The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted last week to establish a seven-member committee of county employes and residents to study the county ethics code and make recommendations for a new one.
The board's decision followed an unusual, and convoluted, half-hour voting procedure.
With little discussion, the board decided on the citizen and employe representatives to serve on the committee. But when the final decision to establish the committee came up, it failed by a 5-4 vote - an action that provoked the ire of board Chairman John F. Herrity, who with Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) has been an enthusiastic supporter of devising a new, more detailed ethics code.
"I think this is regrettable, it really is," said Herrity of the negative vote. "This vote is not in the best interest of the citizens of this county.
Animated discussion followed, until Supervisor Alan I. Magazine (D-Mason) made a motion to reconsider the vote. The board then voted 4-2 to reconsider and voted 4-2 again to finally establish the committee.
Herrity, Moore, Magazine and Supervisor James M. Scott (D-Providence) voted favorably for the committee, with Supervisors John P. Shacochis (R-Dranesville) and Joseph Alexander (D-Lee) voting against it. Two supervisors were absent and one abstained.
"We do have a code of ethics already," said Alexander, explaining his negative vote. "And it's not as if there have been any dastardly deeds by county employes or elected officials."
County resident Michael Hershman, a member of the Kings Park West Civic Association who first approached Herrity and Moore about a new code of ethics, calls the county's current one-page code "laughable." But he noted that the state code of ethics which applies to Fairfax County is far more comprehensive and detailed "with a few weaknesses."
"It may be that the county doesn't need a new code," said Hershman, who for the past 11 years has been involved in investigating public corruption. "Maybe all that is needed is more understanding of the guidelines already in place."
He said no particular incident caused him to spearhead revision of the ethics code, but that allegations of current improprieties in the Fairfax County sherrif's department "indicate that the time is right for some rethinking of ethics.
"In this day of public distrust of government, we have to bend over backwards to really let county officials and employes know what they can and can't do," he said.
The County Federation of Citizens Associations supports examining the county ethics code with an eye toward developing a stronger one.
Hershman, who will serve on the ethics committee, also would like to see the formation of an ethics commission that would hear complains or charges on the conduct of county officials and employes.
Other members of the committee will include another at-large citizen member and representatives from the League of Women Voters, the Federation of Citizens Associations, the Chamber of Commerce, the study Civil Service Commission and the county Employes Advisory Council.
The board did not scheduled a date to hear the committee's findings.