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Mayor strengthens nominee process to avoid surprises

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2011

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray say his administration will alter its policy for reviewing nominees for city oversight bodies by sending them through the city's Office of the Attorney General before they are announced to the public.

"Typically this review has taken place after the announcement," said Linda Wharton-Boyd, the mayor's spokeswoman. "By moving that review up on the time line, we should be able to help catch any legal issues before we go public with a nominee."

The move was announced Friday, the same day the administration was forced to withdraw the nomination of Robert L. Mallett for chairman of the Board of Elections and Ethics because he did not meet a residency requirement.

Mr. Mallett, a city administrator under former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, had worked in New York City from 2001 to 2009 before returning to the District in May 2010.

Under the law, a nominee must lived in the city for three consecutive years leading to a nomination. The qualification was reiterated in a sweeping elections reform bill passed in 2009.

The policy change came after Mr. Gray's chief of staff, Christopher Murphy, and Ron Collins, the director of the D.C. Office of Boards and Commissions, agreed to move up the legal review.

"It wasn't the policy before because it was never an issue before," Mr. Murphy said.

It became an issue when Mr. Mallett was introduced to the public Wednesday.

Dorothy Brizill, a longtime city government watchdog, immediately pointed out that Mr. Mallett failed to meet the residency requirement, an assertion that appeared to catch the mayor's team off-guard.

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

City officials said Mr. Collins' office had been under a heavy workload that was exacerbated by a staff vacancy. The city plans to fill the open spot early next month.

Mr. Murphy now will "not sign off on any nominees and will not allow any nominees to be announced until we've completed this important process step," Ms. Wharton-Boyd said.

Ms. Bowser has said that there must be more people in the District who are qualified to serve on the ethics and elections board.

A report on the Omnibus Elections Reform Act of 2009 stated the imposition of qualifications would not, as some had argued, "substantially reduce the pool of potentially qualified nominees."

"Because of its status as the nations capital, the District enjoys an abundance of qualified potential nominees," the report states.

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