After resisting signing a cooperative agreement letter for more than a year, Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj (D) has signed off on the agreement.
The action was confirmed on Thursday by Jeanine Arnett, Chief of Staff to Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall.
The action ends a standoff with the Board of Supervisors, who, last month voted to freeze four open office positions in the proposed fiscal 2022 budget until Biberaj signed the agreement between her office and county government.
The cooperative agreement, which provides county resources and protections for her employees, is offered to constitutional officers including the treasurer, sheriff, clerk of the circuit court, commissioner of the revenue, and commonwealth's attorney at the start of each their terms.
Only Biberaj and Treasurer Roger Zurn (R) had not signed the letter as of the March 18 work session. Zurn signed his shortly afterwards, according to Arnett.
Freezing positions in the special victims and conviction units came in response to a number of complaints by former employees, nonprofit community members and case victims who had expressed concerns to Randall about Biberaj’s conduct.
Each officer has authority over how to operate their respective budget, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said.
When the officers sign the cooperative agreement, Hemstreet said the county government extends several services such as human resources, finance and procurement to those offices.
The agreement also assures officers will operate in accordance with policies and procedures established by the board. The county has continued to provide services to the office despite the missing agreement, Hemstreet said.
Randall said the agreement is important for the protection of Biberaj’s staff.
In an March 23 statement to The Times-Mirror, Biberaj said it's common for transition period in the first year after a change in administration. Biberaj also said some staff moved on to other interests, retired, wanted a career change, found jobs that permitted them to telework regularly, or went back to school.
However, members of the board felt differently during their discussion with the Biberaj.
Randall, the chairwoman, described some of the responses as “unconscionable,” “not acceptable” and that the commonwealth’s attorney is not protecting victims.
Of the 39 positions in the Commonwealth attorney’s office, there have been 17 resignations or retirements between February 2020 and February 2021, according to budget materials.
As of March, six positions were filled and then subsequently left from January 2020 to March 2021 — five were attorneys and one was non-attorney support staff.
Of the 17 total resignations or retirements, which include 10 voluntary separations when Biberaj started in January 2020, seven were non-attorney support staff and 10 were attorney positions.
The vacancy rate is 10 percent, or four positions (4.00 FTE), as of March 18. All existing vacancies are attorney positions.
On March 18, Biberaj said the last time she reviewed the agreement was in September and planned to meet with the county administrator's office to discuss the matter.
“I don’t have any objection to sitting down and resolving it,” Biberaj said at the time.
Randall in turn rebuked Biberaj for requesting more time to review the agreement, saying she had ample time to address any concerns with the document.
Biberaj also defended her office, saying that "we have diligently and valiantly served our community" and that she is focused on keeping the community safe, reducing harm and providing justice for victims and the accused.
"We are excited about the culture we are building for our office," Biberaj said.
The board also voted 8-0-1 — with Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) absent — to grant only four of Biberaj‘s requested 12 top-priority positions included in Hemstreet’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget.
The assistant commonwealth’s attorney position is for the Conviction Integrity and Post-Conviction Unit. The three other positions are for the Special Victims’ Unit, including a director and two case managers.
The attorney’s office said in a questionnaire to the board members that the request to increase the staff is due to "the needs of the community and redirection of the office to innovative prosecution, consistent with the wishes of the community, require additional resources to achieve these goals."
Over the past decade, the attorney’s office increased by two staff members while the county’s population increased by approximately 30 percent (100,000 residents), the report stated.
Randall said she knows the victim support program was award winning and was successful prior to Biberaj beginning in January 2020.
"To come and ask for 12 positions in a department that’s never been staffed — I can't say you don't need any," Randall said. “I do think just population growth alone probably accounts for needing some — but 12 is a lot.”
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R- Dulles) supported the motions, pointing out that Biberaj’s office experienced a 31 percent increase in staff level. He said no other county operation saw a higher increase.
“I don't think it would be fair to say the board has just flat denied and not listened and not tried to add resources because I think we have — just not at the level that was requested,” Letourneau said.
He said before committing to this size request that he would like to see some stability and resolution in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.
The board will adopt the budget on Tuesday.