Pr. William supervisors reject conflict of interest measure

August 8, 2012

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors rejected a conflict-of-interest measure late Tuesday that its proponent said would have led to more transparency and accountability among board members.

Under the measure, proposed by Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville), supervisors would have had to disclose involvement in organizations that receive county funds and recuse themselves from voting to allocate funds to any group in which they or their relatives are involved.

For the full board to consider the measure, Candland needed a second member to agree to a vote. None did, and the measure quickly died, but not before a lengthy debate. And not before supervisors took the meeting across the street, ending the broadcasting of the discussion on television and online.

Candland said he revised his proposal before Tuesday’s board meeting because of an opinion issued by County Attorney Angela Lemmon Horan. According to Candland, Horan said that the measure overstepped Prince William’s authority.

In Virginia, localities must have express permission from the General Assembly to institute laws. Although Candland said he disagreed with Horan’s assessment, he said he modified the proposal to make it more palatable to county officials and other board members.

The revised proposal required board members to disclose when they or their spouses are volunteers with nonprofit organizations, but members wouldn’t have to recuse themselves from votes.

“When you sit on a board, a nonprofit . . . I believe you have a fiduciary responsibility to that board,” Candland said. “That’s information citizens of Prince William County should know.”

While Supervisors Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) and Michael C. May (R-Occoquan) said that too many changes were made close to the supervisors’ meeting for proper consideration, other supervisors substantially disagreed with the measure’s intent.

“Serving this community is not a conflict of interest,” said Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles). “If the only way we serve this community is by showing up every other Tuesday . . . then I don’t believe we’re doing our job well. It flies right in the face of what public service, particularly at the local level, should be about.”

May and Nohe said they would voluntarily disclose any potential conflicts but didn’t see the need for a formal policy.

Nohe’s wife, Kristina, addressed the board earlier in the meeting. She said she had never addressed the board while her husband has been in office but was compelled because she felt that the board’s policy was wrongheaded.

“I am more than Mrs. Nohe,” she told the board. “We [volunteer] because we love this county and not for some nefarious reason. Volunteerism and public service is something this board should be encouraging.”

Candland said his intent was to ensure that supervisors were upfront when allocating taxpayer dollars.

On June 5, the board unanimously decided to ban supervisors from doling out “discretionary funds” to charities, nonprofits and other groups. Critics said supervisors used the money to build support among key constituencies, turning taxpayer money into political goodwill.

With Candland’s measure, supervisors said conservative bloggers had tried to paint them into a corner.

“No one wants to be accused and arm-twisted into this,” said Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large).

On Wednesday, the bloggers were also angry because supervisors held the last part of the meeting outside board chambers, where there were no video cameras broadcasting online or on local public-access television.

Stewart said he decided to hold the meeting in a board room across the street where supervisors had a dinner meeting with the county’s Service Authority.

“It was the one thing everyone was waiting for,” said Al Alborn, who often blogs about Prince William politics. “It probably did more to unite those in opposition of questionable practices of the board . . . than any single thing that happened.”

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