All Council Chairman Kwame Brown wanted to do was host a little party Thursday night for the D.C. Council members and their staffs.
But the mood was anything but festive as the party approached and some people -- including council members -- questioned how the bill for the party was being paid.
That’s because Brown rented a big ballroom at the Washington Court Hotel on New Jersey Ave. NW near Capitol Hill and is assessing each of the 13 council members to pay for the party. (We’re told it’s about $8,000, but maybe is being cut back to $7,000.)
There were reports (and private confirmations) that Brown asked each member to dip into their already controversial “Constituent Service Funds.” Each member can privately raise up to $80,000 a year. But those accounts already are under fire because some independent reports show little of the money actually goes to “constituent service.”
An activist group called DC for Democracy says its review of the funds shows that only 12 percent of the money goes to constituent-worthy expenses like emergency heat, rent payments or other community activities. And council parties?
“It’s a bad idea if you’re not going to involve your constituents,” said Dan Wedderburn, a long-time activist in city politics and a leader of the DC for Democracy.
In an interview with NBC4, Chairman Brown told us that he is paying his share out of his own pocket and that other council members can do the same. He said he did not instruct them to use their constituent service funds. He also said the party is mainly to honor the “hardworking staff,” not the council members.
Several council members are privately grousing that they were expected to use the funds.
At-large council member Phil Mendelson said he didn’t want to pick a fight with the chairman, but Mendelson said he declined to donate from his constituent service fund and was not attending the party. He said the constituent service funds already are the subject of bad publicity and policy and he doesn’t want to add to it.