From the Archives: Self-imposed ethics code unlikely for new board
Reporter’s note, Dec. 2, 2012:
In light of recent allegations against Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) regarding the misuse of county resources for political fundraising, the topic of an ethics pledge has been brought up from board critics.
In early January, the Times-Mirror spoke with several supervisors regarding the ethics code signed by members of the previous board, Delgaudio excluded. Below is the story, originally posted on Jan. 10, 2012.
Self-imposed ethics code unlikely for new supervisors
In 2008, eight of the nine recently-elected Loudoun County supervisors signed an ethics pledge as they embarked on a new four years.
Drawn up by former Blue Ridge District Supervisor Jim Burton, an independent, the code of ethics was enacted amid allegations of pay-to-play politics and corruption in Loudoun County government. Burton pushed the measure as a way to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the board.
But, in essence, the pledge was “all about show,” said Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) during an interview Jan. 9.
Though he gave his signature to the 2008 document, York said there are no immediate plans for the newly-elected supervisors to compose a comparable policy.
“What we essentially did is put [in] a system which we signed, it was not law, this is just a pledge,” York said. “Again, there is no enforcement.”
Sections of the 2008 pledge include making “no private promises of any kind binding upon the duties of any office, since a public servant has no private word which be binding on public duty,” and avoiding “even the appearance of a conflict of interest. A member should recuse himself or herself from participating in deliberations or voting on issues which might be perceived as rendering direct personal or professional gain ...”
Whether the new board is required to sign a local ethics code this year, the chairman bluntly said, “No.”
“I expect high ethics by all board members … Since I served on the planning commission, my time from ‘92 on,” York said, “I’ve strived to live a high ethics as a politician.”
Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), the lone supervisor who declined to sign the 2008 pledge, said Burton’s proposal was unnecessary.
“I didn’t sign it intentionally,” Delgaudio said. “This was a political ploy from pretentious liberals.”
Of the ethics code, both York and Delgaudio said there were no real means of enforcement.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Delgaudio said. “We have a lot of disclosures and various ethics statements to submit. It’s a lot of work.”
Elected officials in Virginia are subject to statewide ethics, campaign disclosure and conflict-of-interest laws, primarily legislation from Sen. Mark Herring (D-33rd). But how close attention supervisors have paid to these in the past was – and continues to be – a question for Loudoun County government observers.
While state law dictates elected officials can’t accept money, loans, gifts or favors that “reasonably tends to influence him in the performance of his official duties,” it doesn’t prohibit “any political contribution actually used for political campaign or constituent service purposes.”
According to York, “The law is that no board members can receive contributions above $100 from any particular entity that is before [the Board of Supervisors].”
York said, for example, last month he and two colleagues excused themselves from a vote on account of the Herring law.
Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), the board’s vice-chair, while not commenting directly on the 2008 pledge said “the Board of Supervisors, just like other elected bodies, is governed by ethics laws incumbent with positions we were elected to serve in.”
Echoing Clarke’s sentiment, Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Dulles) said he doesn’t see the necessity of taking additional measures beyond the sufficient ethics and legislative rules already on the books. Williams expressed confidence the 2012 board will maintain the highest of ethical standards.
“I’ll recuse myself from potential conflicts of interest and comply with all legislative disclosure laws,” he added.
As for the public perception – how it strikes constituents that the supervisors aren’t implementing a new ethics pledge – Williams, an attorney, says he thinks “it is implied” elected officials follow the rules.
“If someone asserts anything different,” he says, “then they are just trying to stir up controversy with no legitimate grounds.”