In an 11-2 vote Monday, the D.C. Council formally reprimanded Councilmember Jim Graham. The measure is short of a full censure, which could have had significant implications for Graham.
“It’s time. Now that the Board of Ethics and Accountability has dismissed the case, it’s time for the Council to speak. That time, in my recommendation, was today and that’s what we did,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.
The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability initiated an investigation into Graham’s conduct after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) found that Graham violated its standards of conduct by interfering in a contract process.
Graham, alleged to have interfered in a lottery board contract, initially denied the allegations of wrongdoing. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) also investigated the matter and found that Graham offered to support Banneker Ventures bid on a 2008 lottery contract in exchange for the company withdrawing its bid on a WMATA contract.
The alleged conduct amounted to a quid pro quo offer.
Chairman Mendelson described Graham’s conduct as “behind closed doors bartering a vote on one contract with the vote on another contract. This was a barter not between councilmembers but between potential contractors.
“Procurement is an area in which there is a long history in the United States and in many jurisdictions, federal, state and local, of corruption,” said Mendelson. “As a result, we have procurement rules that require that the process is shielded from political influence [and] from undue influence from behind closed doors.”
Although the Council resolution acknowledged that Graham committed no crime, Mendelson said that the public’s trust in government is the issue.
“The law, which the Council adopted 35 years ago, makes it clear that elected officials are required to hold themselves in such a manner as to not adversely affect the public’s confidence in the integrity of the government.
Mendelson continued, “There’s no question that after two years of controversy and three investigations that the public’s confidence has been harmed.”
Councilmember Graham said that he was initially prepared to request a special hearing on the matter. He also suggested that he might have been able to garner the five votes needed from other councilmembers to press the issue. In the end, he decided against that move.
“That would not have affected the action today,” Graham explained. So today, we would go forward and then we would have the hearing and the special investigation and I thought ‘that seems like kind of a double whammy.’
The move aborting efforts for a formal hearing seems be in Graham’s best interest. It is likely that a special investigation would not have gone in his favor.
In an apparently punitive move, the Council also removed the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) from Graham’s control under the Human Services Committee.
“Losing this particular responsibility in these circumstances is difficult for me,” said Graham. “It’s not a situation where there is any connection between one and the other, except for Club U and what happened 12 or 13 years ago.”
“I think it’s time to put this behind us,” Graham told those assembled in the Council Chambers.
“I have very important responsibilities as chairman of the Human Services Committee. The issues of poverty, the issues of homelessness in Ward 1 and throughout the city are of great concern to me and they always have been. I have always fought for those most vulnerable.”