- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A two-hour meeting in which D.C. Council members questioned fellow lawmaker Jack Evans about his ethics scandal ended Tuesday with the council questioning the integrity of the long-serving politician.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson expressed the frustration — and doubt — felt by the lawmakers during the administrative meeting.

“What disturbed me the most was that when you listened to the questions that were asked, it is clear that an increasing number of council members distrust the integrity of an increasing number of votes or issues or actions that the council member has taken,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “Whether they are right or wrong, it is fundamental that a council member has to command the trust of his or her colleagues and the public.”

For the past few months, Mr. Evans, the former chairman of Metro Board of Directors, has been at the center of an ethics investigation that found he knowingly failed to disclose his business relationship with a company seeking a Metro contract, among other ethical concerns.

He had long said the investigation found he had not committed any violations. What’s more, he has resigned from the Metro Board, after having announced he would not seek the chairmanship again.

On Tuesday, Mr. Evans defended himself, saying that he never conducted business for his firm, NSE Consulting, inside City Hall; that his client Colonial Parking has no business with Metro; and that he never accepted payment from Digi Outdoor Media, another business relationship that raised ethical concerns.

“When I had said that the matter had been resolved without a finding of violation, it was not because I wanted to dispute that I had not properly disclosed my consulting agreement with a client for which I worked, but because I mistakenly believed that the amended filing I made was the resolution that was suggested and that cured the violation,” the Ward 2 Democrat said in his opening statement.

Mr. Evans last week requested Tuesday’s meeting so that he could explain himself and his colleagues could question him before taking action to remove him as chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue.

“I simply ask for a pause to slow this rush to judgment until all the facts are known and my side is heard,” he said.

Lawmakers asked Mr. Evans if he believed he had conflicts of interest with specific pieces of legislation that had come before the council. But he declined to answer, saying the focus of the meeting was the ethics probe conducted by a law firm hired by the Metro Board’s ethics committee and its report.

For example, Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, had questions about Mr. Evans’ involvement in the Transportation Benefits Equity Amendment Act of 2019 as a member of the Committee on Transportation and Environment, which she chairs.

She asked him if he felt he should recuse himself from those discussions, given that their committee received a letter from the Washington Parking Association, of which Colonial Parking is a member, opposing the legislation. Mr. Evans said he said he had no view on the matter.

“That’s kind of surprising, because we are expected to know the standards of rules are,” Ms. Cheh said.

David Grosso, at-large independent, noted that when the council was discussing legislation to strengthen its ethics rules, Mr. Evans pushed back and called them “gotcha” rules.

Mr. Evans said that he was raising appropriate concerns and did vote in favor of all the ethics legislation.

“I think we have enough smoke here to actually put Mr. Evans on notice and to pause him from any votes in the committees at this point in time until we can do our ad hoc committee to the fullest extent,” Mr. Grosso said.

Democratic members Brianne Nadeau of Ward 1, Brandon Todd of Ward 4, Kenyon McDuffie of Ward 5 and Robert White (at-large) left Tuesday’s meeting before Mr. Evans read his statement.

“I do not want to hear anything further on this matter from [Mr. Evans] unless he is under oath and subject to the penalty of perjury,” Mr. McDuffie said.

Mr. White said he is waiting for the ad hoc committee to get answers from Mr. Evans, tweeting “This is a sideshow when there is real work to do.”

Mr. Mendelson said it would have been “inappropriate” to have sworn Mr. Evans in because the meeting was an administrative one, not a formal hearing.

The chairman plans to hire a law firm to investigate Mr. Evans soon and before he creates the ad hoc committee to review the investigation by the end of the summer.

The council is scheduled to vote on removing Mr. Evans from his chairmanship next Tuesday during the final legislative meeting before the summer recess.

• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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