To some members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the issue was suspect. For one thing, the issue - the county's potential loss from public works construction left undone by defaulting developers - was being pushed by Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale).
With Moore pushing for tougher restrictions on performance bonds, some supervisors concluded she was simply fishing for another way to slow down growth.
The supervisors had also been assured by the presumptive experts that present bonding requirements were fine. A county-appointed committee concluded in 1975 that "the bonding policy . . . appears to be working and to have reduced materially the risk of the taxpayer bearing the cost of developer defaults."
Twice before - in 1972 and 1975 - Moore had tried to get tighter restrictions, but, apart from a concession in 1972 on the minimum cash escrow a developer can set aside, she had failed both times.
After some stunning successes on environmental issues in the beginning of her first term, Moore took licking after licking in various attempts to halt growth. This undermined her persuasiveness with the other members of the board.
But where some supervisors in the same position might choose to retrench, Moore continued to push ahead. And when she again hauled out the bonding issue in December, it looked as if she were going on another fast ride to nowhere on a hobby horse.
But this time the hobby horse came to life and broke into a trot. The bonding issue, declared dead twice, was off and running.
Movement came after Moore sent a memo to the supervisors that brought out in public what they had been told in executive session by County Attorney F. Lee Ruck - that the county's potential loss from construction left unfinished by defaulting developers was $3 million to $4 million.
More proposed the board adopt new standards that would prohibit personal bonds - which are largely worthless if they have been given by builders who later go bankrupt - and require cash or corporate bonds to cover 100 per cent of the cost of public improvements in residential or commercial construction.
The possibility of a $3 million to $4 million loss did not reconcile very easily with the conclusion of the 1975 bonding committee that everything was fine. With Moore putting on pressure, the supervisors had to act, and they did.
They didn't give Moore what she wanted, but they did appoint a new study committee, this one including more citizen representatives.
Then more facts came to light that served to strengthen the case for stiffer bonding requirements. First, county staff, responding to a request from Moore, revealed that the number of bonds in default was not 141, as first tallied, but 189.
Moore wanted to know if there might be even more bonds in default. Staff said they didn't have time to do the researching. So Moore offered the services of her own senior staff member, Sally Kahn.
In a search that took her five days - county staff said the job would take four weeks - Kahn turned up 73 additional bond defaults.
At the same time, filled-in questionnaires were pouring in to Moore's office from jurisdictions around the county describing their bonding standards. The overwhelming evidence was that there were tougher requirements - and fewer problems - elsewhere.
All this new data went to the newly created bonding committee, becoming one of the several fat appendices that, altogether, made a strong case for tougher requirements in Fairfax even without the committee's recommendations.
The recommendations, which have gone to the supervisors, would permit only corporate bonds or cash to be posted by developers. Personal bonds, the source of many of the default problems in the county, would not be permitted.
While the recommendations do not go as far as Moore would wish, they represent an overall and extensive strengthening of the county's bonding requirements, and would place the county largely in line with other jurisdictions in the area.