Residency issue arises for nominee to D.C. elections board

Ex-official misses 3-year requirement

Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s pick to head the increasingly vital D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics faces an uphill route to confirmation because of his residency status, an issue that derailed another mayoral pick mere weeks ago.

Mr. Gray announced that Robert L. Mallett, city administrator under former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly from 1991 to 1995, as his pick for chairman of the body that oversees elections and ethical standards among D.C. officials.

Yet Mr. Mallett may need the D.C. Council to grant him an exception in order to take the job because he has not lived in the District for three consecutive years leading up to his nomination, as city law requires.

The law was reiterated in an elections reform bill that passed the council in 2009, when Mr. Gray was council chairman.

Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat and the new chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, said she is not inclined to support an exception for Mr. Mallett.

“I don’t see what the rationale would be,” she said. “Is there a shortage of people who have lived here for three years who could serve?”

The issue appeared to have caught the Gray administration off guard, despite a bevy of personnel missteps, including the departure just two weeks ago of the mayor’s pick for deputy chief of staff. Andi Pringle resigned after about 10 days on the job amid controversy involving her vote in last year’s city elections while living in Maryland.

Mr. Gray on Wednesday also picked Stephen I. Danzansky, a registered Republican, and Devarieste Curry to fill the remaining seats at the elections board. All three nominees are lawyers.

The nominations were supposed to fill vacancies on the three-member board and calm fears that the BOEE would be unable to function as it heads toward primary elections in April and attempts to ameliorate ethical issues that have hung over several elected officials throughout the year.

Yet D.C. Watch’s Dorothy Brizill, a longtime city government watchdog whose research brought about the Pringle affair, noted that Mr. Mallett had worked in New York City from 2001 to 2009 before returning to work at United Health Group in the District last year.

Mr. Mallett told reporters at the mayor’s news conference that he returned to work in the District in May 2010 and two months later bought a home on Linnean Avenue Northwest.

“I think this is something you would have to take up with the mayor,” Mr. Mallett told Ms. Brizill when asked about the residency requirement.

Mr. Gray re-emphasized Mr. Mallett’s qualifications, and said of the residency question, “If that is something that becomes an issue, we’ll address it.”

Later in the day, a spokeswoman for the mayor said the director of the Office of Boards and Commission, Ron Collins, “is exploring other alternatives to the Mallett nomination, including the possibility of seeking a waiver to the residency requirement.”

Council member Mary M. Cheh, who introduced the Omnibus Election Reform Amendment Act of 2009, said Mr. Mallett appears to require the exemption from the council, even if he meets the “spirit of the law” because he previously had lived in the District.

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