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Board Chairman Accused of Ethics Lapse

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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2007

Some Loudoun Republicans are accusing the chairman of the county's Board of Supervisors of a conflict of interest in connection with a zoning case.

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They say Scott K. York (I), who is an executive vice president of the Colorado-based ServiceStar Development Co., made an ethical error when he participated in a December meeting with county planners about an Ashburn property partly owned by his company.

"The bottom line is, Scott York shouldn't be sitting with Loudoun County staff in meetings representing the company paying his salary," said Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run). "His presence in the room is undue influence."

York said he has done nothing wrong. He added that he pulled out of the discussions after the county attorney asked him to stop. He also pointed out that the meeting has not resulted in an actual zoning application before the county and accused the county's Republican establishment of trying to smear his character in advance of the Nov. 6 election.

"It is an election year, so it is what it is," York said.

The county attorney, John R. "Jack" Roberts, did not return phone calls.

Staton and others learned of York's meeting Monday after someone anonymously slipped a stack of documents in each board member's government mailbox. They were distributed to the media and others during a Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting by Staton, who is a political foe of York's. The packet had a cover letter by someone claiming to be "a resident of the Ashburn area for many years."

The documents were distributed as the campaign season is getting underway in Loudoun. The election is one in which development and ethics will play a central role. York supports stricter controls on growth than do some of his Republican colleagues, although like them, he has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the development industry.

Republicans have been stung by recent accusations of misconduct. In January, The Washington Post published a series of articles detailing close ties between current and former officials and development interests in Loudoun. The stories did not focus on York. Law enforcement authorities in February announced a far-reaching probe by the U.S. attorney's office into potential public corruption in the county. Now, some Republicans who thought the articles were unfairly targeting them say the critical eye should fall on their independent colleague.

After The Post's articles, York and Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) proposed an ethics package that discouraged supervisors from accepting campaign donations from developers and others with pending projects, and it instituted disclosure guidelines that could expose potential conflicts of interest.

"It does occur to me that Mr. York responded so negatively and adversarially to [the articles] . . . when by this one account he was apparently not abiding by the ethics himself," said Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles). "It has all the appearances of high-level hypocrisy."

Snow figured prominently in one of The Post stories detailing e-mails that showed that he often relied on people with ties to developers to guide his decisions on the board.

York's meeting took place Dec. 18 and centered on Cameron Chase Village Center in Ashburn, a strip mall that includes a bank, a gas station and a few other businesses allowed under the property's industrial zoning.

ServiceStar and another company, Rappaport, which owns parts of the property, had approached the county to ask about rezoning the area to allow for more shops. It was a pre-application conference, which typically happens before a company formally files its rezoning request, said John Merrithew, Loudoun's assistant director of planning, who was at the meeting.

So far, neither company has filed an application, and a ServiceStar official Friday said the company had decided not to go forward with it. The company asked for permission to put up some new signs, said Jim Stilwell, the company's chief operating officer. Merrithew said he did not feel that York was pushing his company's agenda at the meeting.

"I didn't feel there was anything improper," he said. "He was not suggesting how things should happen or what we should do. It was just to let the gentlemen from Rappaport know what was going on. He participated in the conversation, but there was no request made from staff on anything."

York last ran for supervisor in 2003, when he renounced his Republican affiliation over conflicts with committee members and became an independent.

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