The Sleaze in Loudoun
SMALL PLACES rapidly on their way to becoming big are often susceptible to opportunism, abuse and influence-peddling practiced by a closed circle of insiders. A case in point is Loudoun County, the boom burb on Washington's western fringe whose population has tripled since 1990. Ever since a slate of pro-growth politicians was swept into office in 2003, supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars of contributions from the development industry, sweetheart deals and behind-the-scenes arrangements have given local governance there the aspect of an exclusive club operated for the benefit of the well-connected. While mouthing self-righteous slogans about property rights, these insiders have busily enriched themselves and their friends with scant regard to government ethics or the civic good.
In two revealing articles, The Post's Michael Laris and David S. Fallis detailed the cozy ties between Loudoun's real estate interests and public officeholders. Local prosecutors have launched a probe into some of the dealings to determine whether any laws were broken, and the FBI is investigating as well. Even if not illegal, some of these activities emit the distinct aroma of conflict of interest and ethical tone-deafness.
Take, for instance, the example of Lawrence S. Beerman II, former chairman of Loudoun's Planning Commission, who voted repeatedly for land proposals advanced by a major development firm from which he received substantial business in the form of residential mortgages referrals. Mr. Beerman, who resigned from the commission last summer, also voted for a development plan by a landowner to whom he had sold shares in a venture capital deal.
Then there is the matter of Dale Polen Myers, former chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, who parlayed her real estate savvy into a role as a Svengali for her own and her allies' land interests. Ms. Myers, a central figure in recruiting and backing the Republican majority that took power in Loudoun three years ago, was a principal beneficiary of the board's largess; six months into its term, the county board expanded the development rights assigned to her family farm, which she then sold for $12.2 million, quadruple its assessed value before the rezoning.
It's not exactly a new story. Developers, builders and land lawyers frequently find ways and individuals to do their bidding, often beyond the light of public scrutiny. And Washington is no stranger to unelected power brokers and lobbyists whose clout and contacts provide a conduit to riches. If the past is any guide, many of the elected politicians who worked hand in glove with the developers who underwrote their last campaigns will soon be tossed out of office. That will be all for the good. But don't be shocked when some of them are promptly rewarded -- hired by the developers whose interests they served so assiduously.