Monday, January 22, 2007; 1:00 PM
Washington Post staff writers David S. Fallis and Michael Laris were online to discuss their series of articles examining the relationships between some Loudoun County officials and developers, landowners and others in the real estate industry.
A transcript follows.
Read Monday's Article:
Read Sunday's Articles:
Michael Laris: Welcome to everyone. Looking forward to a good discussion. Let's go:
Aldie, Virginia: Dear Mr. Fallis and Mr. Laris,
I live in Aldie and am friends with both Supervisor Jim Burton and Tom DeLashmutt, the owner of Oak Hill. In your article, you report that that there was split of support amongst the Loudoun Board members on the Ritz-Carlton luxury home and golf course project. This is not true. While both Mr. Burton and Mr. DeLashmutt were initially skeptical of project, they both became supporters through the work of Mr. Minchew and other members of the project team. On July 11, 2006, a unanimous Loudoun Board of Supervisors approved the project on a 9-0 vote and Supervisor Burton personally complimented the quality of the development and the sensitivity of the project toward the Oak Hill National Landmark.
Out of the 1000's of new homes approved by the current Board, why did you pick the Ritz-Carlton project to make your point about some kind of scandal? And, why did you not mention that every Board member voted to approve this project?
washingtonpost.com:Influence of Developers, Allies Runs Deep Sunday, January 21, 2007)
David S. Fallis: Thanks much for your interest. There were two rounds of BOS votes pertaining to the Ritz project. The vote that was reported in the story was based on the SBEX vote from 2005, which was a 6-3 vote. The vote you mentioned was a full year later. We wrote about the first vote because it was the subject of the email sent to supervisors the night before, regarding strategies on how to vote.
Harpers Ferry WV: Thank you for a well written, well researched article exposing the degree to which developers and development interests have controlled public policy and many of our elected officials. Did it take a year for this story to be put together, or were you asked to wait until now to publish your findings by the FBI? Will we be seeing investigations in other counties?
David S. Fallis: Thank you for your interset. It actually took about a year to report, write and edit. We were not waiting to publish based external considerations or requests from anyone. These projects just take time.
Leesburg, Va.: I think your expose was a big "so, what?" story. After a year of "investigating" emails, you didn't tell us anything new we didn't know already -- except Bruce Tulloch forgot to disclose before voting against HCA that he owns a beach house with someone who works for Inova Loudoun. I think this is nothing more than an anti-Republican liberal post smear job. I challenge you to do a similar front page expose on all the money Gerry Connolly, Linda Smith and others have taken in Fairfax. You won't do that, though, because they are Democrats and the Connection Newspapers in 2005 divulged Connolly had received $180,000 in contributions from developers, mainly in Tysons Corner, and that he voted for their rezonings, Dulles Rail densities, etc. It is patently unfair of the Post to do a Sunday front-page story on the GOP board in Loudoun, but completely ignore Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George's. You discovered nothing illegal, and nothing new. What a waste of resources, ink and paper!
Michael Laris: The "so-what" question is certainly open to different views. I can tell you there was no political motivation in the reporting. I'm interested in the issue of government oversight broadly and would love to hear ideas about good stories, wherever they are and whatever the political affiliation.
Ashburn, VA: With all the rumors that have been floating around for years about how some supervisors are "in deep pockets" with the builders, it is very interesting to see the articles - thank you.
For what years were you able to obtain email and phone records? If any included up to 2006, was there anything that specifically addressed the vitriol around the Dulles South vote.
Also, are there any records of gifts that supervisors may have received directly or indirectly for their past and continuing efforts?
Speaking of Snow's new Porche, was there evidence of questionable behavior on the part of anyone on the board in examining Dominion's new power line proposal?
David S. Fallis: Thanks for your interest. We filed many many FOIAS, and the years represented in the records varied, depending on the record in question, and the retention practices of the office in question.
As far as gifts, that information is publicly available by requesting from the county the disclosure forms of elected officials. State laws have a variety of reporting requirements.
Vienna, VA: How can the issue of development be so " corrupt" when developers easily sell everything they build? Developers are not going to waste time and money building what people DON'T want...and what they can't sell. Like it or not, people want to live here in Northern Virginia.....and companies want to move here. Developers, in most cases, only satisfy a growing real estate market that people WANT.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for your comments.
FBI: Do you think anything is going to come to the FBI investigation? Could anyone be facing jail time?? (As a Loudoun resident of 8 years - THANK YOU for a long overdue story!)
David S. Fallis: We have no way of being able to predict anything more than what we published in the paper. However, please be assured we are continuing to report on this and are eager to pursue all leads and tips ...
Loudoun Co., VA:
1. Likely an unanswerable question, but am curious as to how you came about investigating the Loudoun County Board.
2. Is there more to learn - are you going to dig deeper?
David S. Fallis: The investigation grew out of years of beat reporting by Mike. And, yes, we are continuing to report as tips and leads come in.
Ashburn, VA: I'm glad that someone is finally looking into the shadyness of the machine as it was known to us in the last election. It does not surprise me one bit that these type of actions are taking place. One that hasn't been mentioned is Larry Beerman's ties to Loudoun Hospital and how that helped work to the demise of the HCA hospital rezoning request in Broadlands. Keep up the good work. John Murphy, Dulles District Candidate 2001
David S. Fallis: Thanks for taking an interest in the stories.
Richmond, VA: Not a question - just a Thank You for writing this series of articles. Most people do not realize or understand the workings of planning and how the decisions made by the Board of Supervisors or Town Council of their area can impact them almost instantly.
I hope you continue to write these investigative articles and perhaps expand them to other areas on the cusp of growth and influence such as Caroline County and Hanover.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for the comment.
First a comment, then a question: First, I'd like to offer congratulations on an outstanding series. As a lifelong Republican who typically takes exception to the reporting of the Washington Post, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I was probably wrong a lot of those times. This story is obviously well documented, well researched, and well written.
Next, a question: As one deeply involved in the current Loudoun County BOS debate over the Crosstrails application, it was helpful to learn the context of Mr. Beerman's sudden departure from the Planning Commission. In fact, the entire article has lent some sense of understanding to the incredibly hostile and negative attitudes we (the Town of Leesburg) encountered during the last two years as we've taken issue with the Peterson Company's application for a mixed-use residential and commercial development immediately adjacent to the airport.
Question: Have you folks looked at why the Board would, unquestioningly, accept the statements of a developer that age-restricted housing (55+) and other residences are a good idea immediately adjacent to the airport ? The logic defies even my most creative tries- yet members of the BOS think it's a great idea.
Leesburg Executive Airport Commission
Michael Laris: Thanks for your comments. We didn't focus on that issue, so it's difficult to determine motivations.
Michael Laris: Also, our interest was in questions about government oversight, and it's not our place comment on the why one development might be good or bad.
Aldie, VA: Are these "smelly" types of transactions also going on in other counties in the Metro area? As a person who lives in Aldie and has Mr. Snow as a Supervisor, I am truly appalled by his actions, but not surprised. I have been somewhat involved with these issues for a few years now, but knowing how much money is involved for developers, my family actually asked me to step back -- they were truly afraid for my well being. And although I thought I knew a lot about all the behind closed doors dealings, after reading your pieces, I realized I only had a small inkling. And, what you reported was what you could CONFIRM - just think of what's been going on that we can't confirm. Truly, truly scary.
David S. Fallis: I really have no idea about the other counties. We focused on Loudoun in this particular project.
Ashburn, VA: Thank you so much for doing this series of articles. I only hope you will do follow-ups (especially just before elections) to remind the voters of what this board has allowed to happen to our county. The developers have had a hayday the last few years and the county cannot keep up with the traffic congestion, roads, schools or other infrastructure required to support all of this development. Loudoun (especially eastern Loudoun) has become a mess in the last 12 years.
David S. Fallis: Thanks much for reading.
Haymarket, VA: Thank you for the excellent articles. As you only addressed the tip of the iceberg with respect to the shenanigans of the GOP members of the county board of supervisors, do you plan to write any follow-up articles on this subject? The actions they took after the Virginia Supreme Court voided the growth controls put in place by the previous board are particularly egregious.
Michael Laris: We're absolutely continuing our reporting for follow up stories. Let me take this opportunity for another shameless plug for leads. We need additional sources of quality information. Our emails are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
South Riding, VA: I read the article with great interest and understand that 1,000's of e-mails were read, that 100's of cell phone records were read and am amazed at the lack of substance you have amassed. You have used innuendo to a fine art to damage the reputations of Loudoun Republican officials you do not care for and hurt their familes. Moreover, you "hint" about FBI prosecutions is just downright wrong and contrary to good journalism ethics.
Where is the "smoking gun" evidence? Where is the "Tell them to stonewall it and take the 5th" communication on which you can premise your conclusions of dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly against Attorney Fleming and Attorney Minchew?
David S. Fallis: Thanks for your opinions and taking the time to read the articles.
Gainesville, VA: This article is a long time coming. Thanks for the good work. I testified before the board on the Luck Stone expansion issues in '04 (I would love to know the behind the scene action on this one). I was shocked at how rude and irritated the board was to have to sit and listen to mere citizen taxpayers. I was also surprised that I knew more about the application than they did. While I know they can't read evert last document, some of the issues were pretty basic.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for taking the time to read the stories.
Aldie, VA: Great articles. Will you be following the 2007 election and Dale Polen Myers' activities since she orchestrated Snow, Tulloch and Delgaudio's victory in 2003? I heard she may be paying delegates to support Snow in the Dulles Convention.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for your comments. The Post will definitely be following the campaigns and county elections.
Vienna, VA: I was astounded at your articles' description of how loosely the Commonwealth deals with apparent conflict of interest. Short of taking a cash bribe for a specific action or decision, it seems that almost anything goes.
If the Loudoun BOS had been federal officials, they would have been fired long ago, and would probably have been facing jail time for their actions.
As for the charge that your article is a "liberal smear", I think such reactions indicate that you have uncovered something of substance. I urge to keep on this thread, and if possible, expand it to cover other NoVA jurisdictions, such as Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for your comments. The conflict of interest statute addresses a range of scenarios. Whether something is a violation depends on a fine read of the circumstance in question. While an official generally cannot have a personal interest in something he or she is voting on, there are multiple exceptions to this, and of course, the definition of "personal interest" has its own parameters. As we stated, it is not illegal to vote on matters involving friends or allies.
Leesburg, Virginia: Thank you for an excellent article. I have been frustrated with the appearance that the BOS had already made up their minds on how to vote. You can see it in their non-verbal actions on the dias and in the things that they say. I hope this is eye opening to those most of the counties citizens. So much for government for the people by the people and honesty and integrity. Thank you again.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for your opinion.
Leesburg, VA: You mentioned the commonwealths attorney's opinion that working for a subsidiary did not in its own right constitute a conflict of interest.
In any ethics class, one would see a different view. Did Mr. Plowman have a valid excuse or was he just protecting those that got him elected?
David S. Fallis: We published Mr. Plowman's opinion on-line, where he explains in some detail his reasoning. Thanks for reading the stories.
Ashburn, VA: I found it fascinating to read the private e-mails, especially the ones calling Lori Waters a liberal for believing in developing responsibly. (Let's lump Bob Marshall in as a liberal too then!) Ha! Can you explain how the FOIA requests work? It seemed that it was to/from private e-mail addresses for Mr. Snow. As an elected official, are both his private and public accounts available? Where do the lines between privacy and public information cross? Thanks!
washingtonpost.com: Lori Waters E-mail
Michael Laris: Reporters -- or anyone -- can request emails from officials. It doesn't matter if an official wrote them using their official email or a private account. If they concern public business, they are subject to Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. Also, private emails frequently get copied to public accounts, which opens other doors for information.
Michael Laris: The email you cite is a good example of how the issues we are interested in have nothing to do with political party.
washingtonpost.com: Advisory Opinion
Sterling, VA: I think one of the things that many people that are defending the actions of the Supervisors mentioned in the article may missing is not that they approved the growth...but why and how they approved it. They didn't seem to be approving the growth because it was necessarily a good thing for the people of Loudoun county. They approved the growth because they stood to be personally enriched by their actions. This betrays their oath of office, and the citizens that elected them.
How are we to know, as Loudoun citizens, that we got the best deal, if only one or two development companies have access to the Board? Paying for land that is still not in use? Real estate deals that enrich a one large land owner? Come on! This is our taxes that they're using to enrich themselves! They serve us, not themselves!
Finally, they way they went about it may be legal, but that doesn't make the law ethical. Maybe during the next cycle we need a new set of Supervisors to close these loopholes. I know I'll be voting against Tulloch next time around.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for your interest.
Leesburg, VA: I am not a registered Republican in Loudoun county but in the past I have been a loyal Republican supporter and I have to say that I have been very disappointed in the performance of the Republicans on the BOS and the planning commission. They come across as arrogant and completely unsympathetic to anyone but the developers. Their decisions frequently run counter to popular sentiment. I attend and speak at public hearings and know first hand that, for example, there is been vehement opposition to the Crosstrail development yet it's virtually assured to pass because the planning commission and the Republicans on the board are all but blinded by their pro-development philosophy. I used to work for a trade association in Washington and I'm well aware that politicians often go to industry sources for information and guidance and it doesn't necessarily mean that influence is being peddled. But your article exposing that Snow and Meyers exchanged an average of one phone call a DAY as soon as he came into office surely suggests that something less than kosher was and probably still is going on. Now we have the Ridgewater development, which, again, has much support from the BOS and it turns out that Meyers is a big fundraiser for INOVA Loudoun, which is working with the developer of Ridgewater to build a research campus on the property. It's not to hard to see how THAT vote will come out even though county staff have pointed out problem after problem with the site. And while some of the supervisors may indeed be on the take, it seems to me that at least one or two are simply drunk with power, seeing that their party is in the majority and able to push their development agenda through with little regard for what the voters really want. They have lost touch through too many lunches, parties and questionable dealings with the development community. I only can hope that Lori Waters will win in the coming election as she has more backbone and determination to do the right thing that Snow, Tulloch, Clem and Staton combined. I congratulate the Post for its work and in helping the citizens of Loudoun understand what's really going on. PLEASE continue to expose these kinds of questionable dealings in local government, no matter what party is involved.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for your opinion.
Aldie, VA: My name is Abigail DeLashmutt; I'm Tom DeLashmutt's eldest daughter, and I live at Oak Hill and work in Loudoun County. I have no idea who is claiming that my father is in support of the Ritz Carlton development, but that is not the case. We have tried to make the best of a bad situation, and the Ritz Carlton establishment has been willing to work with us to address some of our concerns. But we fundamentally oppose the project. On a side note, Bruce Tulloch also took the opportunity during the review process to publicly berate my father in a BOS hearing, telling him that he was "lucky" to have the Ritz Carlton as a neighbor. My father feels that Supervisor Tulloch and several other board members approached the issue with an overwhelming bias for the development plan. At no point during this process did we feel that the historic integrity of our farm was paid more than lip service.
Michael Laris: Thanks for the comment.
Harpers Ferry again: IF you are still following leads, take a look at Jefferson county, WV. Many Developer Interest groups moved into this area , (including Greenvest and their lawyers) and found a very receptive county and town government.
Michael Laris: Thanks.
David S. Fallis: As an aside, we encourage people to contact us at our email addresses if they have leads and tips that they think should be pursued, as we continue to report. Mine is email@example.com and Mike's is firstname.lastname@example.org. People may absolutely remain anonymous.
Leesburg, VA: Even if there were no conflicts of interests (which seems to remain an open question at least in certain instances), it seems that if these supervisors had even an ounce of decency or regard for the well being of the citizens who pay their salaries and whose interests they are obligated to protect, they would avoid even the appearance of a conflict. These are just more examples of the hubris rampant among republicans these days. Poor leadership all around!
David S. Fallis: Thanks for the comment.
Leesburg, VA: Developers have millions of dollars at stake in their investments and have the means to pull whatever strings they can in order to get the most bang for their buck. I have no problem with them trying to maximize their earnings, but our elected officials should have enough integrity to make decisions based on the facts that will benefit the population that they represent. The naysayers of your articles are no doubt those who are mentioned in your article or have a direct relationship with them. The meager taxpayer does not have the time or the money to compete with the developers. Money talks. Our elected officials should have the honesty and integrity to do what is right and listen to the taxpayers.
Thank you , keep up the excellent reporting.
David S. Fallis: Thanks for reading the stories.
Haymarket VA: How will your in-depth and excellent two-part series affect the Nov. elections, especially concerning Snow and Tulloch?
Also, will Dale Polen Myers, continue to be a major influence among board members? Or, does the majority of the Board, think she is passe and has no revelance at all?
Michael Laris: We're not the right folks for political predictions. What do you think?
Middleburg, VA: What started your investigation? I noted it has on-going for a year.
David S. Fallis: As a beat reporter, Mike had covered Loudoun County government closely for years. I work on the investigative staff. Editors paired us up early last year and we pretty much went forward from there.
Arlington, VA: The power shifts in Loudoun have been primarily due to all members of the board being elected at one time. Is there are movement to change this?
David S. Fallis: People have talked about this, but there is no serious movement at this moment that I'm aware of.
David S. Fallis: That's all we have time for today. Thank you again folks for taking the time to read the articles and write. Also, thanks to all of you who forwarded tips and leads to us. We will definitely check into some of them.
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