What's in a name?

What's in a name?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ethics Reform: Can Council set standards for themselves?

Good morning Chairwoman Bowser and other members of this committee. 
Never before in District politics have we witnessed so many sitting elected officials enduring investigations and allegations. These days are troubling and can no longer continue. I commend you for moving forward quickly with a means to create the kind of change that residents need, want and deserve. But before we get too involved.  I would like to suggest that these changes should develop from the grass roots stages first.  Only then can we be assured that they are both thorough and fair.  Compelling to very core of real change and inclusive of positive changes that residents can and will accept.  
On the top of my list would be the elimination of contributions from companies such as PEPCO, and Washington Gas.  These entities have corporate offices in the District and often contribute to the campaigns and constituents funds of the very councilmembers that then have to hold hearings and vote on their reliability and rate increases.  Let's face facts,  even if no wrong doing occurs,  it clearly doesn't look good.  So I ask today formally that each of you immediately return any donations to you own campaigns to the above fore mentioned companies so as to clear up any misgivings or potential gray areas of concern.  PEPCO and Washington Gas should neverhave an inside to your vote via their contribution,  or the preponderance of such. Let's face facts, their contribution buys them your ear. Regardless of what you may suggest the fact is it does. 
Now that we have cleared the air with this complication.  Let's talk about. Real ethics reform as many residents view it. The way out elections are held, campaign contributions, representation of the residents of our wards,  and finally constituent funds being used as a silent arm for re-election.  We all know it happens.  It creates a vice for new faces in these ward races and further empowers the incumbent to greater visibility in the community during re-election time by giving them extra money to spend within their neighborhoods to move projects forward in civic groups, and other interested bodies under the auspices of the Councilmember's office. Say what you we are experiencing this as we speak.  It goes on daily,  and it ever so evident.
So real reform must remove this ability by the incumbent to freely give funds to groups or tosponsor events in the ward during a reasonable time frame of the election.  Constituent funds should by all standards be for use for constituents needs. I give you an example July 1st three families were burned out of their homes. Literally losing all of their personal belongings.
At last account not one penny had been offered to these three families from theircouncilmember. At a serious time when money would surely have helped in buying badly needed items.  A simple call was never put forth to offer assistance. Yet funds were allocated to groups for events, and sponsorships,  detailing the elected officials name all over the postings and advertising. This was both inhuman and unfair it proves that corruption is rampant. As will not mention any names of our elected that conducted business in this manner,  completely over looking the real needs of our residents. It is clearly not the practice of every one elected to this council.
Ethics should first begin at the grass roots of this city. Listen first to what the residents want then draft your legislation. Bottom up, is the only way to assure that it is done fairly and without bias. Although there are some good basic ideas by various members of this body, I think it is clearly something that should come from the voters.  Perhaps a blue ribbon panel of two members selected from each ward,  and then perhaps 5 additional at-large members appointed to consider this legislation and proposed changes. Then and only then can we be assured that it is done fairly, without bias, and to the extent that the residents want to see it happen.
To sit before us and offer up your ideas can only muddy the waters either today or in the future with why some of you were so motivated to do so.  If this reform comes from the residents then it can be a clear symbol for right verses wrong.  A finalized product can and should offer reform in many areas to include a few like, term limits, campaign finance reform,  which should bar outside contributions from non residents and limit the amounts that corporations can give if they intend to have any legislation or approval for major construction in that particular elected officials ward or committee in which they preside or are a member of. Let's keep the campaign contribution and access to our elected to the residents, and defray those that wish to seek influence in the future by giving to our campaigns. This would eliminate the chance of wrong doing, and remove the perspective of such from our opinions. 
No sitting councilmember should ever be a part of the oversight process that involves a company, organization, or developer that has contributed their campaign.  This should include relationships dating back to as far as 5 years prior to them taking office.  Furthermore, re-election bids by sitting councilmembers should never include those individuals or company's that currently have legislation pending in front of the city or the council.  Specifically, that of Land Bankers, specifically David Wilmot and the very chair of the committee, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser. Setting higher standards for ethics reform can hardly be accomplished by a sitting councilmember that has had their share of questionable practices.  
Keith Jarrell
Resident Ward 4

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