Representatives of a cable television company that was ranked second in Fairfax County's increasingly bitter two-way franchising contest strongly attacked the county staff last night as biased and said the county was violating its own law in the application process.
The accusations came at the Board of Supervisors' first public hearing on the subject, which drew the board room's largest crowd in several years. So many stockholders, friends, consultants and other citizens asked to testify about the $260 million franchise that a second hearing was called for Friday--and Board Chairman John F. Herrity said a decision probably will be postponed from June 28 to next month.
Despite polished multimedia presentations by both applicants, the most electric moments of the long evening came when Fairfax Telecommunications Co. attacked the staff and when Herrity three times ruled the company's angry lawyer, state Sen. Adelard L. Brault of Fairfax, out of order as he attempted to address the board.
A county committee last month ranked Fairfax Telecommunications second to Media General Cable of Fairfax County Inc., a partnership between the communications company that owns the Richmond newspapers and five local investors.
"Apparently a handful or less of individuals on your staff have been captivated--I didn't say captured--by five county landowners and a Richmond newspaper," Lee G. Lovett, an attorney for Fairfax Telecommunications, told the supervisors. Lovett pleaded with the board to ignore their staff's advice and listen to "the pure unvarnished truth."
County staff have said their evaluation was objective. "I wouldn't know those county landowners if I tripped over them," said Jane L. Stern, who served on the evaluation committee.
Brault, the senior state senator from Fairfax County, apparently was infuriated when the county attorney began the evening's proceedings by asking both applicants whether they would follow the county cable law. Media General took the opportunity to disavow several substantive qualifications it had inserted in its original application.
Brault attempted to challenge the process, but Herrity repeatedly interrupted him until the senator sat down. Brault later said he wanted to tell Herrity that "the questions and their replies constituted a substantive and material change to their application and that the board couldn't legally consider it." If the board does accept Media General's replies, Brault said "it's an illegal award of the franchise."