Last week, Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) told the Washington Times that he plans to propose a bill that would revoke City Councils right to review all city contracts. Evans said this bill will diminish the pay-to-play nature of District politics by removing the councilmembers’ incentive to choose contracts that serve their own economic interests. However, in stripping the Council of its right to review, the bill will give the Mayor sole authority over which companies are awarded contracts. This will only increase corruption in the District by concentrating power in the hands of one office.
Having the council review contracts was first proposed in the 1990s, as a reaction to increasing mistrust of D.C. mayors. The plan was realized under the financial control board mandated by Congress at that time.
This proposal comes on the heels of a contentious lottery contract-awarding process that became a corrpution scandal. The D.C. inspector general was looking into the award process, but earlier this year concluded that there was insufficient evidence to implicate any D.C. officials.
Now, a former contracting officer with the CFO’s office is suing the District for wrongful termination, claiming he was fired for resisting the politicization of the lottery-contract award process.
With this scandal still in the minds of District citizens, the environment would seem ripe for an anti-corruption argument.
Evans claimed the bill came out of his fellow councilmembers’ lack of due diligence.
“It’s supposed to serve as a check and a balance on the mayor and it doesn’t, because I would say 90 to 95 percent of the contracts we sign off on, people don’t even read ‘em,” Evans told the Washington Times.
Although Mayor Vincent Gray has not commented on the proposal, it stands to reason that he will approve of any bill that collapses obstacles to his office’s power.
On the subject of whether Gray would endorse the bill, Evans told the Times, “If I were Mayor, I would.”
This quip gets at another major issue with this bill: Evans is expected to run for Mayor in the near future. His apparent interest in occupying the office makes this bill seem like a ploy to bolster his future power.
The way to diminish corruption in local politics is not to further concentrate power—especially when it comes to contracts, which present a prime opportunity for cronyism and corporate influence of politics. Rather, the Council should continue with its broader ethics overhaul, which also includes a measure called Initiative 70, which aims to ban direct campaign contributions from corporations. The Council should seek to reform the politicization of city contracts, but this is the wrong way to go about reform.