It's not that Fairfax County politicians don't want to help the starving people of drought-stricken Africa. They just can't figure out a way to do it.
County Board Chairman John F. Herrity, a Republican, made the latest proposal yesterday: If every man, woman and child in Fairfax County contributed a dollar to help feed the starving in Africa, the county could raise roughly $635,000 in famine relief.
Like most things in politics, the idea was not as simple as it first seemed, and it aroused a hornet's nest of opposition from other members of the County Board of Supervisors.
Herrity proposed having students in the county schools raise the money. But the School Board has a policy restricting fund raising in the schools, and a number of supervisors were hesitant about putting schoolchildren in the position of being chief fund-raisers for the county.
In the end, Herrity backed down and settled for formation of a committee to examine ways of raising money for famine relief without running afoul of county policies.
"I'm not going to give up on this yet," Herrity said.
In January, a proposal by Supervisor James M. Scott, a Democrat, to channel $100,000 in surplus county funds to famine relief programs in Africa was quashed. Supervisors said they were hesitant about using county money to address foreign crises while serious domestic problems remained unsolved.
"We all want to do something to help those who are starving worldwide -- in the county, the state, the country of Ethiopia," said board Vice Chairman Martha V. Pennino, a Democrat. "But the policy of the School Board opposes solicitation in the schools." Pennino said she was leery of having the supervisors appear to direct the School Board to change its policy.
That policy prohibits fund raising by students on school property or under school auspices, according to John F. Schreck, an aide to School Superintendent William J. Burkholder. At the request of the School Board, Burkholder is reviewing what options would allow drives for famine relief in Africa. He is scheduled to make his recommendations May 23.
Herrity did not specify how students would raise the money, and he said he was prepared to "seek an appropriate compromise."
Supervisor Nancy K. Falck, a former School Board member and a Republican, said there is an "absolutely endless" list of "tremendously worthwhile causes."
But she warned: "Our schoolchildren are becoming our chief fund-raisers . . . and to try to mandate any particular cause puts a lot of pressure on the children. If we really want to help the starving children of Ethiopia, we adults could get organized."
"Our responsibility is to educate," said School Board member Laura I. McDowall. She said she opposes any exception to the policy prohibiting fund raising by students at school or under school auspices.
Scott, who will serve on the committee with Herrity, said, "There are some poor children in our schools who will be under peer pressure to make a contribution they can't afford."
In other action, the supervisors clashed sharply over the proposed government center near Fair Oaks Mall. The $71 million center, which has been on the county drawing board for nearly a decade, is strongly supported by the county staff, which would like to see it included in a bond referendum this fall.
Although a decision on the complex is not scheduled until June 3, Herrity yesterday attacked a county study that favored building the new center.
He said the study failed to consider the economic benefit of selling the 183-acre site designated for the complex.
Pennino, a longtime advocate of the new government center, called Herrity's plan "very short-sighted."