain in writing your recusals from voting on the Marriott convention center hotel public financing legislation on five separate occasions in late June and July 2009?

The law is clear: When a council member recuses himself or herself on a matter, D.C. laws (the D.C. Official Code, the D.C. Municipal Regulations 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 to the Council Chairman, the Board of Elections and Ethics and the Office of Campaign Finance. As all three offices have told me in answer to FOIA requests that I submitted, that you, Mr. Evans, have not submitted a written explanation as required by law.

Such a written explanation is especially important in the matter at hand, in which a private interest stands to benefit to the tune of $272 million from the city government’s largesse. This is no small matter, especially since The Examiner newspaper reported on July 1, 2009 that Mr. Evans had recused himself from a key vote on the public subsidy for the convention center hotel “because his law firm, Patton Boggs, represents Marriott.” This, of course, is the law firm from which Mr. Evans has received $240,000 annually as compensation for unspecified services for the last several years. LINK TO EXAMINER  ARTICLE:
http://washingtonexaminer.com/transportation/2009/07/dc-tentatively-oks-paying-72m-more-finance-convention-center-hotel

If this news account is correct, this is about as big an appearance of a conflict of interest as could be imagined in this deal. Regardless, Mr. Evans needs to comply with the law and explain himself. He, like Chairman Brown and other members of the council who are copied on this email, swore to uphold the laws of the District of Columbia — yet for the past 21 months Mr. Evans has been in violation of one of the very laws he swore to uphold

And isn’t it time, Chairman Brown, after ignoring my two previous letters on this issue and not giving me even the courtesy of a reply, that you as Council Chairman follow the same law and do your duty and order Mr. Evans to comply with those conflict of interest provisions of D.C. law? You and your predecessor as chairman, now-Mayor Vincent Gray, as well as Mr. Evans, have for the last 21 months ignored repeated written requests from me, other individual citizens, and the Committee of 100 and the Federation of Citizens Associations for an explanation by Mr. Evans of the reasons for his recusals.

Here, briefly, once more, are the facts:

* In June and July 2009, Mr. Evans on five occasions recused himself from voting on the $272 million public financing package for the Marriott convention center hotel (twice in committee mark-up sessions, 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.

* In the language of Municipal Regulations 3303.1, 3303.2 and 3303.3, a council member 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, now some 21 months after his recusals on the convention center hotel legislation, has not filed such a written report. (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’ 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 you, Chairman Brown, and to Chairman Gray, the OCF and the BOEE noted that Mr. Evans worked behind the scenes in 2009-2010 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: Mr. Evans, you must comply with the law. Period. You are not above the law. Until you do so, your pronouncements on other government officials’ ethical lapses ring a little hollow.

Mr. Brown, as council chairman, you have the duty and authority under the law to see to it that council members comply with laws specifically directed at council members. You must order Mr. Evans to obey the law by submitting 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 am once again copying Brian Flowers, the council’s general counsel (who also has not responded to my inquiries to Mr. Brown and to Mr. Gray before him). I am also copying other members of the Council, whom I hope will realize that the conflict of interest laws as applied to council members are not trivial or some mere technicality that can be ignored. Members of the news media are also copied on this email. Additionally, I am attaching my two most recent email letters to you, Mr. Brown, so that your colleagues can see part of the 21-month history of the unsuccessful attempts to get Mr. Evans to comply with the conflict of interest laws and the Council’s own rule.

I look forward to hearing from you and learning, in writing, as required by law, the reason for Mr. Evans’ five recusals in June and July 2009. Thank you.

Sincerely,

John Hanrahan
Ward 2, Dupont Circle

February 3, 2011

Dear Chairman Brown:

This is to follow up on my November 28, 2010 email to you, to which you have not yet responded. My purpose in writing you again is to call your attention once more to an appearance of conflict of interest matter that has been lingering for 19 months regarding Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and the Marriott convention center hotel public financing legislation. Specifically, I call your attention again to Mr. Evans’ failure to comply with the laws requiring full disclosure of the reasons for his recusals on five occasions in June and July 2009. As you and other council members all take an oath to uphold the law, I trust that you will give this matter your immediate attention and require Mr. Evans to comply with all requirements of the D.C. conflict of interest laws.

Despite my repeated requests to former chairman-now Mayor Vincent Gray, the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) and the Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) to perform their duties and require Mr. Evans to comply with the law, 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 provisions of the D.C. Official Code and the D.C. Municipal Regulations, as well as D.C. Council Rule 202. As an attorney and member of the D.C. Bar, Mr. Evans has an additional duty to adhere to that organization’s ethical standards.

My concerns regarding this matter are stated in some detail below in the letters and emails that I exchanged with Mr. Gray’s office, as well as with the OCF and the BOEE, over a period of months last year. Also enclosed is my November 28 email to you. Here in a nutshell, though, is the gist of this troubling matter:

* In June and July 2009, Mr. Evans on five occasions recused himself from voting on the $272 million public financing package for the Marriott convention center hotel (twice in committee mark-up sessions, 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,” the primary entity to benefit from the legislation. If accurate, this is about as big an appearance of a conflict  of interest as could be imagined in this deal.

* When a council member recuses himself or herself because of an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of one, the laws, regulations and rules are quite clear. In the language of Municipal Regulations 3303.1, 3303.2 and 3303.3, a council member 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, now some 19 months after his recusals on the convention center hotel legislation, has not filed such a written report. (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 noted that Mr. Evans worked behind the scenes in 2009 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 council chairman, you have the duty and authority under the law to see to it that council members comply with laws specifically directed at council members. 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 trust that you (unlike Chairman Gray) will do me the courtesy of responding to my questions regarding this matter. Mr. Gray and Mr. Evans also failed to reply to inquiries about this matter in 2009 from the heads of two respected D.C. organizations, the Committee of 100 and the Federation of Citizens Associations. This, despite the Council’s own “Code of Conduct” on ethics, openness and conflicts of interest posted on the council’s website. These are no small matter to the citizenry, as evidenced by the February 2 front-page article in The Washington Times, calling attention to potential ethical problems for council members regarding outside compensation. 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 appearance of a conflict of interest involves in the Marriott convention center hotel financing legislation.

Since this matter has been lingering so long, I look forward to hearing from you at an early date.

Regards,
John Hanrahan
Ward 2
(202) 462-2054

cc: Brian K. Flowers

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