Alexandria: Ethics Pledge Passes

Alexandria: Ethics Pledge Passes

Limited Code of Conduct and ethics reform.

329 N. Washington St., site of the controversial La Bergerie move.

329 N. Washington St., site of the controversial La Bergerie move. Photo by Google Maps

For now, the Ethics Pledge battle is over. City Council received the Code of Conduct revisions and the proposed Ethics Pledge at its May 18 meeting, to be reviewed and to determine the next steps. But while Mayor Allison Silberberg had struggled for months to get reform pushed through opposition on the council, there was one last surprise: passing it.

As the City Council began reviewing the document, Silberberg made it clear that she wanted the item put on the docket for public discussion at the June 18 City Council hearing. But others on the council said that the June session is already usually the longest of the year, and adding an item like the Ethics Pledge would be unreasonable.

“It’s difficult to me already to agree with some of this and I don’t want to sit here and force this on someone else.”

— Councilman Willie Bailey

“[We] don’t want this delayed until fall,” said Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. “Given the discussion, I think the council can act on this.”

Silberberg fought to make the Ethics Pledge a June Public Hearing docket item, but it quickly became apparent that the council did not share her sentiment.

Other major changes to the pledge before its passage involved the significance of “appearance of a conflict of interest” and whether the same ethical standards would apply to all boards and commissions. Ultimately, the City Council voted to move forward without applying the ethics pledge to non-Council staff or board and commission members.

“It’s difficult to me already to agree with some of this,” said Councilman Willie Bailey, referring specifically to City Council members teaching classes on ethics, “and I don’t want to sit here and force this on someone else.”

Others saw a limited implementation to the City Council as a possible test-run before future expansion.

“We focus on us, then we move forward,” said Councilman Paul Smedberg. “We do this tonight, get it done, then if we have to come back we have the ability to do that. Let's get this done. Stretching this out to fall I don’t think is productive.”

But while the reform isn’t as sweeping as originally proposed, Frank Shafroth, a member of the Ethics Commission and director of the Center for State and Local Government Leadership at George Mason, said the compromise was still a good sign.

“Tonight, they took ownership of this,” said Shafroth, arguing the discussion and alterations were promising, because it showed that City Council was committing to the concept of the Ethics Pledge and not rubber stamping whatever the commission threw its way.

But the approval far from settled concerns about ethics in City Hall. On May 31, time and courtroom to be determined, the City Council goes to trial over a lawsuit revolving around the November 2014 decision to allow Margaret Ticer Janowsky and Laurent Janowsky to move the La Bergerie restaurant and inn to a historic Old Town property at 329 N. Washington St. The suit, filed by 24 adjacent neighbors, alleges that the city engaged in illegal spot zoning to aid Margaret Ticer Janowsky, daughter of Patricia “Patsy” Ticer, former mayor, city councilor, and state senator.