New commercial and industrial businesses that located in Fairfax County in fiscal year 1981 will add $10.8 million annually to the county's tax coffers, the Economic Development Authority estimated in its annual report.

At the same time, the EDA reported, the county's economic development program "helped produce" close to $4 million in new annual county business tax revenues.

The net gain to the county as a result of EDA's performance wasn't surprising, considering the authority's record over the past decade, particularly in the past five or six years.

The EDA's aggressive development program, supported by budgets and professionals staffs much larger than those of comparable agencies in local jurisdictions, has been a major contributor to the county's economic growth.

In fact, the Fairfax County EDA has been the envy of its counterparts, which only in more recent years have begun to expand their economic development programs.

"I think the authority's performance is outstanding," declared EDA Vice Chairman James W. Todd, who admitted being "one of the harshest critics" of the EDA before his appointment as one of its seven commissioners three years ago.

"I have been on several commissions, and I have never seen a harder working bunch of volunteers and staff people," Todd said in a recent interview.

Nonetheless, apparently all is not well between EDA commissioners and the staff director for the past seven years.

The EDA unexpectedly announced in November that David A. Edwards had submitted his resignation, effective May 14. The bland, one-paragraph announcement raised more questions about Edwards' resignation than apparently had been intended.

Indeed, those questions raised by county officials and in the business community have led to much speculation.

Asked about Edwards' resignation recently, John F. Herrity, chairman of the board of supervisors, replied: "I didn't have anything to do with the firing of Dave Edwards."

When reminded that it was he who had used the word "firing," Herrity said, "I didn't have anything to do with his decision to resign," as some persons had speculated.

In fact, Herrity said he has written a letter of recommendation for Edwards.

The Economic Development Authority's statement announcing Edwards' resignation "speaks for itself," declared Chairman Charles G. Gulledge, who is president and CEO of McLean-based Dynalectron Corp.

When asked if the commissioners were satisfied with Edwards' performance, Gulledge replied: "Yes, we were, and we accepted his resignation."

"I have to stick with the supervisors' statement," Todd said later.

Several supervisors said EDA commissioners refuse to answer their questions as well about Edwards' sudden resignation. Edwards also remains silent on the matter.

"I personally like Dave, and I think he's a good guy," one supervisor said. "But I would say that one of Dave Edwards' biggest failings was his talking to the press."

The same supervisor said EDA commissioners "gave Edwards a mandate six months before he resigned not to talk to the press about policy issues and to refer all questions to the EDA."

Asked if such an ultimatum had been given, Gulledge replied, "I'm not going to respond to that."

While the EDA commissioners have refused to answer questions about what they insist is a personnel problem, at least one supervisor is questioning the authority's existence as an independent body.

Supervisor Sandra L. Duckworth believes the EDA should be under tighter control of the board.

"It is totally autonomous. The only control we have is through the budget," Duckworth complained.

Duckworth insists upon knowing more about how the the EDA uses its budget of $900,000 and argues that the board of supervisors needs more authority over EDA and other authorities.

"Could we operate the EDA better? I don't know," Duckworth admitted. "Everything they do seems to be in secret. Unless you're intimately involved, you don't know what questions to ask."

Duckworth said she, like other members of the board, strongly supports economic development and business attraction, which ultimately reduce taxes for Fairfax County residents. However, she added, "it still has not been proven to me that we need to spend that much money to attract business."

Duckworth promises to announce soon what steps she will take to bring the EDA under direct supervision of the board in a manner similar to that in practice in most local jurisdictions.

While there apparently isn't enough support among supervisors to approve a proposal by Duckworth, at least one member agrees with her in principle.

"There is a general feeling on the board which I ascribe to that we're better off without so many authorities," said Supervisor Audrey Moore.

"I wish they had been set up as a line authority," Moore said of the EDA.

With so many authorities operating independently of the board of supervisors except for budget approval, there is the risk, Moore fears, that some things will "come back to bite you and to haunt you."