Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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The District’s ethics board has chosen a new director for its Office of Open Government, hoping to move past the controversy over former director Traci Hughes‘ forced exit earlier this year.

The Board of Government Ethics and Accountability has selected Niquelle Allen, who currently serves as a senior attorney advisor at the Office of the Chief Technology Officer. Allen is a veteran government official and earns more than $158,000 in her OCTO post, according to public records. She formerly advised the Office of Cable Television (now called the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music & Entertainment).

A District official familiar with BEGA’s decision to hire Allen tells City Paper that Allen is a non-political appointee who has a “bent toward technology—an important role” for allowing the public to access government decision-making. Allen could not immediately be reached for comment.

City Paper reported in February that BEGA opted not to reappoint Hughes, the ex-director of the open-government office, to a second five-year term after she clashed with the board over transparency-law investigations. She had publicly questioned the legality of appointments to an administrative-law judge selection commission and a closed meeting of the United Medical Center board where the board decided to shutter the hospital’s maternity ward, the only such ward east of the Anacostia River. Both bodies have mayoral appointees on them—as does BEGA, which oversees OOG.

In 2016, Bowser also created a parallel “Mayor’s Open Government Office,” which transparency advocates perceived as a move to usurp Hughes’ independent authority. Hughes said she faced “pressure” to water down some of her official rulings, commenting on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show in February that “I resisted the pressure and I do think that’s part of the reason I am in the position I’m in today.”

Hughes’ term expired in April. That month, The Washington Post reported that emails obtained through a public-records request showed staffers for Bowser grousing about Hughes. At the time, Bowser’s office said it did not call for Hughes’ ousting and BEGA Chair Tameka Collier said the board’s decision not to reappoint Hughes was not politically motivated.

The clash between Hughes and the ethics board is prompting new legislation from Ward 6 D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the Council committee that oversees BEGA. Wilson Building sources say the Council is advancing legislation out of Allen’s judiciary committee that would clarify that OOG is administratively subject to the board.

Right now, BEGA only sets OOG’s budget. Open-government advocates have urged Allen to recast the office as clearly independent so its director would be insulated from the political whims of any given mayor or BEGA chair.