Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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A battle of wills is brewing between Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen and Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Earlier this year, Allen quietly rejected Bowser’s two nominees to sit on the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA). The five-member board is responsible for investigating alleged ethics violations of government employees.

Bowser nominated two people: Tameka Collier, who is currently the BEGA chairperson, and Charles Nottingham, a Republican lawyer whose experience is largely in the transportation sector. Nottingham’s consulting firm advises “corporate clients in the transportation sector,” according to his resume. (Legally, the ethics board can contain no more than three members of the same political party.)

Rather than holding a hearing on Bowser’s picks, Allen let the nominations expire at the end of 2018. In a letter, he explained that Nottingham’s background does not meet the statutory requirement that the seat be filled by someone with open government experience. 

Now, Bowser has countered by re-nominating Nottingham. But it does not appear Allen is willing to budge, according to his spokesman, Erik Salmi.

“Unfortunately, while Mr. Nottingham could be a good fit for another seat on the board, his relevant experience in FOIA is limited to ethics compliance in two elected officials’ offices from 1995 to 1998 and in responding to FOIA requests in the late 1980s, which does not meet the statutory requirement or align with the Council’s intent to improve government transparency,” Salmi writes via email.

In a statement from her spokesperson, Bowser says “Mr. Nottingham is extremely qualified and has decades of experience in open government and transparency. Letting the confirmation process languish for months harms the effectiveness of the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability and may soon create a quorum issue at the Board. Residents deserve a swift review by the Council — anything less is not open nor is it transparent.”

During BEGA’s recent oversight hearing in front of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which Allen chairs, Collier urged Allen and the mayor to fill the depleted ethics board. The board is currently down to just three members, and will dwindle to just two with Collier’s departure in April.

“It’s important the board be fully staffed as soon as possible,” says Brent Wolfingbarger, D.C.’s director of government ethics. “We functioned most of last year with only four members, and when [we] start losing members it becomes difficult. The sooner the mayor and council can reach consensus on how to fill those vacancies, the better.”

The board can technically function with just two members, but their votes must be unanimous, Wolfingbarger says.

To his knowledge, the board hasn’t been at full force since he was hired in December 2017.

This post has been updated with comment from Mayor Bowser and to clarify that only three ethics board members can be of the same political party.