Connolly's Two Roles Provoke Questions
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) often reminds residents that they have two representatives: their elected supervisor and himself, the only board member who runs at large.
Connolly also represents another constituency, one he serves from a 12th-floor office overlooking Route 7 in Tysons Corner, where he is vice president of community relations for Science Applications International Corp.
The San Diego-based research and engineering company, which does billions of dollars of work for the nation's defense, intelligence and homeland security agencies, is the Washington area's fourth-largest private employer with 16,000 workers, 3,500 of them in a four-building complex in Tysons.
Critics cite no evidence that Connolly's employment has violated Virginia conflict of interest laws, which bar elected officials from accepting any business or professional opportunity that could influence their decisions. But they ask whether it is healthy for the county's chief elected official to be employed by a company with such a prominent stake in Tysons and Fairfax.
Connolly has been an outspoken advocate for the proposed Metro extension to Dulles International Airport, a project with benefits for Fairfax but also one that could place an underground station almost directly in front of SAIC's offices, significantly increasing the property value.
SAIC is also a stakeholder in decisions soon to be made by a board-appointed county task force looking at land use in Tysons. The panel is expected to recommend to the supervisors that the company be allowed to build more densely on its land as a result of the rail line.
Connolly said he has been assiduous about keeping his public and private roles separate. "I've been very careful to avoid even the appearance of conflict," he said.
Neither Connolly nor company officials would discuss his compensation from SAIC. His statement of economic interests, filed annually with the county clerk, says only that he makes more than $10,000 a year. He also holds SAIC stock worth $50,000 to $250,000. Asked about his compensation, Connolly said: "None of your business. So long as I can't live on a supervisor's salary, I have tried to find employment with no conflict and no overlap. I'm entitled to earn a living."
Other Fairfax board chairmen have held outside jobs to supplement the elected post's salary, which rises from $59,000 to $75,000 in January. U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman from 1991 to 1994, worked as an attorney for PRC, a Fairfax-based tech company that had several contracts with the county government. Davis has said he had nothing to do with those contracts.
Three other supervisors maintain part-time jobs or outside business interests: Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason) is recording secretary for the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union; Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) operates a farm and a law firm; and Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield) owns Accotink Academy, a preschool and kindergarten.
Connolly's dual roles have raised questions of conflict and overlap. "It's a problem of appearances," said Mark J. Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University.
"People in leadership positions are correctly expected to hold to a much higher standard. . . . There is a presumption that they are neutral to various interests that want access to government policymakers."