Speakers Table

Kwame Brown must temporarily step aside

July 7, 2011

Last month, Ward Five Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. relinquished his chairmanship of the Council’s Economic Development Committee.  The action came two days after D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan revealed scathing allegations about Thomas’s use of more than $300,000 in taxpayer money to fund a luxury SUV, golf outings, hotel stays and other personal extravagances.
 

Chuck Thies (Photo by: Chuck Thies) Chuck Thies
Just yesterday, the DC Board of Elections and Ethics struck out against Council Chair Kwame Brown with serious allegations of election misconduct.  What began as an audit of Brown’s 2008 at-large Council reelection campaign by the BOEE has snowballed in a matter under review by the U.S. Attorney.  The well documented allegations include: failure to report 210 contributions totaling $102,000; failure to report 53 expenditures totaling $169,000; an undisclosed bank account on which Brown’s brother, Che, was a signatory; inability to substantiate $174,000 paid to a company owned by Brown’s brother, and more.

In the face of these allegations and the very serious District and federal investigations, it is time for Brown to take a page out of Thomas’s book and cede his authority as Council Chair until the allegations are cleared up. While we presume innocence, Brown is in a highly influential position. He has taken control of the Committee on Economic Development, he chairs the Committee on Education and holds sway over virtually all legislative matters conducted by the Council.  Wielding such power while at the same time under investigation by local and federal authorities is inappropriate.
 
With a simple stroke of the pen Brown can hand over his authority as Chair of the Council to the current president pro tempore, Ward Three Councilmember Mary Cheh.   Brown needn’t resign and forgo his vote or his paycheck.  However, this powerful action would show that he puts the integrity and of the body ahead of his personal, political stature.  If vindicated, the role and responsibilities of Chair will be awaiting his return
 
Brown hasn’t helped his own cause. Office of Campaign Finance officials have noted the Brown campaign’s unwillingness to provide requested records. This stonewalling an investigation is conduct unbecoming of an elected official.  Also, Brown has offered no plausible explanation for the allegations. Statements made by Brown have been contradictory and his oft-used “administrative errors” excuse is flimsy, at best. Indeed, Togo West, Jr., chairman of the BOEE said, “We think there's criminal activity here,” to justify his vote to refer Brown’s case to federal authorities,

If Brown doesn’t immediately announce his willingness to temporarily step aside, the Councilmembers who earlier had leaned on Thomas to give up his chairmanship must do the same with Brown. While taking on Brown – viewed by some as petulant – comes with it inherent risks, it is the right thing to do.
 
Voters didn’t elect the Council to simply pass laws and spend money; Councilmembers were elected to lead and rise to challenges.  This is one such challenge (and really, seeking to temporarily clip Brown’s wings is hardly an act tantamount to a profile in courage, given the nature of the charges and investigations facing him).

In all likelihood, though, Brown will dig in his heels. Pressure from his Council peers may be necessary, as it was in the Councilmember Thomas case.  But this last resort will, if necessary, force Brown to do what he has failed to do so far: promote and protect the integrity of the D.C. Council.

 

Chuck Thies is co-host of WPFW's "DC Politics" show and a resident of Mt. Pleasant. 


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Better and fairer alcohol control

July 5, 2011

By the time Charles Brodsky was forced to resign as chairman of the DC ABC Board in late May 2011, we had come full circle with regard to the board’s bias in pro of business interests at the expense of the District’s residential communities.  Because alcohol sales is a billion dollar industry that contributes to our economic viability, the District needs to figure out how to issue ABC licenses and arbitrate disputes in an timely, equitable and fair manner without negatively affecting the quality of life of DC residents.   

Former ABC member Laurie Collins (Photo by: facebook) Former ABC member Laurie Collins
Largely unpaid ABC Board members currently meet once a week, not counting holidays. So, the board actually meets part time, barely two months each year.  Meeting only once per week requires that its heavy caseload calendar be spread out over several months. On top of that, board members don’t show up, come in late, leave early, and some are greatly dependent upon the views of the chairperson who, more often than not, is biased and/or controlling, while the board attempts to carry out one of the city’s most important regulatory and licensing functions.

Community leaders get their asses kicked, as a result, by business establishments and their high paid lawyers, when neighborhood residents often rightfully protest licenses and licensees for good cause. They are then blamed for holding up the business licenses, when the real cause of the holdups are the board’s long calendar delays in scheduling protests and other adjudication hearings. These delays can amount to well over a year in some cases.

How can we make this process better?

I personally experienced the machinations of at least five politically appointed ABC Boards and their chairpersons—from the outside as the head of a neighborhood organization and later when I was appointed to the ABC Board by then Mayor Anthony Williams. What I saw and experienced during my time served in front of and before these boards raised serious concerns. 

The Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) has a couple of million dollars in its operating budget and a small staff which faces a billion dollar liquor industry, and the politically appointed members of the ABC Board who have oversight over the agency’s director, its budget and its enforcement employees. These are the same individuals who don’t show up, who leave early and who more often than not depend on the board chair for direction.  An inherent element of conflict of interest is created when an agency of government is structured to operate in that fashion.

I’d suggest that the District seriously rethink how it controls liquor licensing and its regulatory enforcement process, beginning with the ABC Board as currently constituted. The politically appointed ABC Board may need to be abolished in its present form and ABRA removed from the board’s supervision, so that liquor licensing and arbitration of disputes can occur in a fair, equitable and timely manner.

ABRA needs to operate independently of politically appointed board members. It needs a director who answers only to the Mayor. And it needs a professional arbitration board that meets on a full time basis. It should be the board’s function to adjudicate cases only.  It should be the ABRA director’s function to run the regulatory agency without interference from a board, to issue licenses, and only refer cases to the board that require arbitration. ABRA would need at least three staff attorneys or individuals whose expertise is either in DC law, regulation, or arbitration and mediation to sit on an ABC arbitration board, comprised of government employees without an ax to grind or money to be made from the sale of alcohol, entertainment or hospitality services.

I believe that adopting these changes would go along way to expedite the ABC licensing and arbitration process in a fair, equitable and timely manner. 

 

Laurie Collins

….is a former ABC Board Member who served under Mayor Anthony Williams


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Tudor Place balances preservation and community needs

June 30, 2011

In the most recent Georgetowner, you may have read an editorial about Tudor Place’s revised site plan to preserve the Landmark House, the collection, archive, and landscape, a statement by the Georgetown Business Association, and a counter from Outerbridge Horsey.   As we were not contacted about that editorial, it is time for me to respond on behalf of Tudor Place.

Leslie Buhler (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Leslie Buhler
First of all, the Preservation Plan was a multi-year effort with landscape historians, historic buildings experts, environmental controls specialists, collections specialists, security and fire detection/suppression specialists.  In other words, this is a complicated plan to preserve all the historic resources on the Tudor Place property. 

The National Historic Landmark Office in Philadelphia has commended Tudor Place on its planning process and the resulting site plan.  The DC Office of Historic Preservation supports the revised site plan.  The National Park Services approves the revised site plan.

The opposing neighbors state that they value Tudor Place and profess their support.  However, their actions put Tudor Place at risk.  They claim to have alternatives to the site plan that are comprehensive, well-considered alternatives.  They claim to know what is best for Tudor Place.  The fact is that they have offered alternatives which are cost prohibitive, inconsistent with the goals of plan, and would negatively impact the landscape and historic features of the site.  We spent many hours and dollars in discussion with a group of opposing residents on 32nd Street, ANC 2E commissioners Charlie Eason and Tom Birch.  As a result of these meetings a number of changes were made to the original plan as we sought to compromise Tudor Place’s preservation needs with their demands.  

In regards to Mr. Horsey’s statements, I’d like to clarify several points. 

1.       The site plan does include four discreet building projects: a greenhouse attached to the Mower House; a one story high from the east collections and archive storage structure that is a 25 ft. by 24 ft. addition to the south end of the garage; a gatehouse; and an education building.  The fact is, we are only adding 1% to the current lot coverage of 3%. Tudor Place’s lot is 242,224 sq. ft.   The alarmist figures that Mr. Horsey states totally misrepresent what will be seen above ground.

2.       The opposing 32nd Street neighbors proposed plans that would adversely affect significant historic features of the site and would destroy very significant old growth trees.  Their comment was “Well, they are going to die anyway.”

3.    One of the alternatives presented by the opposing 32nd Street neighbors loads all the building onto the 1670 31st Street non-easement property.   An extremely difficult site on which to build, the cost would be prohibitive and we would need to have redundant mechanical and fire suppression systems on this property as well as in the garage.  The structure would completely fill the lot and would have significant negative impact on the neighbors surrounding the north portion of the property.  The revised site plan has only one building on the street, the Gatehouse, and all other buildings are 95 ft. or more away from houses on 31st and 32nd Streets.

3.       The Old Georgetown Board did ask us to consider other options.  Early in our planning process, we did consider very seriously the options they suggested.  When we return to the OGB in July we will present why our study of those options indicates they are not feasible or cost effective and would negatively impact the historic property.

4.       Because of the easement on the property, the National Park Service must approve the location of any building on the historic site; we can only build on locations they approve.

5.       If generating support means telling people what we are actually doing and discussing the substantial negative impact of what has been recommended by the opposing neighbors, then so be it. Why should we not try to generate support?

We have worked long and hard to make this historic site a viable and contributing member of the Georgetown community while ensuring that it survives into the future with all its historic resources protected. Any site plan evolves.  We are going back to the ANC, OGB, and, for the first time, to the CFA to hear comments on the revised site plan.  Let me make clear, this is a critical point for Tudor Place.

 

Leslie L. Buhler

Executive Director


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