Intent is irrelevant as to whether a violation was committed, but it’s entirely relevant in considering discipline, and here we have a pattern of misconduct that reaches into every area of the Council and stretches back years. There is no other way to see the volumes of evidence that has come before us.
And in not appearing before the DC Council’s Ad Hoc Committee today, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans (D) is avoiding sworn testimony. I don’t fault him for trying to protect himself, given the pending criminal inquiry by US Attorney’s Office, but this is yet another way in which he’s avoided taking responsibility for his actions.
In that vein, I believe deeply in taking responsibility for harms. In other words, “accountability”. And I can’t help but juxtapose the people I work with every day as chair of The Judiciary Committee – those who commit harms and those they harm – with Councilmember Evans’ pattern of intentional avoidance. I find it deeply disturbing that he would fight so hard to continue to criminalize people who can’t afford a $2 Metro fare yet spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (and spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars – and that’s without the potential recall and special election) trying to get off scot-free, while those who commit crimes of poverty “must be held accountable” – or as he put it during that debate, are akin to thieves who steal a $2 gallon of milk.
Let’s break this rule down into its component parts and discuss whether the evidence supports each element.
The standard for expulsion under Council Rule 656 for expulsion is “egregious wrongdoing.” That threshold has been met by the facts this committee has received.
The next standard is where “the violation of law is of the most serious nature, including those violations that substantially threaten the public trust”. There is no question the public trust has not just been threatened, it has been broken.
Expulsion is our highest form of sanction and should be entered into only as a last resort. And in the Committee of the Whole, we have to find, based on “substantial evidence”, that Councilmember Evans “took an action that amounts to a gross failure to meet the highest standards of personal and professional conduct”. The facts outlined in the reports demonstrate this.
It is clear that the standard for expulsion has been met.
We have to set politics aside here as much as possible. This is about Councilmember Evans, yes, but it’s really about the integrity of the Council as an institution, of its future. Who are we going to be? What values do we represent? What example are we setting for each other, our staff, the District government, and for the residents if we allow Mr. Evans to continue to operate – claiming he did nothing wrong – when he so very clearly has been compromised.
I’ve been at the Council – either as a staffer or a Councilmember – for more than a decade. I’ve seen people led out in handcuffs. I’ve seen families torn apart by wrongdoing. I’ve seen the body struggle to rehabilitate itself after blow upon blow upon blow. But we did. But ethics are a constant work in progress. Ethics are a practice. The Council’s future depends on us each engaging in this practice, always guided by law, counsel we receive, and our sworn oaths to our constituents. If we refuse to do that, then the body must act.
I’ve also given a lot of thought to what censure means. We are guided by precedent, but I’m also aware that everything we do sets further precedent. In that light, I look to a recent time this body censured a member – former ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry (D). In that case, Mr. Barry self-reported, admitted, and cooperated in a review of gifts he’d received from a prohibited source that totaled about $6,000. He cooperated with the Ad Hoc Committee and sought to repair the harm he’d caused. This body censured him for his actions and removed him from chairing a Council committee. Now I look at the facts surrounding Mr. Evans, the documented pattern and practice of ethical violations of the law and self-interest. Censure cannot be a limitless range and I think this is important in recognizing censure is not enough in the case of Mr. Evans and that this has moved to grounds for expulsion.
We have two duties here. One to the public, and one to the Council as an institution. To the public, the trust has clearly been broken by Mr. Evans and we must act to repair it. To the Council, how can any of us trust any legislation, issue, or action by Councilmember Evans at this point?
On both accounts, the facts of this case are clear and undisputed. And the Council needs to act. I will support and recommend Mr. Evans be expelled.