Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Councilmember Charles Allen rejected Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s two picks to sit on the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) earlier this month. The five-member board responsible for investigating alleged ethics violations of government employees, and for generally keeping everybody in line, is bleeding members.

With BEGA member Shomari Wade‘s resignation (effective in February), the board will soon be down to three members, including Chairperson Tameka Collier, one of the mayor’s rejected nominees. BEGA can technically still function with just two members, according to the director of Government Ethics Brent Wolfingbarger, but their votes must be unanimous to have effect. According to Wolfingbarger, Collier will stay in her role until a new chairperson is approved. The other two BEGA members are Darrin P. Sobin and Norma B. Hutcheson.

“If we didn’t have a quorum then we don’t have the authority to issue subpoenas,” Wolfingbarger says. “Only the board can do that. It would greatly hamper our investigations.”

Along with Collier, Bowser nominated Charles Nottingham in September of last year. Allen, who chairs the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety and has oversight of BEGA, let the nominations expire at the end of 2018—a kind of passive but intentional thanks-but-no-thanks move.

In a letter explaining his rationale, Allen says he’s looking for people with more ethics and open government expertise. Neither Collier nor Nottingham could be reached for comment. Bower’s office also did not respond to LL’s repeated requests for comment.

Collier was first approved for a seat on the ethics board in 2016. Much of her previous experience is as an attorney in the U.S. Air Force and as a court-appointed dispute resolution mediator in D.C. Superior Court, according to her resume

As chairperson, Collier drew criticism last year when BEGA opted not to reappoint Traci Hughes as the director of the Office of Open Government. Good-government advocates and some councilmembers suggested Hughes’ rejection was due to political pressure from the mayor’s office. Collier has denied this assertion. During a hearing last February, she alluded to “personnel” issues that she could not legally discuss in public.

Hughes was widely regarded as an effective open government watchdog, and issued several critical opinions of the administration. In January 2018, for example, Hughes opined that the United Medical Center board violated the Open Meetings Act when it met in private to vote to permanently close the hospital’s maternity ward. The mayor appoints six of the 11 voting members on the UMC board.

Allen says in his letter that he made his objections to Collier’s re-appointment clear before the mayor’s nomination.

“She has served the board skillfully and shown strong leadership throughout her tenure,” Allen writes, “However, at this time, it would benefit the agency to have a Chair with more ethics and open government-specific expertise.”

When Collier joined the board a little more than two years ago, the committee report noted that Collier’s “experience in investigations of alleged violations is directly on point with the needs of BEGA.”

In his letter, Allen also alludes to the possibility that Collier would be “unable to commit to a full term due to potential work conflicts.” Nowhere in the letter does Allen reference Hughes.

As for Nottingham: He’s the founder of a D.C.-based law and consulting firm that advises “corporate clients in the transportation sector,” according to his resume.

In the mid ’90s, he worked for members of Congress as the “chief ethics compliance officer.”

Allen’s letter to Bowser’s office says Nottingham’s experience does not meet specific statutory requirements for the seat on the ethics board. Allen also notes his disappointment that the Mayor’s Office of Talent and Appointments did not engage open government advocates on Nottingham’s selection and encourages the mayor to do so with her next picks.