A week before the D.C. Council will decide whether to reprimand one of their own—Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans—nine of the members voted to discuss the matter in secret.
Evans is facing a formal reprimand for using the “prestige of office or public position for private gain.” The District’s longest serving councilmember is also the subject of a federal grand jury investigation for his ties to digital sign company, Digi Media, and its leader, Donald MacCord.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson motioned to close the body’s administrative meeting Tuesday morning in order to let Evans address his colleagues, allow them to ask him questions, and to let the councilmembers speak with the Council’s general counsel, Nicole Streeter.
Mendelson cited Council rules that allow for a closed session to discuss personnel and disciplinary matters. He also said he believes it’s important for the Council as an institution to “sit here with Mr. Evans and for Mr. Evans to look us in the eye and to talk about this situation.
“I think that’s important to the institution,” Mendelson said. “I think having an opportunity here to confront Mr. Evans or for Mr. Evans to face us, is important and also helpful to the collective us.”
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie added that the closed session provides Evans an opportunity to be “candid about what he wants to say to members.”
“I support closing the meeting to allow him the opportunity to do so,” he said.
At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White objected to the closed meeting and cast the only dissenting votes. All three walked out of the chairman’s conference room in protest. (At-Large Councilmember Robert White was absent because his wife just had a baby. He later tweeted that he does not agree with the closed meeting.)
After about 10 minutes, Evans emerged from the room with his attorney, Mark Tuohey. He told LL that he apologized to his colleagues, and Tuohey said one councilmember asked a question. Neither elaborated and they then disappeared into an elevator.
After Evans’ apology, but before he left the meeting, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, and Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd walked out when it became clear that at least one member had a question for Evans.
“I didn’t want to get into any matters that may be under investigation,” Cheh said. “I just didn’t want to be involved in that.”
Following the meeting, Mendelson described concerns raised by other councilmembers and said “without exception, members feel [Evans’] actions were not appropriate.”
It’s unclear which actions Mendelson was referring to, but there are two issues here: The first, which pertains to the reprimand, is Evans’ use of his government email to send business pitches to legal and lobbying firms. In those emails and letters, first reported by the Washington Post, Evans tried to sell his influence and relationships gained as a councilmember to firms that lobby the government.
The second is the grand jury investigation. So far, the Council, the mayor’s office, and at least three of Evans’ private clients have received subpoenas in the federal investigation. The scope of the investigation appears to have expanded beyond Evans’ connections to MacCord.
Documents uncovered by the Washington Post indicate that MacCord allegedly gave Evans $50,000 in checks, offered stock certificates, and offered a summer internship for his son. Evans then promoted legislation that would have benefited MacCord’s business, but the bill was never introduced. Evans said he returned the gifts, and his son did not accept the job.
A memo based on a grand jury subpoena circulated to councilmembers last week advises them to preserve documents related to MacCord and his companies, as well as several legal firms that lobby the District government and corporations that are deeply involved in D.C. matters.
As an individual and through his company, MacCord contributed $1,000 each to Evans’ and Mendelson’s constituent services funds in October 2016. He contributed another $2,000 through his various companies to Evans’ constituent services fund in 2015.
Doyle contributed to the 2016 campaigns for Grosso, Robert White, Vincent Orange, and LaRuby May; and he gave to Todd’s re-election campaign in 2015, according to the Office of Campaign Finance records.
Mendelson says he doesn’t believe the contributions should be returned given how much time has passed.
The Council will vote whether to reprimand Evans during its next legislative meeting on Tuesday, March 19. Grosso has called for Evans to be removed as chairman of the powerful Finance and Revenue Committee. Mendelson, who has the authority to reorganize committee assignments, disagrees.
Cheh did not rule out the possibility entirely.
“It may happen,” she said of the committee reassignment. “I’m concerned about it, and we’re sufficiently concerned about it that we’re going to continue to talk about it.”
This post has been updated to reflect that the councilmembers also met with the Council’s attorney, Nicole Streeter, during the private session.