Loudoun County Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) wants a state law that passed both chambers of the General Assembly in 2008 without a single 'no' vote either repealed or altered.
On Wednesday, during the Board of Supervisors' initial discussion of its 2014 legislative package for state lawmakers, Volpe introduced an item to initiate that action.
Every year before the commonwealth’s legislative session, Loudoun's supervisors and staff coordinate with local state delegates and senators to help draft laws they see as beneficial for the county.
The law in question Wednesday was Senate Bill 532 – the so-called “Herring law” for the bill's patron in the General Assembly, state Sen. Mark Herring (D-33rd). SB 532 “requires each individual member of the Loudoun County board of supervisors, planning commission, and board of zoning appeals in any proceeding before each such body involving an application for a special exception or variance or involving an application for amendment of a zoning ordinance map … make a full public disclosure of any business or financial relationship that such member has, or has had within the 12-month period prior to such hearing.”
Herring's legislation was approved amid an FBI investigation into several Loudoun elected officials' relationships with land developers and potential conflicts of interest.
“As a Loudoun County resident, I was sick and tired of reading in the paper about FBI investigations and unethical behavior on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors,” Herring told the Times-Mirror Thursday after learning board members were discussing repealing the law. “We needed to take action to ensure a more transparent and open process, and so I stood up and did just that.”
Starting off the supervisors' discussion Wednesday of SB 532, Volpe said she'd like one of two things to happen: “Either this law apply across the state equally to every county board of supervisors or I would like it repealed.”
Volpe said it's “abhorrent” that Loudoun County is treated differently than other counties in the state. She said she has considered filing a lawsuit against the state under the equal protection act on the federal level.
The Algonkian supervisor expressed dismay that if a supervisor has received $101 in a 12-month span from someone associated with a land use case that supervisor must recuse themselves from a vote on that application.
After Volpe's initial proposal, Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) offered a substitute motion to have the law applied statewide, rather than have it repealed. That substitute pass unanimously.
“I just think what's good for the goose is good for the gander,” Buona said. “We've had cases where supervisors haven't taken donations because, if we had, we wouldn't have had a quorum to take a vote on some applications. Literally ... It's causing some real problems for this board.”
The Ashburn supervisor said SB 532 “was put in place, in [his] opinion, as political grandstanding by Senator Herring.”
“Throughout the county, this is jokingly known as 'the Mark Herring thinks Loudoun County is more corrupt than the rest of the commonwealth law,'” he said.
Responding to Buona's comments, Herring said he "worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill aimed at restoring the public trust in our local government.”
“I am proud of my record of fighting for more transparency in all levels of government and promoting stronger ethics laws,” he said. “These attacks by allies of Ken Cuccinelli and Mark Obenshain show why voters can’t trust them when it comes to cleaning up ethics in Virginia.”
According to Loudoun County's legislative affairs representatives, it's unlikely the General Assembly will pass any legislation that applies the Herring law to every county in the state.
“That's what Herring's did originally,” said Jeff Gore of Hefty and Wiley, a county-contracted lobbying firm. “That's not politically possible, in my opinion.”