The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors called yesterday for tighter controls on county government's use of private lawyers and demanded more control over the state's new Center for Innovative Technology.
The board ordered its staff lawyer to draw up new guidelines for the selection of private lawyers, charging that many county agencies are exercising virtually no control over the fees they pay to outside legal consultants. If approved, the guidelines would be the first adopted by a Washington-area government to control the use of outside lawyers.
Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican lawyer, said his proposal would make the private attorneys "more responsive and keep prices down."
Most local governments in the area, including Fairfax County, have no guidelines for selecting attorneys, and often rely on long-established professional or political relationships. In Fairfax County, a small circle of lawyers have represented many county agencies for more than two decades.
Davis said yesterday he believes the fees of lawyers who aren't periodically scrutinized "tend to get a little fat sometimes." But, he added, because the county lacks a monitoring system, no one can be certain whether the county is being billed properly.
"Who knows?" said Davis. "Nobody has the slightest idea."
Fairfax County spent $1.5 million for private legal services last fiscal year, according to county documents.
Davis said his proposal was not intended to criticize any of the private attorneys working for county agencies. "If they're doing the job right, they won't be displaced," he said. "But there's a lot of new talent out there that we want to have a crack at working for the county."
Under the proposal, the county would reexamine contracts with private attorneys every three to five years, and would open the jobs through a modified bidding process that would consider an attorney's expertise and reputation, as well as service fees.
Davis said his proposal was prompted by a series of articles in The Washington Post that detailed local governments' lack of guidelines in awarding millions of dollars in contracts to private lawyers each year.
The board separately lashed out at what they called inadequate planning for the $30.2 million Center for Innovative Technology scheduled to be built on the Fairfax-Loudoun County border near Washington Dulles International Airport.
In a letter to Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb, who championed the project, Fairfax Supervisor Nancy K. Falck and Loudoun County Supervisor Ann B. Kavanagh warned: "Care must be taken to ensure that our two local jurisdictions, the commonwealth and the developers are not pitted against each other. . . . "
Falck complained that landowners who donated property for the center are more than a month late in submitting precise boundaries for the site. That delay has in turn hampered efforts by Loudoun and Fairfax officials to map out new roads they say will be necessary to accommodate the development that the center is expected attract.
"It is clear," said the letter to Robb, "that a major enhancement of the state transportation system beyond that now planned for the area would be necessary to meet even a fraction of the development currently being sought by the donors."
In another angry outburst, county supervisors threatened to cut off funding to the county's controversial Housing and Community Development Authority. Supervisors said they are upset that the agency, which administers low-income housing programs, has refused to enact sweeping changes called for in a nine-month-old consultant's report.
"It's ridiculous," said Springfield Supervisor Elaine McConnell, a Republican. The board ordered the authority to submit plans for restructuring the agency by Jan. 15. If the agency misses the deadline, board members said they would consider drastic action, including cutting much of the agency's funding.
The supervisors also voted 8 to 1 to approve a zoning variance that would allow the nonprofit Fairfax Hospital Association to build a controversial hospital in the fast-growing Fair Oaks Mall area.
Supervisor Martha V. Pennino cast the only dissenting vote, saying she believes traffic problems in the area would be magnified by the 160-bed hospital. The association plans to close Commonwealth Hospital in Fairfax City when it opens the new hospital near the intersection of Rte. 50 and I-66 in about two years.