D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) introduced a resolution on Thursday calling for the Council to reprimand gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) on grounds that he violated a Council ethics rule in 2008 over dealings with a Metro and lottery contract.
Mendelson scheduled a special Council meeting for Monday, Feb. 25, to discuss and vote on his nine-page reprimand resolution.
In a separate action, Mendelson said he plans to remove from Graham’s Council committee assignment responsibilities for overseeing the city’s alcoholic beverage regulatory agencies.
Meanwhile, Graham’s attorneys on Thursday morning filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court challenging the legal authority of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to issue a finding last month alleging that Graham violated the city’s code of conduct over the contract matter.
Mendelson’s resolution seeking a Council reprimand is based, in part, on the findings of the ethics board that Graham breached city ethics rules.
In addition to the lawsuit, Graham’s attorneys filed separate motions asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction ordering the ethics board to withdraw its ruling on Graham until its legality is determined by the court.
Mendelson’s resolution cites findings by three separate entities, including the Board of Ethics and Government Responsibility, that Graham breached the city’s code of conduct by allegedly attempting to pressure a businessman into withdrawing a bid for a Metro development contract in exchange for Graham’s support for the businessman receiving a D.C. lottery contract.
Graham has denied he interfered with the contract approval process. He has said he made it clear he favored another company for the Metro contract but said his preference was based on sound evidence the company he favored was better qualified to carry out the contract.
“Councilmember Graham’s actions constitute a clear violation of Council Rule 202(a), which requires that, as a Councilmember, he ‘maintain a high level of ethical conduct’ and ‘refrain from taking, ordering, or participating in any official action that would adversely affect the confidence of the public on the integrity of the District government,” Mendelson’s proposed resolution says.
“To maintain the confidence of the public in the integrity of the legislative branch of government, the Council expresses disapproval of the conduct of Councilmember Jim Graham as detailed in this resolution, and hereby reprimands Councilmember Jim Graham for affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of government in violation of D.C. Official Code…”
Graham’s office released a statement from one of his attorneys saying the lawsuit filed on Thursday asserts that the ethics board issued its ruling against Graham without legal authority.
The board “had no basis to issue the findings and pronounce judgment against our client without granting him a chance to be heard, allowing him to review and challenge the evidence to which we were denied access, and conducting a full adversary hearing,” attorney Caroline Mehta said in the statement.
“The Board violated the law and its own rules,” she said. “This is not the ethics process that the Council sought to put into place, nor is it one whose decisions are worthy of respect or weight.”
She added, “Today we filed for relief and are confident that the court will agree that the Board acted lawlessly and denied Councilmember Graham basic fairness and due process.”
In its 38-year history, the D.C. Council has handed down a reprimand to just one Council member – Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), the city’s former mayor. In 2010, an internal Council investigation found that Barry improperly awarded contracts from his office based on favoritism rather than merit.
Council observers said the court doesn’t have authority to prevent the Council from reprimanding Graham, regardless of how it rules on whether the ethics board acted legally in its ruling against Graham.