Amendments to ‘discretionary funds’ measure cause discord in Prince William

The debate over Prince William County supervisors’ so-called discretionary funds has been contentious over the years, but that discord appeared to come to an end June 5.

That’s when the Board of County Supervisors unanimously decided to ban the use of excess office funds being doled out to charities, nonprofit organizations and other groups. Although the donations were usually in the hundreds of dollars, critics said that supervisors used the funds to gin up support among key constituencies, translating taxpayer dollars into political goodwill.

But despite the united front in banning the practice, fallout has continued at the McCoart Building, pitting the author of the measure to ban the funds, Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville), against other members of the board.

The contention doesn’t concern the central part of Candland’s measure to ban the discretionary funds. It comes from amendments tacked on to the bill before it was passed, offered by Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco), to which Candland was opposed.

The amendments restricted overtime by supervisors’ staff members and the hiring of those who work on political campaigns, among other changes.

Reece Collins, Candland’s part-time communications director, is a political consultant for others. Candland said in a statement Friday that he would abide by the new rules and fire Collins.

He said that he thought it was bad policy that Jenkins was able to propose the amendments without prior review by the board or public.

“To those on the board who may be hopeful that the targeted termination of a member of my staff will reduce my ability to take on these tough issues . . . this unfair retribution has only strengthened my resolve,” he said in the statement.

Collins declined to comment.

Jenkins has said those allegations are “certainly not true” and that “all we were trying to do was to tighten up the practices so all these things would be transparent.” Others in the county noted that Jenkins’s amendments dealt with how supervisors spent county funds, and so were logically related to Candland’s resolution on discretionary funds.

In a letter to county attorney Angela Lemmon Horan, Candland called the amendments “political retribution.” He also said they were “more about settling political scores than good public policy.”

Horan, though, sided with the amendments and the board. “It is legitimate for a local government to wish to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest or impropriety on the part of its employees,” Horan wrote of the county’s new policy as proposed by Jenkins in a lengthy response.

Candland said previously in an interview that he had decided to challenge the amendment forcing him to fire Collins given a situation in Alexandria that he said should apply to Prince William. The Virginia code section states that “no locality shall prohibit an employee of the locality . . . from participating in political activities while these employees are off duty, out of uniform and not on the premises of their employment with the locality,” Candland wrote in the letter.

Candland cited a January 2011 meeting in Alexandria, during which a City Council member asked the city attorney whether a staff member could assist in a campaign. The attorney replied that it was permissible as long as the staff member was off duty.

Horan wrote that the amendments got to the core of what Candland himself wanted to do — ban the appearance of impropriety. Banning Collins and similar politicos from working for the county is not rare, the letter said.

“In fact many localities have had such provisions for years,” Horan wrote.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.

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