By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
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."
Susan Turner, a Democrat and second vice president of the McLean Citizens Association, watches land-use matters in the county closely. She is among those troubled by the arrangement.
"I think it's totally inappropriate," she said. "I think he's benefiting financially from the success of SAIC, which will benefit from having a rail station there."
Company officials said they have neither sought nor gained benefits from employing Connolly, who was hired in September 2002 as SAIC's first community relations director in the Washington area.
His boss, Arnold L. Punaro, a SAIC executive vice president, said Connolly was attractive not as a local elected official but for his knowledge of government and corporate worlds as a past staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and vice president at the Washington office of SRI International, a consulting firm.
SAIC, which does work for state and local governments, has no active contracts with Fairfax. Punaro said that it will not bid for any as long as Connolly holds office.
"We're very sensitive to the issue of his status on the Fairfax County board," Punaro said.
Although the post of board chairman is legally part time, Connolly is well known for his marathon weeks of meetings, hearings, receptions and speeches.
For the past five years, he estimates, he has also spent 20 to 30 hours a week managing SAIC's sponsorship of events such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walk on the Mall, an annual high school robotics competition and a "technology tent" at the county fair, which features company-sponsored fireworks.
Company officials said Connolly also offers advice on emergency preparedness and human resources issues and represents SAIC on the board of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
Connolly, who bills the company on an hourly basis, said that it is a substantive, demanding job but that he is able to move between his public and private roles by working seven-day weeks.
"I have been able to juggle the two," he said.
One source of speculation about Connolly's relationship with SAIC involves the proposed placement of a Metro station near its offices, on Route 7 northwest of Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road). Connolly said he never involved himself in discussions about the stop, one of four in Tysons envisioned for the Dulles extension.
A 1994 amendment to the county's comprehensive plan, adopted by the board a year before Connolly was first elected, called for rail stations in three general locations: Route 123 at Westgate Drive, Route 123 between Tysons I and II and Route 7 west of Westpark Drive, at least three-tenths of a mile from the SAIC complex.
County planners said that in 2000, as they studied alternatives for rail in Tysons, it became clear that a fourth station was needed at Routes 7 and 123 to accommodate growth.
"It seemed logical to put another station on Route 7," said former Fairfax transportation director Young Ho Chang. "The current location seemed to offer us the kind of accessibility we wanted."
Chang said that locating the fourth station was strictly a staff exercise, with no involvement from Connolly, other board members or SAIC. The new station, known as Tysons Central 7, became part of the plan -- known as the "locally preferred alternative" -- approved by the board Oct. 28, 2002. The vote was a key step toward getting federal money for the $5 billion project, currently under review by the Federal Transit Administration.
Connolly voted for the station alignment without disclosing to the board that he had been hired by SAIC that September.
He said he didn't think it was relevant.
"It frankly hadn't occurred to me that it was an issue," he said. "When we voted on the LPA, I had no awareness that there was a change in the location of the station." Connolly also said his employment by SAIC was already public knowledge, having been announced in an Oct. 9 company news release.
He said that County Attorney David P. Bobzien was aware of his new job status but raised no concerns. During the debate that preceded the October 2002 vote, Connolly stressed the importance of the rail extension and said it would allow major Tysons landowners such as Booz Allen Hamilton, WestGroup, Lerner Properties and SAIC to cluster properties around the stations. "Here is an opportunity for us to get it right," he said.
Punaro, who handles SAIC's real estate affairs, said the company had no role in siting the station.
SAIC also has a stake in the deliberations of the three-year-old Tysons land-use task force, which is headed by Clark Tyler, a transportation and economic development consultant for SAIC. The panel is likely to recommend to the supervisors additional density rights for SAIC and other Tysons businesses along the rail line.
Tyler said he has had no contact with the company regarding the task force.
On Bobzien's advice, Connolly did disclose his SAIC work before voting with the board to create a special taxing district -- one that included his employer -- to finance the Dulles rail project.
"Chairman Connolly said that he has been an advocate for rail for a long time and declared that he is able to participate in this hearing fairly, objectively and in the public interest," say the minutes of the Feb. 23, 2004, board meeting.
Connolly's relationship with SAIC is not the only instance in which his private employment has overlapped with his public duties. In January 2003, he joined the rest of the board in a 9 to 0 vote to approve WestGroup's plan for four luxury condominium towers in Tysons on the edge of McLean. Connolly was the project's main supporter, over the concerns of residents that WestGroup hadn't provided for adequate road improvements.
In September 2003, The Washington Post reported that Connolly did consulting work in 2001 for a company run by Peter J. Halpin, son of Gerald T. Halpin, WestGroup's chief executive. Connolly disclosed the position on his annual financial statement but did not tell his board colleagues or constituents about it before the January vote.
Connolly said that Bobzien told him that Virginia law does not require disclosure, because Connolly was a consultant, not an employee, and because the company, World Resources, did not do business directly with the county.
After the article was published, then-Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) proposed that the matter be referred to Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. for guidance on what kind of outside employment was permissible. The motion failed 8 to 2, with Mendelsohn and Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) supporting it.
Connolly has recused himself on other occasions, such as when the board approved a plan for 570 apartments and townhouses on SAIC-owned property east of Gallows Road in March 2003.