The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors rejected an attempt yesterday to immediately enact a policy restricting former employes' access to county government, but tentatively endorsed a plan to adopt the controversial ethics measure in some form during its next meeting.
The vote, though unanimous, followed a long and often heated debate that ended with the defeat of a bid by Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) to force adoption of the policy while public attention is focused on the issue.
Instead, the board accepted Chairman John F. Herrity's call for a two-week delay, a compromise that he said would permit a "thoughtful and unified" approach to the politically sensitive issue.
Moore, a proponent of the ethics law since it first surfaced in the early 1970s, accused the board of needlessly delaying a subject that required no further study. She suggested that some supervisors were trying to buy time in an attempt to sidestep the issue for the fourth time since 1980.
"Why put this off again?" Moore said during a brief interview after the vote. "Every time this comes up, they the supervisors find a reason to defer it. Maybe there has been enough publicity that they'll have to do something this time. But I'll believe it when I see it."
Though agreeing with Moore about the need for regulations, Vice Chairman Martha V. Pennino lashed out at her fellow Democrat for pressing the issue too hard in the face of its near-certain defeat at yesterday's meeting.
At one point during the discussion, Pennino said "it had better be relevant" when Moore asked to speak again on the issue.
"With help like that, you don't need enemies," Moore said later, adding that she believed Pennino's comments were motivated by her desire "to get along with Jack Herrity and the other members" of the board's Republican majority, which provided the impetus for Pennino's selection to the board's No. 2 post.
Pennino, during a break in the meeting, said Moore has a tendency "to force things a little too far. That's just her personality." She said Moore also may have been frustrated because of Herrity's attempt "to steal her thunder."
Nonetheless, Pennino credited Moore with "trying to get the county to face up to something it should have faced up to a long time ago."
At Herrity's request, the board directed County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert to review proposals by Herrity and Moore that would sharply limit the contact that a former supervisor or county employe may have with the Fairfax government. Herrity also recommended that the board ask the Virginia General Assembly to pass enabling legislation authorizing the county to adopt the "revolving door" policy as law.
Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III (R-Mason) urged a stricter law, saying Fairfax should pattern legislation after the federal conflict-of-interest law which, in some cases, imposes a lifetime prohibition for government employes who accept jobs in private industry from re-establishing contact with the government.
Davis also urged that the supervisors broaden any law they adopt to cover members of county-appointed boards and authorities.
Herrity, who despite his proposal remains skeptical about the ethics policies, said during a break in the meeting that his vote during the June 2 meeting will hinge largely on the advice of Lambert and his staff.
"I think it's a good thing to consider," he said. "It depends on what the county attorney says."
Lambert also has been unsupportive of attempts to take up the issue, contending that trying to curb the activities of people who no longer work for the county is "fraught with problems." Similarly, County Attorney David T. Stitt has expressed strong reservations about efforts to adopt such a measure.
The board's discussion was prompted by a recent Washington Post story concerning the departure of key Fairfax planning and development employes for jobs with developers and their consulting firms. Several county officials have said the job changes carry the potential for abuses in the county's regulation of the local development industry.
Moore said the board, at a minimum, should adopt a policy discouraging former Fairfax employes from contacting the government on certain matters and directing current county employes to refrain from discussing those subjects with their former colleagues.