Editorial: Wrongdoing, the District, and a lax inspector general

Cuban reality

AN INVESTIGATION by the city’s ethics board has resulted in allegations of wrongdoing by the District’s top administrative judge and another official. The charges — which include contract steering, preferential treatment and use of public office for private gain — are serious. But even more troubling is how these matters were glossed over in an earlier investigation by the Office of the Inspector General, which has shown an inability to grapple with these issues in a serious way.

The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability accused Mary Oates Walker, chief judge of the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, and Kiyo Oden Tyson, the agency’s general counsel, of numerous violations of the city’s code of conduct. The case centers on allegations that Ms. Walker, in charge of the office that handles appeals of decisions by the D.C. government, improperly hired Ms. Tyson, with whom she had a private business partnership, and steered a city contract to the company owned by Ms. Tyson’s husband.

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Lawyers for both officials have denied the allegations and promised a vigorous challenge when the case is tried before the independent ethics panel. Nonetheless, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has moved to fire Ms. Walker based on the preliminary findings of ethics officials. Their detailed 27-page report is a stark contrast to the three-page letter from Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby last May that closed the book on his office’s handling of the case.

“The preferred action may have been for [Ms. Walker] to disclose her knowledge of the relationship . . . for transparency purposes and in the exercise of sound judgment,” the letter concluded, but investigators “found an insufficient basis to conclude the existence of misconduct on her part under the circumstances.”

The language calls to mind how the actions of D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) relating to a Metro land deal and the D.C. lottery contract were downplayed by the inspector general. “While the councilmember’s action . . . may give the appearance that he lost complete independence or impartiality, and may have affected adversely the confidence of the public in the integrity of government, the OIG did not find sufficient evidence to support or conclude that the councilmember had acted improperly.” Subsequent investigations by two other agencies, including the city ethics board, concluded otherwise.

Ethics officials have far fewer resources than the inspector general yet have demonstrated a vigor and muscle that is strangely lacking in the work of the inspector general. They seem to have interviewed more people than the inspector general in investigating the Office of Administrative Hearings and obtained more information. The inspector general’s office declined comment except to say through a spokeswoman that it stands behind its investigations.

Mr. Willoughby’s term expires in May; we hope the mayor and council take that opportunity to give the office a good hard look and give the public the watchdog it needs.

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