We shall overcome
Are you suffering from ethics fatigue?
If our local elected officials have a strategy for dealing with the ongoing plethora of scandals, it would appear as though it depends on an electorate sufficiently exhausted from stories of dishonor such that corruption and shady dealings become background noise.
Take, for example, this past week:
- Council Chairman Kwame Brown revealed his plan to subject councilmembers and staff to stricter financial disclosure rules. The devil is always in the details. In Brown’s own words all disclosure statements will be “locked in a file cabinet” far from the view of the public, media and government watchdogs;
- The Washington Post published a pessimistic editorial on the lack of a true champion for ethics reform;
- Jonetta Rose Barras joined the chorus by taking aim at Kwame Brown’s mission to “distract and destroy;”
- Brown, who is still dogged by the unresolved “Fully Loaded” SUV scandal as well as local and federal investigations into his 2008 reelection campaign, managed to tarnish at least five of his Council colleagues in a single Washington Times interview;
- Sulaimon Brown is back in the news;
- Councilmember Mary Cheh and the D.C. GOP traded barbs about the proper use of constituent services funds; and,
- Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., under fire and being investigated by the U.S. Attorney for allegedly using money meant for youth programs for personal extravagances, made news by being the focus of a nascent recall effort.
I could go on. But I will not.
The more you hear about scandals and scandalous characters, the more likely all of the above is to become the norm.
And from what I can tell, that is the only strategy our elected officials have concocted for dealing with the mess they created for themselves.
Overload our senses.
If another strategy is to emerge, it appears as though someone on the outside will need to propose it. At a closed-door retreat held earlier this year councilmembers rejected the notion of addressing ethics reform.
Kwame Brown says he can spearhead ethics legislation, but that is a joke. Yesterday on the television program “News Talk” hosted by Bruce DePuyt, Brown said he would rather discuss ethics reform with his Council colleagues in private than talk to the media about the matter.
Once upon a time, Councilmembers David Catania, Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh called on Harry Thomas, Jr. to resign. When the Council reconvenes next week will either propose that Thomas be censured? Will any or all reiterate from the dais the need for Thomas to resign?
Will Councilmembers Phil Mendelson or Muriel Bowser, untarnished from scandal, step into the spotlight to propose real reforms and tough penalties for government officials who violate rules?
Will Mayor Vince Gray see the opportunity to claim high ground and propose his own package of ethics reform measures?
Everyone I know who watches District government suspects potential corruption and sees obvious misconduct. Every elected official I know either agrees with that assessment or has adopted a state of denial for the sake of self-preservation.
We cannot allow scandal and subterfuge to become the norm. We cannot be worn down.
Our elected leaders have no obvious, effective, coherent strategy to address their ethical shortcomings.
In such circumstances, politicians need to understand that they must tighten the screws on themselves or expect us to disassemble the politicians.
That is our responsibility as an electorate.
Chuck Thies hosts the "D.C. Politics" show Thursdays at 11:00 am at WPFW 89.3 FM.