As an assistant city manager, Denise Turner Roth was considered part of the reboot of the Greensboro City Manager’s Office under Rashad Young. As both an assistant city manager and then as city manager when Young resigned, Roth was considered a skilled administrator by both conservative and progressive council members, although police reform advocates regarded her defense of the department with frustration.
And her appointment by President Obama to head the General Services Administration in Washington was roundly celebrated by locals. Yet the end of her tenure hasn’t worked out so well.
Following the 2016 election, many journalists wondered how she would handle the conflict of interest presented by the fact that the businessman leasing federal property for Trump International Hotel in Washington was suddenly in transition to become the president of the United States. Carefully weighing her options, Roth chose to do… nothing during her final days at General Service Administration before joining WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, a firm that does business with… the federal government.
“It’s a shame Ms. Roth didn’t exert her extensive influence to make Mr. Trump follow his legal obligations before she entered what seems like a marriage of convenience,” the New York Times editorial board opined last month. “(The president faces a lawsuit claiming that the tab from his foreign guests at the hotel violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause.)”
Roth’s statement to the Washington Post in response to the controversy can only be considered a deflection.
“From my perspective, divesting would have been the right move,” she said. “We shouldn’t have this question that we’re in about whether he’s a leaseholder while he’s the president and whether there is a clause affecting him. But those are his concerns.”
Stephen Schooner, a law professor at George Washington University who is advising the owners of the Cork Wine Bar in a lawsuit against the president, was not kind in his assessment of Roth.
“She demonstrated a unique level of cowardice and self-preservation instead of focusing on the interests of the nation,” Schooner told the Post. “We have seen through the process that GSA was far more interested in being hyper-technical than making any effort to do the right thing.
“What is the difference between Denise Roth and Sally Yates?” Schooner added. “One did the right thing and was applauded by right-thinking people for putting the country above her own self interests.”