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Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) introduced a resolution Thursday that would officially reprimand Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), one of D.C.’s two out gay councilmembers, for actions detailed in an opinion issued by the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which said it found ”a substantial body of evidence” that Graham violated the city’s code of employee conduct by suggesting possible intervention on behalf of a company bidding on a city contract.
That ethics board alleged earlier this month that Graham, in his role as a councilmember and as a voting member on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board of directors, indicated he would be willing to offer preferential treatment to a company bidding to administer the District’s lottery. According to the ethics board’s findings, Graham made statements that seemed to indicate he would be willing to support W2Tech – which formed a joint venture that was awarded the lottery contract – if Banneker Ventures, a general contracting and construction management firm that shared a principal in common with W2Tech, would withdraw a bid to redevelop a site on Florida Avenue owned by WMATA.
The D.C. Council’s proposed resolution alleges that Graham had suggested Banneker withdraw in order to benefit another firm, LaKritz Adler; and that when Banneker Ventures refused to withdraw, Graham attempted to pressure Banneker to partner with LaKritz Adler.
According to records from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, LaKritz Adler and its principals, Robb LaKritz and Joshua Adler, were campaign contributors to Graham’s 2006 and 2010 re-election campaigns.
Following the release of the ethics board’s opinion, which found that Graham ”abandoned his impartiality and demonstrated inappropriate preferential treatment,” Graham issued a statement saying he would not resign, despite calls for him to do so.
Graham has denied any connection between campaign donations and any action he has taken, telling The Washington Post that he broke no ethics rules, and that his statements were no more than an ”offhand comment” and ”sharp-elbowed political behavior.”
One of Graham’s attorneys, Carolina Mehta, issued a statement Feb. 22 calling into question the ethics board’s findings, and announcing that they were seeking a temporary restraining order against the board.
”The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability had no basis to issue findings and pronounce judgment against our client without granting him a chance to be heard, allowing him to review and challenge the evidence to which we were denied access, and conducting a full adversary hearing,” Mehta said in the statement. ”The Board violated the law and its own rules. That is not the ethics process that the Council sought to put into place, nor is it one whose decisions are worthy of respect or weight. Today, we filed for relief and are confident that the court will agree that the Board acted lawlessly and denied Councilmember Graham basic fairness and due process.”
When it issued its opinion, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability stopped short of formally investigating the charges or sanctioning Graham.
Graham may, however, still be reprimanded if seven of the D.C. Council’s 13 members vote in favor of the introduced resolution, which ”expresses disapproval of the conduct of Councilmember Jim Graham … and hereby reprimands Councilmember Jim Graham for affecting adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of government.”
A reprimand is much less severe than another potential council action, censure, which would require Mendelson to create a five-member committee to investigate the claims against Graham.
Mendelson has also indicated he may reassign oversight of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and its regulatory arm to another councilmember’s committee, according to The Post, but the resolution reprimanding Graham does not specifically mention that reassignment.