Ethics Measures on Development Proposed

By Michael Laris and David S. Fallis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A group of Loudoun County supervisors proposed far-reaching ethics and campaign finance measures yesterday that they said would increase public confidence in local decisions on development.

One proposed measure would bar supervisors from accepting campaign checks from any person or company with a development proposal before the county. That would be a sharp departure for some supervisors. Leading up to the 2003 election, the development industry contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to supervisors' campaigns, and fundraising has continued since the election.

The measures also would require Loudoun's nine supervisors to disclose their meetings with people seeking county permission on land-use proposals. Supervisors would also be strongly encouraged to sign on to a code of ethics requiring them to "expose through appropriate means and channels, corruption, misconduct, or neglect of duty when discovered."

"We need to regain the public trust and confidence," said supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run). "I view this also as a protection for the development community, in that there's not a standard of you have to pay to play."

The proposals follow reports published by The Washington Post last week that detailed how major land-use decisions in Loudoun have been dominated by a small network of public officials and their allies in the development industry. Developers, landowners and others profited as they coordinated with public officials to influence land-use decisions in the county, e-mails and other records showed.

In recent months, FBI agents have asked questions about land-use matters and official actions in the county, according to people who have been interviewed.

Waters proposed the ethics package with board Chairman Scott K. York (I). Three other supervisors -- James Burton (I-Blue Ridge), Sarah R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) -- co-sponsored the proposals, which are set to be considered by the full board next week.

Burton had put forward an ethics pledge in 2004, supported by the same supervisors.

Under the current proposal, supervisors who decline to sign would lose half the funds from their budgets, which fund staffing and other office expenses. Those accused of violations would face penalties including loss of funding, committee assignments or public censure.

Whether the board has the votes to pass a rigorous package depends in part on Clem, who has been an important vote on development matters in recent years. Clem said yesterday he would vote for the measures, but he also said he wants to discuss them further and make additions. "I need to go back and really read it," Clem said.

Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), a professional fundraiser who runs an anti-gay lobbying group, declined to offer support for the measures, saying he would present his proposals later.

Delgaudio has aggressively courted building and development companies active in Loudoun. He reported receiving $59,579 in campaign contributions between July 1 and Dec. 31, according to his latest disclosure form.

"I see prolific fundraising as prolific fundraising, no different than what goes on in 435 congressional races, 50 senate races and thousands of local races," Delgaudio said.

A Virginia official said Loudoun leaders must stay within the bounds of state law when considering such measures.

"The law is clear that they cannot pass a regulation or ordinance or any kind of law that limits campaign finance contributions," said Chris Piper, campaign finance manager for Virginia's Board of Elections.

Regarding the Loudoun proposals, he said, "It's a question of whether they are entering into a voluntary pact or passing a new law or regulation."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company