PRINCE WILLIAM SUPERVISORS
Some Angered by Chairman's Use of Tax Funds for Mailer
Sunday, October 14, 2007
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman has used taxpayer money to mail postcards about a meeting on a resolution to crack down on illegal immigration, angering board colleagues and others.
The postcard, from Corey A. Stewart (R), calls on residents to voice their opinions on the controversial resolution before and during a meeting Tuesday. The board will vote on funding and "implementing its policy to crack down on illegal immigration and cut off taxpayer-funded services to illegal aliens," according to the postcard.
Stewart used more than $30,000 from his discretionary fund to pay for the mailing, according to county documents. The board chairman gets $27,500 a year to spend on anything he wants, from furnishing his office to hiring part-time workers to donating to charities and nonprofit groups. The other board members get $47,500 apiece annually. Any unspent money rolls over to the next year. The board generally votes on expenditures from a supervisor's fund, and the money more often than not goes to a favorite charity.
Even members of Stewart's party questioned the use of taxpayer money for publicizing a vote on an issue that is key to the chairman's reelection. Stewart faces voters Nov. 6 and has made the illegal-immigration crackdown his signature issue. The postcard says it is from Stewart and does not mention other supervisors.
"If this is on the up-and-up, it is probably close to the line. I wouldn't have done it. It looks like electioneering," said Supervisor W. S. Covington III (R-Brentsville).
Stewart said he was concerned that the board would again delay a vote on whether to implement the resolution.
"The reality is I feel the vote is in jeopardy, and I believe it is my duty to . . . keep my constituents informed about key votes coming up in front of the board," said Stewart, who said he followed all county procedures and is confident he did nothing improper.
If approved, the resolution would deny certain services to illegal immigrants and fund new police procedures to increase immigration checks.
"I'm not going to delay this. I'm not going to defer it. I'm not going to be intimidated, and I'm not going to back down. They need to face the voters," Stewart said. "I just don't have faith in them to do the right thing unless there is an impending election."
Some residents who received the postcard also were upset that county money, and not Stewart's campaign fund, was used. "I've lived in the county for over 20 years. I have never received this sort of mailer before. Never," said Mildred Cruz-Friedman, 59, a retired school principal. "This guy has some nerve."
Julie Phillips, 50, a Woodbridge resident who said she is against the resolution, agreed. "I read that [as] telling me which way to voice my opinion on the resolution, not to voice my opinion," she said. "You look at it, and it just doesn't seem right."
Other board members also questioned the use of the discretionary fund.
Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries), who supports Stewart's opponent in the election, said she was "appalled" when she saw the notice and said, "We are being bullied into doing something. . . . This is terrible. This is not how we govern."
Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) wondered why Stewart did not tell the board before the mailing went out, as is the usual custom. "Citizens saw it before the board members saw it. . . . Over the past few years, we always announced an intent if we were going to use discretionary funds," he said. Establishing a public hearing and advertising in the local newspaper would have been a better use of public funds, he said.
The county's cable station and printing press are two other cheap ways of informing the public, said Vice Chairman Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles). "I don't think there are a whole lot of people in the county who aren't aware we are discussing immigration policy," said Nohe, questioning the value of the mailing.
Sharon Pandak, Stewart's Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, agreed and said, "This is clearly an attempt to get him individual name recognition before the public using taxpayer monies when he ought to be using campaign monies."
Pandak and several others complained to Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D), who said he would appoint a special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest.
Stewart said that the controversy is typical of election-year politics, and that Ebert is trying to intimidate him. "I can't believe it is lawful for him to use his position to intimidate one of his political foes," he said.