New Code of Conduct Must Not Muzzle ANCs

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The District Council has proposed a new comprehensive code of ethics that “makes changes to the District government’s ethics laws regarding employee conduct, including but not limited to lobbying, financial disclosures, hiring, nepotism, conflicts of interest, gifts, use of government resources, and post-governmental employment conflicts of interest.”

The code would apply to advisory neighborhood commissioners, who are elected and regarded as city officials. Some commissioners see parts of the new bill, B22-0136, as a threat.

“If enacted, the newly proposed comprehensive DC Code of Conduct could prevent advisory neighborhood commissioners from participating in neighborhood organizations whose goals and activities are entirely consistent with those of the ANC,” Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Rick Murphy testified in writing and in remarks at the Nov. 2 meeting.

Murphy believes the proposed code of ethics employs an overly broad definition of “personal interest” conflicts. One example he cited is a possible restriction on the input the ANC provides to Georgetown University’s Campus Plan Group. “Student rentals and student behavior are big issues for my constituents, ” wrote Murphy. “Participating in the meetings of the Campus Working Group is probably the most effective tool I have for addressing these issues.”

We agree with Commissioner Murphy and encourage the Council to carefully consider the concept, implications and consequences of “personal interest” restrictions that go beyond personal financial interests. The Georgetowner supports the full participation of commissioners on planning and policy organizations that affect the quality of life in Georgetown and other communities, as long as they do so in their official capacity as elected officials.

It would defeat the whole purpose of ANCs if, under the guise of “personal conflict s of interest,” the new code of conduct made it impossible for commissioners to contribute significant and representative input into the work of the many vital community organizations in Georgetown and in neighborhoods across D.C .

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