December 15, 2010 | by Beth Solomon
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Two prominent legal experts have joined D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson (At-large) in questioning the actions of Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration Chairman Charles Brodsky for promoting a sports event for personal gain to the Georgetown ANC -- a body that frequently has business before the ABRA Board -- calling his actions unethical and potentially illegal. Brodsky asked the Georgetown ANC 2E at its December meeting to support the closing of Georgetown streets for The Nation's Triathalon, a business Brodsky founded and runs. He then stayed in the meeting to listen to discussions about alcohol beverage license applicants, as reported by The Georgetown Dish.
But staying too late at the party may be the least of Brodsky’s apparent conflict of interest problems. Matt Watson, former D.C. Auditor and recognized expert on government ethics, finds Brodsky’s public/private actions in serious conflict. “It’s clearly unethical and possibly criminal for a District official to represent a private party before a District agency,” said Watson. As Watson explains it, referring to several federal and district laws, it puts both Brodsky and the ANC in positions of competing public interests. Could an ANC vote against Brodsky's request in fulfillment of their duty as elected commissioners representing the wishes of their constituents alienate the chair of the regulatory authority that has great power over the liquor licenses that are so important to Georgetown? Might an ANC vote in favor of Brodsky’s request affect alcohol licensing decisions in Georgetown?
Brodsky faces similar conflicts. As ABRA chair, might he favor ANC 2E’s advice when they appear before him because they voted to support his request for street closures, or might he reject their advice because they voted against his street closure request?
Another prominent Washington attorney came to the same conclusion. "It's an abuse of power," said Don Dinan, general counsel to the D.C. Democratic State Committee. "It creates a direct conflict of interest if a person in an extremely powerful position over the fate of the neighborhood represented by an ANC, especially ANC 2E in Georgetown where liquor licenses are a key component in the quality of life in that neighborhood, to ask the ANC to endorse something that benefits him privately. That's an outrage."
Watson also commented on the situation of Mike Silverstein, who is both a Commissioner on the Dupont Circle ANC 2B and a member of ABRA. On the one hand, Silverstein recuses himself from ABC discussions and decisions when Dupont Circle cases come up. On the other, Silverstein participates in and votes on ABRA-related matters in the ANC. Watson said that Silverstein is “probably doing it right.”
There are, however, other questions, according to Watson. Will ABRA members favor ANC 2B’s advice because they know one of their colleague is a member of that ANC and he will return the favor on other cases? "That kind of behind-the-scenes activity may give the appearance of impropriety,” Watson said. "It's like a zoning commissioner going to a developer and asking, 'Will your build me a house?'" He also wondered why the appointing authorities, the Mayor and Council, allowed Silverstein to keep his ANC seat while serving on ABRA’s board.