The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, confronting a controversial issue that has been debated and abandoned in the past, today is scheduled to consider adopting a policy to regulate the "revolving door" between county government and local developers.
The latest effort, spurred by recent publicity concerning the exodus of key county employes from their government positions to jobs with developers, is designed to avert potential abuses in the county's regulation of the local multibillion-dollar development industry.
Board members are considering various strategies, some that would place the politically sensitive subject on the back burner for at least a month of study and others that would force the board to make a decision by the end of the day.
Leading the effort for an immediate decision is Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), a longtime proponent of a strengthened county ethics law.
In an interview last weekend, Moore said she will ask the board to adopt a policy discouraging former Fairfax officials and employes from contacting the county on matters they had worked on for a year after their departure from the government.
Moore also said she will urge the board to seek enabling legislation from the Virginia General Assembly authorizing the board to adopt the prohibition as county law.
Fairfax County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert has contended that, in the absence of enabling legislation, the county is virtually powerless to enact a "revolving door" law. Moore said the board should seek the required legislative approval but that to reject a proposed policy would be tantamount to "deep-sixing" the issue.
"A motion to send this back for further study would be a motion to kill it," Moore said. "We've gone around and around on this issue in the past. We've studied it to death. Anybody who wants more study is just trying to put it off until everyone will have forgotten about it."
This is not the first time Fairfax County has faced the problem. In 1972, the County Board obtained an opinion from then-state Attorney General Andrew P. Miller that it could adopt an ordinance without seeking enabling legislation. But the matter was shelved until 1978, when the board appointed an ethics panel to take up the conflict-of-interest question.
That panel, named the Fairfax County Ethics Advisory Committee, urged the board to enact the "revolving door" policy that Moore said she will propose today. It also recommended that the board hire someone to oversee its enforcement.
In April 1980, the board rejected the ethics committee's recommendation that it enact an ordinance, accompanied by criminal sanctions, covering the "revolving door" question. It voted instead to refer the matter to the county Civil Service Commission to consider adopting it as policy.
The commission decided that former employes were outside its jurisdiction and sent the issue back to Lambert and his staff. The county attorney's office repeated its opinion that enabling legislation was necessary and the issue died.
During the April 1980 meeting, the board voted 8 to 0 to create a one-person office to oversee county ethics questions. But five months later, the board reversed its position and voted 7 to 2 against appropriating the $21,732 needed to fund the position.
The only supervisors still favoring the position in September were Moore and James M. Scott (D-Providence). Of the current board members, Chairman John F. Herrity, Thomas M. Davis III (R-Mason), Vice Chairman Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville), Joseph Alexander (D-Lee) and Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville) reversed their original stands and voted to scuttle the position.
Moore, a Democrat, will enter today's debate with the apparent support of the three other Democratic supervisors -- Pennino, Scott and Alexander -- all of whom said last week that they would back efforts to resolve the issue during today's meeting.
The opposition will be led by Herrity, a Republican, who said last week that although he "conceptually" favors some kind of "revolving door" regulation, he will not support any measure until the supervisors' personnel committee has had a chance to carefully review it.
Taking a similar position was Davis, who said in an interview late last week that he will get behind "a comprehensive ordinance, not some knee-jerk thing." Davis vowed that the personnel committee, to which he is expected to be named as chairman, will draft a proposed ordinance by mid-June.
The current ethics debate comes in the wake of a Washington Post story last week that reported the growing number of Fairfax planning and development employes who have left the county government for jobs with local developers and their consultants. The article cited a number of instances in which the ex-Fairfax staffers were supervising for their new employers the same projects they had worked on while with the county.
Unlike Montgomery and Prince George's counties, Fairfax has failed to adopt either a law or policy guidelines to regulate the conduct of its former employes. The District of Columbia comes under the federal conflict of interest law.
Fairfax's inaction was sharply criticized in 1980 by Michael Hershman, chairman of the county ethics committee. He said the absence of criminal sanctions "emasculates" any policy the county adopted.
Hershman said the board's failure to establish strict guidelines represented "a step backward" and suggested that the supervisors "were going to live to regret it."