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The D.C. Office of the Inspector General and the District’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability reached two different conclusions on possible ethics violations by Chris Geldart, one of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s two nominees to the board of directors of the newly formed Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.
Geldart, whom Bowser nominated as an alternate member of the board, was the director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency from 2012 to 2017, and will appear before the D.C. Council Monday morning at a public hearing on his nomination. He held the HSEMA job during a range of tumultuous events in the District, including the 2015 visit by Pope Francis, the 2016 blizzard, and the 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump.
It is not clear if Geldart will be asked at his confirmation hearing about the OIG report that was referred to the mayor last April, in which multiple ethics allegations against him were “substantiated.”
D.C.’s ethics board, known as BEGA, dismissed the OIG investigation last July on the grounds that “…insufficient evidence exists to support a reasonable belief that a violation has occurred.”
BEGA board members are appointed by the mayor. In the Geldart dismissal, all four members of the ethics board were Bowser appointees.
“I fully cooperated with everyone [doing the investigation],” says Geldart. “I fully believe that I did not break any of my ethics pledges or policies.”
Geldart, a former Marine who has held numerous security and emergency management jobs in the public and private sector, resigned his position at HSEMA last April around the same time OIG referred the Geldart investigation to Mayor Bowser.
Citing the “24/7” nature of the job, Geldart says he left to spend more time with his children. “My decision to leave was 100 percent about my son and family,” he says.
A Bowser spokesperson did not respond to questions about the timing of Geldart’s exit from HSEMA, saying only: “With 20 years of homeland security experience and a strong track record of leading large governmental agencies, we are confident that Chris Geldart has the expertise, knowledge, and judgement needed to serve on the Metro Safety Commission.”
Bowser nominated Geldart for a two-year term on the board of the Metrorail Safety Commission on January 5. The new safety commission, made up of two representatives each from Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. will replace the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which was long criticized as being powerless. The new commission will have the authority to compel WMATA to adhere to existing safety regulations, but lacks the mandate to write new ones.
Bowser’s principal nominee to the safety board is Robert Bobb, a former deputy mayor and city administrator during the Anthony Williams administration. The D.C. Council has nominated Christopher A. Hart, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, to fill the other principal board seat.
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, who presides over the Committee of the Whole that will consider Geldart’s nomination Monday, said through a spokesperson that he is aware of the reports on Geldart, but is waiting to see what comes out of the public hearing before making a judgement.
Of the three allegations in the OIG report, the most serious was an alleged use of “his [Geldart’s] public office for private gain of a close personal acquaintance…”
Geldart confirmed to City Paper that the acquaintance referenced in the report was his then girlfriend, now wife, Heather Geldart (née Field). They married in 2016.
“From January 2013 through September 2015, Mr. Geldart contacted Obsidian, Digital Sandbox, and Hagerty Consulting (Hagerty) on behalf of his acquaintance for the purpose of her gaining employment and/or security business for her company,” reads the OIG report.
Geldart, who says one of his first actions as director of HSEMA was to formally recuse himself from all procurement decisions, maintains that what he did in the aforementioned case was not unethical.
“It’s a small community [of security companies in D.C.], so there are lots of people I wrote letters of recommendation for,” says Geldart. “It was no different in the case of my wife.”
In response to the email introducing his wife to a representative from Hagerty Consulting, the company representative then “…inquired as to the possibility of his company obtaining business with HSEMA,” says the OIG report.
“The evidence clearly established that Mr. Geldart used his government position (office), authority associated with that position, and government resources (government email) for the private gain of his acquaintance and her business in violation of DPM § 1800.3(g),” according to the report.
Allegations are considered “substantiated” in OIG investigations if there is “…a preponderance of the credible evidence (greater than 50 percent), i.e., the allegation is more likely to be true than not true,” according to the OIG report on Geldart.
The other allegation that was substantiated in the report had to do, in part, with Geldart’s alleged unauthorized use of a government vehicle in February 2016.
“On the day they [OIG] were questioning about my vehicle use, I was working,” says Geldart. “I was doing an event in Arlington.”
However, the OIG report cites a number of conflicting explanations. The first refers to the initial complaint forwarded to OIG that “…a male, female, and two children” exited Geldart’s vehicle and entered a Subway restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia.
In the report, Geldart is credited with saying to OIG investigators that he used the vehicle on the day in question “to travel to a Boy Scout event in Arlington, VA…” alone and that “During a break in the event, Mr. Geldart stated that he, along with a female attendee whose identity he was unable to recall, traveled to a nearby Starbucks to purchase coffee in the GSA vehicle.” The report also states that Geldart “…mentioned that his son may have also been in the vehicle.”
Geldart, who says he does not want to start a fight with the OIG, believes that their report on him “contradicts itself,” and that was the reason it was dismissed by the District’s ethics board.
“They [OIG] did their investigation their way,” Geldart says.
Andrew Giambrone contributed reporting to this article.