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SIMMONS: Ethics bill needs time to get it right
Question of the Day
The D.C. Council needs to slow down.
Lawmakers are simply moving too fast on ethics-reform legislation, to which they gave a preliminary nod Tuesday.
The vote is being touted as a comprehensive effort to tighten and raise the bar on the ethical standards in city hall. But amid criminal probes, ongoing public outcry and potential recall efforts, it's obvious that lawmakers are attempting to hand voters and other stakeholders a glass that's barely half full.
Sure, the measure tightens financial disclosure rules and addresses the use of constituent service funds. But those are only two issues on a long list of brow-raising concerns that were exposed by sunlight shortly after the mayor and council were in seated in January.
Are cronyism and nepotism the twin hallmarks of the Mayor Vincent C. Gray administration, and did he pull a Rod Blagojevich by selling a job to a 2010 light-weight contender?
Did council Chairman Kwame R. Brown misuse campaign funds?
Did council members Jack Evans and Yvette Alexander misuse constituent service money?
Did council member Harry Thomas Jr. misuse tax dollars?
Shouldn't the council have impeachment powers?
How can voters get a full refund?
Those questions and others quickly led to a crisis of confidence within city hall.
Lawmakers would be wise to wait for legal action on some of the former questions. But with all deliberate speed, they should take action on the final two if they want to regain public confidence.
All they need do is look to the Constitution and Capitol Hill, which offer clear guidelines and ground rules on censuring, expelling and impeaching the nation's highest echelon of elected leaders. To be sure, it's messy business, but politicians who cast dishonor and disrepute stink to high heaven.
Yet, the D.C. measure fails to address how to rid the council of an unethical and/or unlawful legislator.
The bill would hand off the job to a new ethics panel — an odorous proposal.
If the mayor and council want to be taken seriously, their stabs at ethics reform must address how the law and voters handle bad apples who stink up city hall.
After all, it's the lack of public trust and a flaming crisis of confidence that dogged the council into even considering the bill in the first place.
Getting a comprehensive package of ethics reform measures to the mayor pronto is not crucial. Assuring voters that they did it right is imperative.
The cornerstone of ethical behavior is to first distinguish right from wrong, then follow up by doing the right thing.
While Mr. Brown was right to get his colleagues moving quickly on this one, he is wrong to seek quick action on legislation that gives voters only half of what they are demanding.
Half-true, half-myth: Opponents of school choice continue to spin half-truths.
A faithful reader of The Washington Times took issue with my Nov. 28 column that supported parents' call for the freedom to choose.
It's time to separate fact from fiction.
Myth: D.C. voters rejected a referendum on school vouchers in 1981.
True: D.C. voters hit the polls in 1981, but the referendum did not address school vouchers. By 89 percent, voters rejected a proposal that would have granted families a tuition tax credit.
So I ask: Is it also wrong to give a military veteran a tax-funded voucher to attend a religious college of his choosing?
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...
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