- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2011

D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser has scheduled a “working group” session to make good on her promise to hear out her fellow legislators’ concerns ahead of a final vote on sweeping ethics legislation before the end of the year.

Ms. Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, scheduled a staff-level meeting for Friday morning as she strives to meet council Chairman Kwame R. Brown’s goal of passing an ethics bill before the holiday recess, despite the objections of Mayor Vincent C. Gray and certain colleagues who say more time is needed to review late changes to the expansive bill.

“We hope you’ll come with any questions, comments, or to discuss potential amendments,” a memo from Ms. Bowser’s chief of staff, Rob Hawkins, says. “The measure is scheduled for second reading in two weeks, so we’d like to resolve any outstanding issues as soon as possible.”

Mr. Hawkins said the office will likely schedule another session for council members early next week.

The council gave unanimous approval to the bill at its first reading on Tuesday, and a spokeswoman for Mr. Brown said he has not wavered from his plans to schedule a final vote for Dec. 20.

Several council staff members said Thursday they do not expect any of the council’s 13 members — certainly not a majority — to vote against the ethics legislation, which is intended to remove the dark cloud of scandal that has hung over the John A. Wilson Building.

“I don’t see how [they could], quite frankly,” council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said Thursday. “I think 13 of us are ready to vote for a strong ethics bill.”

The real fight is expected to take place during the amendment process and the ensuing debate to fine-tune the legislation before an up-or-down vote on its passage.

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, plans to resurrect a trio of amendments that were defeated from the dais on Tuesday, although his chief of staff said Mr. Wells is willing to work with colleagues to tweak the measures as necessary.

Mr. Wells wants to ban bundling, in which one entity uses subsidiaries to give more money to political candidates; prohibit city contractors from donating to campaigns; and eliminate constituent services funds, a pool of private donations and leftover campaign funds that are intended for dire needs of constituents, but have been used by council members for such things as catering and sports tickets.

Ms. Bowser’s bill reduces the amount elected officials can raise for their funds from $80,000 to $40,000 and places restrictions on their use.

Council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, said he is pursuing and tweaking his proposals to keep the Board of Elections and Ethics intact — the bill sets up a separate board for ethics — and to let voters decide if council members should be full time, with no outside employment, and to weigh in on the best way to remove an elected official who runs afoul of ethics laws.

“We all want ethics legislation. For me, I want meaningful ethics legislation,” he said. “It’s my intention to make the council address these issues.”

Mr. Barry said he does not plan to introduce any amendments, but hopes to remove a provision in the bill that would change city law specifying that elected officials cannot be eligible for recall in the first or fourth year of their term.

He respects the ability of voters to “put you in and take you out,” but “it ought to be an orderly process,” in which newly elected officials are not immediately burdened by former opponents.

Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, approved the bill as a member of the Committee on Government Operations after airing some concerns about the time allotted to review the late changes to the bill.

On Thursday, Mr. Brown said he supports the legislation and warned other council members against using it for posturing or “political witch hunts” against each other.

“One of the things I’ve tried to convey to my colleagues is not to overreach,” Mr. Brown said. “There has to be a balance.”

Senior staff for Mr. Gray said the bill appears to meet criteria the mayor laid out for ethics reform in a letter to the council in late October, including “significant restrictions on constituent-services accounts.”

Mr. Gray told the council this week he would like them to delay their final vote until its Jan. 3 meeting, yet his administration is ready to conform to their schedule if it must.

“I just wish we had a few more days to be able to look at it, to be actually sure what is in there, what the implications are of those” new provisions, Mr. Gray said at his biweekly press briefing on Wednesday. “We’ll work hard to try to conform to the timetable the council appears to be on.”

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