Today, along with voting to close a $188 million budget shortfall, the D.C. Council is scheduled to vote on a $46 million tax abatement for a proposed luxury boutique hotel in Adams Morgan to be operated by Marriott. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who earns a second six-figure salary from the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs, recused himself from voting on the last deal involving taxpayer subsidies for a project involving Marriott, possibly because his firm represented Marriott (details below). It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Evans recuses himself today as well. (Update: Mr. Evans did not recuse himself and the measure passed by a 9-3 margin, with one abstention (Muriel Bowser). Councilmembers David Catania, Phil Mendelson and Mary Cheh opposed the tax abatement.)
LISTEN TO JOHN HANRAHAN
Aside from Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, and possibly D.C. Council Chairman-elect Kwame Brown, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans may be the most influential elected official in the District of Columbia. Mr. Evans is the powerful chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue and he plays a key role in determining which projects receive District taxpayer support.
Former Washington Post reporter John Hanrahan has some questions for his Councilmember of 20 years. In particular, Mr. Hanrahan has raised concerns over Mr. Evans’ involvement in a deal which provides $272 million in public subsidies to assist Marriott in building a 1,175-room, 15-story luxury hotel alongside the Convention Center.
After spending years guiding the deal from its infancy, Mr. Evans recused himself from voting on the matter at the very last minute. The DC Examiner noted in passing that Mr. Evans recused himself “because his law firm, Patton Boggs, represents Marriott.” In addition to his Council salary of $125,000, Mr. Evans earns $240,000 a year from Patton Boggs, the country’s largest law and lobbying firm.
Directly following the November 10 groundbreaking for the Convention Center hotel, at an upscale reception, I asked Councilmember Evans why he had recused himself. The powerful chair of the Finance and Revenue Committee, after having just answered my first question, abruptly turned and walked away.
In an Oct. 27 article at DC Watch (“Evans Didn’t File Required Conflict Statement”), Hanrahan writes: “If a conflict of interest falls in the DC government forest and no one hears it, is it still a conflict of interest? In other words, what good are the District of Columbia’s conflict of interest laws if no one will enforce them?”
Hanrahan’s piece continues, “That’s the question I have after receiving recent Freedom of Information Act responses from the three entities to which council members are required by law to explain self-acknowledged appearances of conflicts of interest — in this case Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and his June and July 2009 recusals from voting on a $272 million public financing package for the Marriott International convention center hotel.”
Hanrahan writes, “[T]he public record shows that Evans, who spearheaded the hotel public financing legislation right up to the point of council passage, unexpectedly recused himself from votes on that legislation on five occasions in June and July 2009.”
Hanrahan continues, “[C]ouncil members who recuse themselves — in the language of Municipal Regulations… “shall prepare a written statement describing the following: (a) The matter requiring action or decision, and (b) The Nature of the potential conflict of interest with respect to such action or decision” and then “shall deliver a copy of the statement to . . .The Board of Elections and Ethics, in care of General Counsel, . . .The Director of the Office of Campaign Finance” and the “Chairman of the Council.” This is not some mere technicality: It is spelled out clearly and succinctly in the law — and Evans has not complied.”
Hanrahan writes, “In answer to my FOIA requests, the OCF, the BOEE, and Gray’s office all stated that Evans had not filed such a mandated statement. This means that Councilmember Evans has been in violation of the city’s conflict of interest law and regulations for the last sixteen months (to say nothing of the DC Bar’s conflict of interest standards) — and neither the OCF, the BOEE, nor Chairman Gray has done anything about it. Nor, apparently, do they intend to do anything about it.”
In a recent interview at his house near Dupont Circle, Hanrahan said, “This saga goes back really to June and July of 2009 when the Convention Center hotel financing package was coming up for action by the Council.
“And bear in mind, this was a project that was near and dear to Jack Evans’ heart. He brought this thing along. If you’re a business person, you’d say he did a masterful job of bringing it along, getting it right up to the moment of passage by the council, and with this big subsidy for Marriott.
“So in late June, and on into July, suddenly, almost out of the blue, on five separate occasions… he suddenly recused himself and did not offer any explanation… [T]he Examiner newspaper on July 1st 2009 said that the reason he recused himself was because his law firm, that Patton Boggs represented Marriott. Marriott was one of their clients.
“Subsequently leaders of the Committee of 100 and the Federation of Citizens Associations wrote Mr. Evans and Chairman Gray a letter saying, ‘What was this all about, this recusal? Please explain what this is, when did this apparent or potential conflict kick in… they asked him a whole bunch of questions. The upshot of it was that there was never any response from either Mr. Evans or Chairman Gray.
“So this recusal was in place without any explanation for it. Then months and months went by and suddenly there was a problem for the Convention Center hotel — a lawsuit filed by another company involving Marriott.
“Without getting into the complications of that lawsuit, [it] was gonna hold up any further progress on the Convention Center Hotel. At this point, according to both the Washington Post and the Washington Business Journal, Jack Evans worked behind the scenes to put the deal back on track, to get the warring parties to settle their lawsuit.
“This is just ridiculous and outrageous that someone who has recused himself from the matter – recuse means you don’t involve yourself in it at all, at any level – he’s back in the middle of it again, and he’s steering the deal into fruition. And, sure enough, he was successful. He and the Attorney General, I believe, held closed door meetings and got the parties back on track and the Convention Center hotel goes ahead.”