Alarmed at recent reports of political chicanery in the award of cable television franchises around the country, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval yesterday to a stringent set of financial disclosure rules for cable bidders.
Under the proposal, which board members said is among the toughest of its kind in the nation, cable television franchise applicants would be required to disclose publicly the names of all individuals who hold any financial interest in their companies. Members of the board and all county employes who are involved in the franchising process would then be required to disclose any links with the cable firms and their investors.
The measure also provides that the board could revoke a cable franchise if a cable bidder knowingly made false statements to the board in relation to financial disclosure or any other aspectof its cable application. A move to impose criminal penalties on county representatives or employes for failure to make full disclosure was directed to thecounty staff for study.
Yesterday's action by the board marks the most recent in a series of attempts by county officials to steer Fairfax's franchise effort clear of the allegations of political influence peddling that have plagued other jurisdictions.
The Fairfax supervisors admit they are ill-equipped to evaluate the complicated technological underpinnings of cable TV and must depend in large part on advice. But with scores of prominent local citizens signing up with the more than 20 cable companies that have expressed interest in winning Fairfax's business, the potential for at least an appearance of impropriety is real.
"Because a large number of well-known people are becoming involved with cable television, all the board members will have some relation in some way with one or another of the firms," said Supervisor James Scott (D-Providence). "It's been that way all around the country. We had to do the best we could to assure that all interests are disclosed."
Scott, who was among the group that drafted the proposal, predicted that it will face no difficulty in winning final board approval after a Sept. 15 public hearing.
In other action on a cable televisionyesterday, the board set a timetable for cable franchises on Sept. 26, setting a Dec. 19 deadline for receiving bids. Staff evaluations of the bids are to completed and delivered to the board by Feb. 16.
The county's cable systems are not expected to be completed until at least five years after the franchise is awarded, although some homes could receive service within two years.