- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2011

A D.C. Council committee sent up ethics reforms to the full legislature on Monday despite concerns that late changes to the expansive bill warrant a delay that could extend deliberations into the new year.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, said it is important not to hold up the legislation aimed at stemming the stream of perceived ethical lapses at city hall.

“Ultimately the goal is to restore the public’s trust in its government,” she said.

The latest version of Ms. Bowser’s bill would loosen the requirements needed to recall an elected official who violates the city’s code of conduct. Under the bill, an official could be recalled anytime for a violation that “substantially threatens the public’s trust.”

It also would reduce the number of public signatures required to begin recall proceedings.

Additionally, Ms. Bowser’s bill would immediately remove from office any elected official who is convicted of a felony. As it stands, the official must be incarcerated to be disqualified from office.

These reforms require changes to the D.C. charter and therefore must be approved by city voters.

Council members Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, and Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, said last-minute edits to the bill — an additional 50 pages — were released Friday night and required further scrutiny by the committee. Yet their pleas for a delay were rebuffed by Ms. Bowser and a visit to the dais by council Chairman Kwame R. Brown.

Mr. Brown has pledged to pass ethics reform before the winter holiday recess, noting Monday he will schedule an additional legislative session if he has to.

“The idea is that we will move forward, we will have comprehensive ethics reform that will be passed by this body before the end of the year,” Mr. Brown said.

Committee member David A. Catania, at-large independent, suggested that members approve the bill, at least procedurally, to begin debate before the full council at its legislative session on Tuesday.

Mr. Orange offered the dissenting vote in a 4-1 approval of the bill, with the council chairman voting in his ex-officio capacity.

A fifth committee member, Harry Thomas Jr., notably was absent from the proceedings.
Federal agents raided Mr. Thomas’ home in Northeast on Friday as part of a probe into claims he siphoned off  $300,000 in public funds earmarked for youth baseball.

None of the committee members made explicit reference to his situation from the dais, and Ms. Bowser said she did not direct Mr. Thomas to stay away.

Mr. Brown said Monday he expects to meet with the council to discuss recent developments surrounding Mr. Thomas.



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