This afternoon, House Speaker Bill Howell announced that he has requested the House Ethics Advisory Panel conduct an investigation into the actions of Delegate Phil Hamilton, with the "unanimous concurrence of the other members of the House leadership."I couldn't agree more. Thank you Ward Armstrong!
I believe the Speaker misspoke, as I was not included in this discussion. If I had been, I would have expressed my concern that the Speaker is relegating this probe to a panel where proceedings have historically been kept secret.
As the Virginian-Pilot reported this weekend, roughly 10 such investigations have been conducted by the Ethics Advisory Panel in the last 20 years, and all have taken place behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, a lack of transparency is what led to this situation in the first place. Delegate Hamilton is a public official, and any investigation into his actions should be conducted in full view of the citizens of Virginia.
The Rules of the House of Delegates state that the House Privileges and Elections Committee has the power to 'receive and investigate any charges or complaints brought against any member of the House of Delegates in the performance of his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities and recommend to the House such action as it may deem appropriate to establish and enforce standards of conduct for members.'
I call on Speaker Howell and Committee Chairman Cole to convene the committee as quickly as possible and deal with this inquiry in a fair, thorough, and - most importantly - open manner. Rather than face an investigation that may never see the light of day, Delegate Hamilton should come before a bipartisan, fully public panel of his peers.
We cannot risk losing the public's trust in our institution by continuing to cloak this incident in secrecy.
UPDATE 7:30 pm: Bob McDonnell calls on Phil Hamilton to resign. Smart move by McDonnell.
Elected officials must keep the highest ethical standards in order to maintain the public trust. From what I have seen of published news accounts containing emails and admissions, it appears that Delegate Hamilton has violated the public trust. Based on this public information it would be in the best interests of his constituents for him to step down, but if he believes that the due process of a full inquiry by the House Ethics Advisory Panel will clear his name, he should have a full opportunity to present his case. Any such inquiry should be commenced immediately and conducted expeditiously.