Silverman Statement on Ethics of Reorganizing Finance & Revenue Committee

Councilmember Silverman made the following remarks on the dais at the D.C. Council's July 9 Legislative Meeting in response to the decision by Chairman Phil Mendelson to reorganize the Finance and Revenue Committee without consulting all members of the Council: 

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank Councilmember Cheh for moving this amendment.

Today there is a spotlight on Council ethics, on how we as elected officials and public servants are supposed to act in the public interest and not get any direct or predictable personal benefit for our votes.

This is a sad day for the Council to have to take this type of action regarding a fellow member, and to have to reorganize the Council in reaction.

The reorganization, however, seems to reinforce the public’s concerns that everything has a price at the Wilson Building, even committee assignments. A decision has been made behind closed doors to dissolve Finance and Revenue and redistribute its portfolio to certain members. That decision was made without the input of all Finance and Revenue Committee members. That decision was also made without the input of the entire body, only certain members.

Other approaches could have been considered. There is precedent under this type of circumstance for putting a committee’s portfolio within the Committee of the Whole. Or there could have been discussions with the members of Finance and Revenue to figure out how to evenly distribute the workload.

But there were not discussions with all members of Finance and Revenue, only certain members. I am a very active member of Finance and Revenue, and this proposal was never discussed with me or my staff. My staff’s work on Finance and Revenue has been integral to the recent unlodging of excess revenues from Events DC, an enhancing of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other real benefits to District residents. 

Back in March, when you moved tax abatements to the Business and Economic Development Committee and Events DC to the Committee of the Whole, there was a similar behind-the-scenes move. 

It’s disappointing, especially given the appearance, if not the reality, of trading votes for a direct and predictable benefit. Committee assignments should be above reproach and without a cloud of ethics issues. We should not create new ethics issues when trying to fix others.

I have to ask, Mr. Chairman: Was there any explicit or implied connection between the Finance and Revenue reassignments and the vote on sports betting? Were these two things, the lottery contract and the Finance and Revenue reassignments, part of the same conversation? Could it be implied?

An explanation was given that you made these decisions because of a nexus between the Committee and the agencies. But I believe there is another nexus: between Finance and Revenue Committee assignments and "yes" votes on the lottery and sports betting contract.

That’s why I’ll be asking for a roll call vote on sports betting. Members who told the press and others that they were leaning no are now solid yes votes. I believe a line can be drawn between those votes and Finance and Revenue Committee assignments.

Given the cloud over the Wilson Building right now, even the appearance of this should be avoided at all costs.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.