Speakers Table

Take this ethics bill...and improve it

November 27, 2011

After a reading the ethics bill "Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and Comprehensive Ethics Reform Amendment Act of 2011" introduced by Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, I have many questions.

One of the biggest problems with the bill concerns why councilmembers would still be allowed to collect money for what are euphemistically called Constituent Service Funds but in reality are personal slush funds. The bill cuts these back from $80,000 to $40,000, but we should ask why are they allowed at all? Among other problems, these funds give councilmembers an unfair advantage over any challenger as they can literally buy votes from constituents with donations to individuals from these funds.

I would question why the Council isn’t forced to go on the record regarding a nomination to this Board? Section 202 (2) states, “Within 45 calendar days of the effective date of this act a nomination shall be submitted to the Council for a 45-day period of review, excluding days of Council recess. If the Council does not approve or disapprove the nomination by resolution within this 30-day review period, the nomination shall be deemed disapproved.”

Is it a 30 or 45 day review period and why should they not have to vote to disapprove a nomination and go on record doing so? Then it states, The Mayor shall, from time to time, designate the Chairman of the Board. 

Either he always designates the Chair or not.

How large does the staff of this new board need to be to accomplish their directives? Someone needs to think about this and look at comparable organizations around the nation.

Other concerns with this bill are the low fines and lack of specificity for penalties for infractions of the rules. At one point the bill states that aggregate fines for certain infractions can’t exceed $5,000.  Who can pay these fines? Are they just another charge to a councilmember’s campaign committee?  There appears to be no set fines for not abiding by the new regulations for transition committees, inaugural committees etc. If the fines aren’t large enough, they will have very little meaning.

There is a saying “Half a loaf is better than none.”  In this case I don’t think that’s true.  If we allow the Council to pass an ethics bill with only half a loaf and then pat itself on the back for a job well done, we are giving them a pass. We need to hold their feet to the fire and demand that any ethics bill have real teeth and is strong enough to curb the sleazy practices that some councilmembers are guilty of.  In the long run, every elected official in the District is tainted.

The people of the District deserve an open an honest government. While I personally believe that we aren’t necessarily any better or worse than governments around the nation, we now have the opportunity to set an example on how to run a clean, honest, open government.

Let’s pass a bill that others can emulate for its comprehensiveness, not for its loopholes.  

By Peter D. Rosenstein

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Georgetown businesses prepare for vote

November 13, 2011

This Wednesday evening, the Board of the Georgetown Business Association (GBA) will meet to elect its officers for the coming year. Is this important to Georgetown businesses and residents? As I consider my own role, in the organization, a few thoughts draw my focus:

During first several meetings I attended as a new GBA board member in 2007, many members were debating whether or not GBA had outlived its usefulness in Georgetown. Membership had fallen dramatically. Board meetings seemed more like a chore than a privilege or responsibility. GBA events often attracted fewer than 15 people. It was clear to all of us that GBA was at a crossroads, and it either had to regroup and reconsider its mission and activities, or let other organizations take its place.

But many board members—I was one of them—were not ready to give up on GBA, as they still believed we could successfully achieve our mission of connecting Georgetown businesses with clients and advocating on behalf of the needs of the Georgetown business community. Subsequently, through the determination and the hard work of the GBA board, dedicated members of the Georgetown community, and elected officers, GBA successfully re-launched and rebranded itself into a thriving and vibrant business organization. Gone are the days when we had small turnouts for our networking events. Now, our monthly events have to be hosted in venues that can hold 100-150 people.

GBA membership has finally returned to the levels from before 2008, and in this year alone, 40 new members have joined.  GBA has also joined the social media revolution on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Additionally, our partnerships with local media outlets in Georgetown have given GBA more visibility, and GBA has become more respected on a city-wide level, having hosted events for Mayor Vincent Gray, Councilmember Vincent Orange (At-large) and Council Chairman Kwame Brown.

GBA also hosts quarterly events to foster conversations and collaboration between Georgetown organizations, such as CAG, the BID, Georgetown University, and the ANC. GBA has also made an arrangement with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce so that GBA members can become members the local Chamber for a nominal fee. Moreover, we are working with the Small Business Development Corporation, which has been charged by the government to help with loans to small businesses in the community.

We have also brought back some former GBA favorites, such as the GBA Annual Senior Advisory Luncheons, which include former GBA board members and recognize the contributions of some of the longest-standing businesses in the Georgetown community.

None of this could have been accomplished without the dedication and hard work of every single GBA board member who has stepped up this year whether as chair of or participant in a committee. We have all worked hard to make GBA a vibrant business organization that offers real value to its membership. I would be remiss if I did not single out Joe Giannino, outgoing GBA President who has demonstrated great leadership skills in moving the organization forward and creating an organization in which everyone plays a role.

Building on my participation as a board member, as Vice President of GBA for the past two years, I have been encouraged by my colleagues to consider running for GBA President. As I reflect on how much GBA has accomplished in the last few years and how proud I am of what we have done, I would be honored to continue my service with such a great organization.

It is the leadership of Joe Giannino and others that I hope to emulate and build upon if I become GBA President.

In 2012, legislation will be the number one-priority for the GBA because of the need to reestablish a strong lobbying organization for local interests. We will also continue collaborating with other Georgetown groups—indeed such cooperation is currently underway—to develop ideas about how to make Georgetown the most competitive shopping destination in Washington, D.C. while also respecting the needs of local residents.

Additionally, we will continue to build on the momentum already achieved by GBA in reaching out to new members, supporting the varied needs of our current members, and developing a stronger social media presence online. We also plan to continue streamlining GBA operations to ensure that processes are more efficient for our members. For example, next year we hope to implement an automated membership management system that will make it easier for members to pay their dues online. Finally, because networking is one of the most important activities for GBA members, we will continue to host a variety of our most popular activities, including new “members only” events.

I am proud to have been a part of such exciting developments with GBA, and I can’t wait to see what the New Year brings. Thank you for your ongoing leadership and participation in this important endeavor for our community and our nation's capital.

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Fiona Greig withdraws

November 9, 2011

I am not surprised that Ward 2 City Council candidate Fiona Greig decided to withdraw.

I am only surprised at the excuses she and her supporters are using.

Politics is the same all over and D.C. is no different. Whether you are running for President of the United States or City Council you must be prepared to deal with people looking into your past and scrutinizing your personal and business history. After all, you are asking people to take a leap of faith and vote for you to represent them on important issues.

Apparently Greig wasn’t prepared for the scrutiny. I never met her but was looking forward to the campaign. I haven’t always agreed with current Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans. In fact, I have supported those running against him in the past. I think that Evans has done much good for the people he represents, but I always have an issue with those who want to stay in local office for a lifetime.

Many were surprised when the person who challenged Evans this time was someone with very little community background or involvement in the issues of Ward 2. From her announcement Greig sounded more like someone running at-large rather than someone who was going to get involved in the issues facing the people of Ward 2. These include parking, liquor licenses, town and gown issues and zoning issues, among others. Of course, the people of Ward 2 want an ethical representative.  I and many others have publicly called for ethics reform, abolishment of the Constituent Service Funds, and a more open government. I would like to see someone become a full-time councilmember for Ward 2, not just have it as their secondary income.

The reality is that the person who will run and win against Evans needs to have the understanding of the city that he does. They need to understand politics or they will never be successful as a council person. It appears from both her announcement and then withdrawal statement that Greig wasn’t that person.

She seems to lack the basic understanding that filings with the Board of Elections are open to the public and there are many political junkies who look at those filings regularly. You don’t need a private detective to see them. Her reference to a fellow employee at McKinsey as homosexual wasn’t tragic, but it did show a lack of what is happening in the world today. That is an antiquated term.  Also the issue of her marriage and whether her husband was divorced or not when they married may be interesting to some but I don’t believe it would ever have been an issue in the campaign. Those two issues surely weren’t reasons to withdraw.

I actually believe that Greig withdrew for lack of support and because she found it hard to raise money. Raising campaign funds in today’s climate is difficult. I would hope that if she is really interested in serving the people of Ward 2 that she will spend the next few years becoming active in the ward, getting to know people, maybe running for the ANC Commission, and then trying again.

We need new people in D.C. government, but just announcing you are new and want to run isn’t enough.

By Peter D. Rosenstein 

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