Photo by The Georgetown Dish
Council Chair Kwame Brown
Dear Council Chairman Kwame Brown:
We read with interest today’s announcement that you have asked Dr. Edward Montgomery, Dean of the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute (GPPI) to review best ethical practices and recommend “options for the establishment of a Council body to conduct ethics investigations and to provide advice to council members regarding ethics regulations.”
We have two raised eyebrows and questions to ask you, Mr. Chairman. First, since this review by Dr. Montgomery is a transparent attempt to deflect some of the negative perception people now have of you because of the double SUV controversy, we suggest a much quicker, simpler, more effective comeback. Why not pay for -- out of your own salary -- a used SUV to drive around the District? This would be newsworthy and be a symbol of your determination to put the controversy behind you.
Secondly, we are bothered by the fact that Dr. Montgomery and GPPI are “providing the advice pro bono to the Council.” We realize that these are tough economic times, but an arrangement such as this can create and ethics question of its own. Specifically, the appearance of a possible quid pro quo between you and the Council and Georgetown University. In other words, they do you this favor of pro bono advice and you do a favor for GU in the future.
You could easily avoid the appearance of conflict of interest by inviting a panel of “experts” from UDC Law School, GW Law School, etc. to give opinions during a roundtable session. The Council would then better understand “best practices” when it does formally take on the political question of whether and how to monitor the behaviors of its members.
What, you ask, can you do for GU in exchange for its pro bono services? The quick answer is something to help GU obtain approval of its expansion plan for its campus, a plan bitterly opposed by two Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and residents and leaders in Georgetown, Burleith, Glover Park and Foxhall.
These communities very much fear that the increased enrollment GU is asking for will have many negative effects on their communities, particularly in the number of students living in off campus group homes and exacerbate the siege they feel they are under from their extreme unruly student behavior.
And you, as Council Chairman, have great much influence, albeit indirectly, in the kind of land-use decision GU is asking for in its expansion proposal. For instance, the District’s appointees to the Zoning Commission, the body that will rule on the expansion plan, go through your Committee of the Whole, as does the Comprehensive Plan, which zoning must follow. To say the least, there is the possibility of a perceived quid-pro quo conflict here.
There is a way to dispel the perception of an ethical problem – follow the lead of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and publically ask that all undergrads be housed on campus. A letter from you to the community and the Zoning Commission supporting the ANC and the neighbors and Councilmember Evans would show District residents that GU’s pro bono service to the Council is not improperly influencing you.