Gray Proposes Ethics Code in Response to Barry Controversy
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray unveiled a proposed unified "Code of Official Conduct" for council members today as he and other members begin work on implementing new ethics policies.
Under Gray's proposal, the first step in responding to ethical questions that swirled around Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) this summer, members should avoid "using their public office for private gain" and stop "giving preferential treatment to any person." The proposed code also urges members to avoid "impeding government efficiency or economy" and maintain "independence and impartiality" while upholding 'the public in the integrity of government."
The code also reinforces several existing laws and ethics policies for council members, such as not accepting gifts or loans from someone who is seeking a contract from the city.
Gray, who will move the proposal as emergency legislation at tomorrow's council meeting, also wants the council's general counsel to assume the role of "ethics counselor." If approved, the current general counsel, Brian K. Flowers, will advise members on ethics and issues opinions when ethical issues arise.
"This will help create more clarity in the future," said Gray, who worked with the National Conference of State Legislators and a private firm, City Ethics, to develop the proposal.
One area left unresolved in Gray's proposal is what, if any, sanctions can be meted out against members who violate the new ethics code. As was discovered during the controversy over Barry's decision to give a city contract to a woman he had been dating, the council has no formal reprimand or censure procedures.
Gray said today he and other members have not yet agreed on whether they want to implement a formal reprimand or censure process but he said "that will likely be forthcoming."
"We are just not ready for that yet," Gray said.
Gray is moving ahead with a new ethics policy even though attorney Robert S. Bennett is still investigating Barry's use of tax dollars. In addition to his contract to former girlfriend Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, questions have been raised about Barry's use of earmarks.
When Bennett's report is completed, probably later this fall, Gray said the council will take up additional ethics proposals.
"The code of conduct is a framework and there will be additional pieces developed," Gray said.
September 21, 2009; 12:05 PM ET
Categories: D.C. Council , Tim Craig
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