Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity came very close to getting a new program at George Mason University named for him.
But ethical concerns and old-fashioned political considerations intervened, and a course that initially was to be called the "John F. Herrity Chair in Local Government" will bear the county's name. The program will focus on the activities of local governments, particularly Fairfax County's.
Herrity said that the concept "was my idea," but that he backed off on the title after he was told it would give the program political overtones and could place him in an ethical bind.
"This would give it a more objective appeal," Herrity said of the newly designated "Fairfax County Chair in Local Government." He added that "lawyers suggested this might be a better way to do it."
The problem, according to Herrity and County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert, is that area businessmen, including real estate developers, will be contributing, along with the county, to the estimated $350,000 start-up cost of the program. That, they say, could place Herrity in a conflict-of-interest situation.
"We didn't want any clouds hanging over what we do," Herrity said.
Lambert said County Attorney David Stitt advised him that putting the program in Herrity's name could raise suspicions.
It is anticipated, for example, that some of the chief contributors to the program will be developers whose planning and zoning plans depend on getting approval by county officials.
About $80,000 has been raised by the university. Board of Supervisors Vice Chairwoman Martha V. Pennino (R-Centreville) has recommended that the county donate $100,000 to the effort.
The program is designed, in the words of a resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors, to study "current and emerging public policy issues affecting local governments and private businesses, with a primary emphasis on how these two sectors can achieve mutually beneficial solutions to important public problems."
Planning and zoning issues would be major topics, and a preliminary list of lecturers includes some of the county's most active builders and developers.
Some of the money raised for the project will fund research grants and fellowships for postgraduate work. Scholarships also are to be awarded to both graduate and postgraduate students specializing in local government.
"We have to educate young people about local government," Herrity said, adding that he feels the complete story about the activities of the Fairfax County government is not getting out.
"There's a lot of things being done right in Fairfax County," he said. "It's always good to have a lot of sources of information."
George W. Johnson, president of George Mason University, said that he was fully supportive of Herrity's plan because there is too little emphasis on local government.
"The most effective government is that which is in the hands of our neighbors and the people we know on a day-to-day basis," Johnson said.