August 6, 2012 at 4:08 pm EDT | by WBadmin
Returning to an ethical District government


For nearly two years now, elected officials in the District of Columbia have been embroiled in one ethical lapse after another. We’ve had fully loaded SUVs paid for by taxpayers, questionable hiring practices, suspect handling of Metro and lottery contracts, a Council chief of staff sent to prison for taking bribes from the taxi cab industry, one Council member indicted for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a youth sports league, and our Council chair indicted for mortgage fraud. And, of course, our mayor is facing questions about what he knew and when about a shadow campaign that illegally raised and spent more than half a million dollars on his 2010 election.

Each scandal has brought growing, unwanted attention from the national media spotlight.

Some, such as Washington Blade columnist Peter Rosenstein (“Scandals, low turnout in D.C.” April 12, 2012) argue that local reporters are focusing too much on the scandal du jour and not enough on the progress being made in the city.

There is no doubt that progress continues to be made each and every day in D.C. New environmental programs seem to be launching on almost a weekly basis; while the unemployment rate is still high, residents are getting back to work; our budget is balanced and our rainy-day fund is being restored.

However, simply because the trash is still getting picked up and a contract is signed for a streetcar vendor does not mean we as District residents should turn a blind eye to some very serious ethical lapses in the Wilson Building. One of the best ways to stop the ethical lapses and turn the media spotlight elsewhere is to remove the culture of pay-to-play politics from D.C. government.

Comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform are paramount. A variety of legislation is pending before the Council covering everything from banning secondary jobs for Council members to better disclosure of campaign finances. The Council needs to carefully consider all of this legislation and set personal agendas and pocketbooks aside and approve much of this legislation for the betterment of the city.

In addition, a citizen-led initiative currently under review by the D.C. Board of Elections would, if approved, place an initiative on the November ballot that would ban direct corporate donations to campaigns. District residents would not be breaking new ground by approving this initiative. Currently, 21 other states ban direct corporate campaign contributions.

But more than anything, the residents of the District of Columbia must get involved. We can no longer sit on the sidelines of democracy in the District. Whether you’re a native Washingtonian or someone who has only moved here recently, we all call D.C. home now. We should all try to improve our city by paying attention to city politics even when scandals don’t fill up the front page, by registering to vote and by actually voting. If we vote for candidates who are transparent in both their professional and campaign dealings, we can steadily clean up this mess.

The District of Columbia is the nation’s capital and we should be seen as a model for high-functioning, thoughtful city government, not a model of corruption and greed.

Merrick Garb is a graduate student at the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies at the Dupont Circle campus of Johns Hopkins University. Bryan Weaver is a community activist who lives in Ward One.

  • What they said. But we need ETHICAL reform of MPD HQ, as well. Sometimes good cops– even top cops– don’t realize when their official conduct is really biased policing conduct.

    Recently, in an extraordinary remark reflecting, IMHO, institutional anti-LGBT bias, MPD Chief of Police Cathy Lanier besmirched the victims of a brutal anti-gay assault by asserting “they” (both victims) had said things on “the” TV news interview that the two gay victims clearly had not said.

    In an email to me on 26 July 2012, MPD Police Chief Lanier wrote,

    “Hi Brian, As you may have seen from the interview with the victims in the media – they themselves have stated that they don’t recall hearing any slurs of any kind made – we are investigating this as a hate crime anyway until we can prove that it wasn’t otherwise.”

    Moreover, a few days later, on 31 July, the Chief’s MPD Communications Office was only too happy to SPIN the Chief’s new story line again, quite publicly this time, on MPD’s-5D listserv. One of the Chief’s vocal supporters there, who often suggests MPD police protection for his neighborhood, again paraphrased the Chief’s earlier misleading SPIN this way…

    “The victims themselves stated to the news channels that they do not know if the crime was because they were gay…”

    Well the truth is, law enforcement officers all over the country know that victims who are being brutally assaulted, in fear of their lives, often are not paying attention to, nor can later remember what their attackers are saying.

    Indeed, in Chief Lanier’s own Special Order “SO-11-22” of just last December, regarding hate crimes, it states in one of its opening sentences, and I quote,

    “Victims of hate crimes may not realize that a crime is a bias-related/hate crime or may be reluctant to report a crime as a bias/hate crime.”

    Set aside for a moment Chief Lanier’s obvious SPIN and its implication that MPD is now working hard to prove “otherwise”– i.e, that this violent assault was NOT the anti-gay hate crime MPD’s own, earlier reports strongly suggest that it was.

    Set aside also MPD’s Office of Communications’ UNETHICAL use of taxpayer-supported Yahoo! Groups listservs to disseminate false information about two gay victims whose case is under active MPD investigation.

    Let’s just examine the Chief’s email to me more closely…

    First of all, the TV interview I saw online was only with the ONE gay victim– the one who did not have his jaw broken in the assault– videotaped apparently, just after he had walked out of Howard University Hospital. Sheesh!

    So ask yourself, why did the Chief attribute her misleading paraphrasing, untruthfully, to BOTH victims? Isn’t that unethical for a chief of police to do?

    As to what that one victim actually said, so casual readers can judge for themselves whether Chief Lanier’s characterization was very accurate or very untruthful, here is the NBC4 transcript (link to full transcript w/ video is immediately below this transcript quote)…

    Four or five kids just came out of nowhere without any warning, Roike said. “We didn’t think it was a robbery because they didn’t immediately ask for something. They just came out swinging and hitting.”

    Roike said he’s not sure if he and his boyfriend were attacked because of their sexuality.

    “I can’t think of another reason other than we got out of a fancy town car and we were walking in a not great part of town at a late hour,” Roike said. “We were probably holding hands. It could have been because we’re gay, but I don’t know for sure.”
    As I understand it, Mr. Roike is not a lawyer. Neither is his friend, Mr. Hall. They certainly should not be expected to know the specific provisions of DC’s hate crimes law (Bias-Related Crimes Act, #22-3703)– especially just after a violent attack– when asked, on the spot, by a News4’s veteran crime reporter to engage in speculation.

    In addition, Police Chief Lanier certainly knows well that law provides both criminal and civil protections for the victims of hate crimes in DC, as well as reporting requirements. Lanier also knows that MPD must comply with all of that law’s provisions, including those that preserve the rights of hate crimes victims.

    So why did DC’s police chief suddenly assert what appears to be a grossly MISLEADING account of what the victims said in “the” TV interview to which she was referring?

    IMO, it can appear to any casual reader that MPD’s top cop is trying to compromise and prejudice the rights of the gay victims under DC’s Bias-related Crimes Act. Unfortunately, that can also have the effect of impeaching the credibility of the victims– even demonizing them in the process.

    Why shouldn’t we consider that UNETHICAL, biased policing– by the city’s chief of police, no less? And why shouldn’t we demand an independent investigation of MPD’s Communications Office for unethical conduct?

  • ” We should all try to improve our city by paying attention to city politics even when scandals don’t fill up the front page, by registering to vote and by actually voting.”

    I agree with this statement made by the authors of this viewpoint piece 100%. I would add that when we do this we don’t simply rely on reporters who by focusing on scandals get front page stories in the newspapers or more time on-air. But when we get involved we learn the more intimate details of what is really going on in the District government, the good and the bad, and can make our own decisions on who to support for elective office. DC is still like a small town in many ways with the same people involved in many areas of the community. It is still an easy place to become more active and when you do that you can have a real impact on how things are done.

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