The InTowner
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From the Publisher's Desk...

THINGS ARE NOT SMELLING NICE IN CITY HALL

In fact, we fear the place is beginning to reek of to much conflicts of interest (at best) and maybe even outright corruption (at worst). Where to start with our litany of questionable stuff is not easy to decide, so we’ll just toss out our dismay in no particular order.

First off, since the city’s fiscal situation is so tight and operating and program funds so limited that the council members had to struggle to identify which programs could be continued and which would need to be left unfunded or so minimally funded that their continued viability was left in doubt, we were appalled to watch as they so off-handedly allowed including funds for members’ pet causes. One example was to set aside $500,000 to pay for celebrating Emancipation Day next year. That half-million could be much better used to save a needed program benefiting the city’s poor; let the Emancipation Day organizers raise private funds from the business community and from individuals through a fund-raising campaign.

In another instance, we were struck by the casual acceptance of the plea from the very newly elected at-large Councilmember Vincent Orange that $500,000 again be appropriated to help support U Street’s historic Lincoln Theatre. There was no discussion nor any objection notwithstanding that this city-owned theater has not made a go of things ever since it was restored at taxpayer expense and has been allowed to be mis-managed by a revolving door of people who never seemed to know how to run a theatrical venue nor how to effectively market it. We think it is about time that its operation be put out to the private sector to bid on a management contract by qualified operators.

But what really angered us the most was that Councilmember Orange never publicly revealed that he serves on the theater’s board of directors as treasurer. Shouldn’t the public have been informed? He is also a CPA and one has to wonder if he has been providing accounting and tax advice services to the enterprise? If nothing else, there is the appearance of a possible conflict of interest. How many other instances like this we do not know off-hand; this one was what we witnessed slipping right through while watching on Channel 16 as the council adopt the fiscal 2012 budget.

But there are other serious things that alarm us even more.

For example, there is the Chairman Kwame Brown SUV business which he had hoped might have died away with his denials that he never requested anything more than the standard issue basic black, no-frills model. And so it might have died away except now for the very recent revelation that, contrary to his statements earlier this year, emails have surfaced which clearly show that just two days after his election back in November he demanded the very sort of fancy, non-basic black up-graded SUV from the public works department that he had been all along claiming he had not done. What are we to think about this?

Then there is the emerging scandal involving Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas who the District’s Attorney General has charged with misappropriating some $300,000 intended for his non-profit youth baseball initiative and instead diverted those funds to purchase for his personal use an even fancier SUV than the one Chairman Brown demanded be provided to him. Further, according to the $1 million civil suit filed by the AG, funds were used to pay for golf vacations to Las Vegas and California’s Pebble Beach –- to heck with the local kids and their baseball playing dreams. On top of this civil suit the AG has referred the matter to the Justice Department and to the IRS.

Frankly, what we see in the Thomas affair are actions that are far more egregious than anything former Mayor and now Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry did time for; those transgressions revolved around his own personal failures and did not betray a public trust.

We will not at this time demand that Councilmember Thomas resign his seat; he has not been criminally charged let alone convicted, nor has the civil suit been adjudicated. For the time being, it is appropriate that he relinquished his chairmanship of the important economic development committee. We do, however, urge that he be removed –- at least temporarily –- from his other committee assignments.

While we have been focusing on unseemly happenings within the city council’s arena, we are not oblivious to the charges being leveled against Mayor Gray that he was in effect behind a payoff and promise of a job to a guy that seems to be totally unhinged. Nevertheless, there is what appears to be clear evidence that two campaign officials –- loyal friends of the mayor –- handed Gray’s accuser money orders and cash. None of that in our view, however, comes close to proving that the mayor is a “crook” as he has been called by his accuser. What we see is that two persons who Gray trusted went off on their own, doing what they believed needed to be done for their friend and all along Gray was never informed. And until we see proof to the contrary we will continue to have total faith in the integrity of Mayor Vincent Gray.