A government watchdog group plans to ask the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance to investigate whether the use of city employees to solicit letters of support for the mayor’s $440 million baseball stadium-financing plan constitutes an ethics violation.
Dorothy Brizill, head of DCWatch, said she will file a request Monday for the Office of Campaign Finance to issue an interpretive opinion about the letter campaign, citing an article in The Washington Times yesterday.
“I think an interpretive opinion will not only be something they can do fairly quickly, but something that needs to be done in order to clear the air here,” Mrs. Brizill said.
The Office of Campaign Finance, which enforces city employee standards of conduct, is required to issue an interpretive opinion within 30 days of the date of a request for opinion is filed.
The Times reported yesterday that Kathy Henderson, a special assistant for communications in the D.C. Office of Community Outreach, sent an e-mail message Oct. 8 to about 20 employees, mostly in the mayor’s office, directing them to distribute to their “identified stakeholders” an attached letter praising the stadium-financing package.
The financing plan, which must be approved by the council, would authorize the city to build a ballpark on the Anacostia River in Southeast to house the relocating Montreal Expos.
The one-paragraph e-mail instructed the city workers to “obtain as many signed letters of support as possible” and return them to the D.C. Office of Community Affairs by close of business last Tuesday. The Times obtained a copy of the e-mail, which was followed by another e-mail renewing the request on Tuesday.
Recipients of the e-mail included the heads of the offices of Latino Affairs; Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs; the director of the Office of Boards and Commissions; and the director of the Office of Partnerships and Grants Development.
Mrs. Brizill yesterday accused Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration of “using D.C. government employees to lobby another branch of the District government.”
“What [the government workers] are doing is in essence going outside of government and getting community support for a project that benefits private interests,” she said.
According to the D.C. Code, city workers and resources cannot be used to support or oppose a candidate, an initiative, a referendum or a recall measure. City resources cannot be used to benefit private companies or concerns.
Two persons who were asked by city workers to send letters to the council told The Times yesterday they were surprised by the requests.
Neither person wanted to be identified because they work in positions affiliated with the city government, though neither is a city employee.
One person said he did not think the request to express his support was unprecedented, but he could not recall another instance when he had been asked to submit a letter of support.
He said he did not feel pressured by the request, but the other person said he did not support a publicly financed stadium and the request made him feel “uncomfortable.”
Both indicated they had not sent the requested letters.
The letter, which is more than a page long, is addressed to “council members.” It repeats many of the mayor’s stadium talking points, emphasizing the creation of jobs, the revitalization of the neighborhood and the economic benefits of a baseball stadium.
According to the e-mail, the letters were sent at the request of Anita Bonds, who has served in a variety of city government positions since the Marion Barry administrations.
She was appointed the head of the Office of Community Affairs in August. The Office of Community Outreach’s Web site (www.oco.eom.dc.gov) says that one of its purposes is to provide “channels of communication for residents to express their concerns to the mayor.”
Miss Bonds did not immediately return phone calls for comment.