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Burk Wants Disclosure Forms for Council

By Lila Arzua
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2004; Page LZ01

Leesburg Town Council members should be required to fill out disclosure forms outlining their contact with developers, council member C. Kelly Burk proposed Tuesday night at a work session.

"With all the growth that's going on, you want to make sure that process is open and that everyone knows about it," Burk said in an interview before the meeting.

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Burk said the issue came to her attention after she became a council member in July and developers began to contact her to discuss possible projects.

"I think it's important that the public know if you're meeting with someone who has business in front of the council," she said.

As the seat of the nation's fastest-growing county, Leesburg has also experienced considerable growth.

Council members are regularly approached by commercial and residential developers and businesses considering relocating or expanding to the town.

They now verbally report contact with developers at council meetings, in line with an ethics policy adopted as a Town Council resolution in 1996, and their remarks are included in the minutes.

However, there is no town or state law requiring such disclosures and no official sanction for failing to report contacts.

Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd acknowledged that all contacts might not be recorded in the minutes.

"The clerk has been very good, but I don't know whether every single meeting [with a developer] has made it into the minutes," Umstattd said in an interview.

Burk said a more systematic approach is needed to keep the public apprised of elected officials' interaction with "any group that would make a profit" from Town Council decisions.

Creating a form to be filled out by council members -- similar to one used by members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors -- would ensure openness by enabling any member of the public to know exactly whom an elected official was meeting with and how often, Burk said.

"Then the citizen may say, 'Why have you met with this developer five times?' or 'Why haven't you met with him at all?' " she said.

Town attorney William E. Donnelly III wrote in a memorandum for Tuesday's meeting that the council's ethics policy should first be amended to define all its terms. The policy now calls on council members to disclose "any meeting with an individual or group with an active application, bid or proposal before the town, where a discussion relating to such application, bid or proposal took place."

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