Since the dark days in the early 1960s when five Fairfax County supervisors were indicted for bribery, the county has come a long way in establishing a reputation for clean government.
Recent boards of supervisors, including the present one, have been denounced for a number of things, but no one has made an even vaguely documented allegation that the supervisors were being paid off.
So why has the county ethics advisory committee been urging the board to adopt much tougher rules covering conflicts of interest and financial disclosure?
That's exactly the question being asked by most supervisors.
Chairman John F. Herrity made his point with a half-joke.
"After some people looked at my disclosure statement and saw how much I made, they decided to make contributions to my campaign," he said during a recent hearing on ethics committee recommendations.
Supervisor Marie B. Travesky (R-Springfield) was not amused at all.
"I think we are so adequately covered (by present regulations) that to take this up is an insult to me and my husband," Travesky fumed before a vote on the matter last week. "I'm not going to vote for this."
The proposal before the board last week would have required more detailed financial disclosure statements from supervisors, certain county employes and members of various county boards, commissions and committees.
But with Travesky's words still ringing in the board room, the supervisors voted 8-to-1 to keep the present disclosure rules, which do not require a listing of any liabilities or gifts. They also rejected 8-to-1 a recommendation for a conflict-of-interest law that would have put temporary restrictions on revolving-door connections for former employes and officials. Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) cast the dissenting vote on both issues.
In lieu of a conflict-of-interest law, the supervisors adopted a policy that "encourages" former employes and officials to avoid revolving-door situations; that is, representing interests they had dealt with when working for the county. (Early this week, however, the supervisors decided to reconsider the possibility of adopting a law, rather than a policy, that would apply only to elected officials.)
Travesky and several other supervisors argued that if the county gets too strict on ethics, there will be a "chilling effect" on qualified citizens willing to serve in county government.
Michael J. Hershman, chairman of the citizens' committee that drafted the proposals, has heard that arguement, and many others, ever since the committee began its work two years ago.
"I am proud of Fairfax County," says Hershman. "I have a suspicions that things are bad ethically. But there are little signals telling us there might be a problem.
"Fairfax County is a growth county.There is a great deal of money to be made. All the ingredients for a problem are there." g
No one, including Hershman, is suggesting that any problems have occurred, but the revolving-door issues seems to be coming up with unusal frequency.
Recently, the supervisors were stunned to find out that a former colleague, Alan J. Magazine, began representing a cable TV firm, which is competing with several other firms for a highly lucrative county contract, just weeks after he left the board last December.
Hired by the same company was F. Lee Ruck, who was county attorney until he resigned last November to enter private practice.
During their terms of office, Both Magazine and Ruck were central figures in county efforts to draft a cable TV ordinance. Yet, under current regulations, neither Magazine nor Ruck violated any county rules by going to work for the cable firm.
The same night the supervisors shot holes in the ethics committee recommendations, they found themselves grappling with another revolving-door issue.
John P. Shacochis, who also left the board last December, was appearing on behalf of a partnership of doctors seeking a controversial rezoning. One of the doctors has been a friend of Shacochis for 20 years. Last August, while still a supervisor, Shacochis proposed a revision in the county's master plan that paved the way for such rezoning.
As a supervisor, Shacochis had a well-earned reputation for voting his conscience regardless of how it affected his friends or supporters. So no one on the Board of Supervisors doubted Shacochis' argument that he had supported the master plan revision long before the doctors sought the change.
Yet many of his former colleagues were embarrassed by Shacochis' decision to become a consultant to the doctors and lobby the board for a favorable vote just weeks after he left the board.
"The next time he does that," one supervisor said privately, "I'm going to say goodbye and call the media."
What bothered the supervisors was appearances -- the concerns that some citizens, who do not know Shacochis' reputation for being a stubborn but honest maverick, might think the worst.
In a county like Fairfax, where the population is highly transient, and at a time when citizens throughout the country view public officials with suspicion, such conclusions, however ill-founded, might not be uncommon.
That is what the National Municipal League had in mind last year when it brought forth a model ethics code for state governments, a code remarkably similar to the one proposed in Fairfax County.
"I would be very upset if I lived in a large urban area and it did not have a conflict-of-interest law covering revolving-door situations," said Page E. Bigelow, the Municipal League staff associate who set up the five-year project to develop an ethics code.
Bigelow says she believes a "policy" -- such as that adopted in Fairfax -- is not adequate because, unlike a law, there are no penalities for violations.
For officials who view detailed disclosure statements as insults to their integrity and an invasion of privacy, Bigelow likes to tell this story:
"After the State of Washington passed a tough law in the early 1970s, there was one legislator who really hated filling out the forms. In the post-Watergate period, his kids said to him, 'We hope you don't run again. Everybody assumes you're a crook.'
"But one time at a speech, someone in the audience came up to him and said, 'Hey, I looked at your disclosure form, and you really are honest.'"