Several Fairfax County supervisors said yesterday they were becoming increasingly uneasy that the investigation into alleged ethics violations by Board Chairman John F. Herrity is casting a cloud over the entire board.
"When one of your own is accused of something, it falls off on everybody," Supervisor Nancy K. Falck, a Republican representing the Dranesville District and a longtime Herrity ally, said in an interview yesterday. "The longer this goes on, the longer the cloud will remain."
"Everyone realizes that he made a mistake. He realizes he's made a mistake," said Mason District Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican, referring to Herrity's participation in the board's decision on a rezoning application sought by Herrity's business partner. "We now have to find out what the ramifications are and move on from there."
The comments followed continuing disclosures about Herrity's role in the rezoning case, which involved a request by Hersand Builders Inc. to build a 137-unit town house project on 41 acres in the Springfield District. Herrity participated in the county's four-month review of the case and voted on it, even though he owned a one-quarter interest in an office condominium venture with the developer, Herbert L. Aman III, the president of Hersand.
Herrity voted against the town house project, which was approved by the board 6 to 2, but then supported Hersand's request for several waivers to county zoning regulations. Herrity could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. is investigating whether Herrity violated the Virginia public disclosure law, which prohibits public officials from participating in land use cases involving applicants with whom they share a business relationship.
Herrity has said he participated in the case because the developer did not inform him in an affidavit filed with the rezoning application that the two men had a financial relationship.
In an interview this week, a Springfield resident involved in the town house dispute said Herrity told him last fall, during the height of the rezoning controversy, that he was hesitant to get involved in the case because he and Aman were business associates. Two other Springfield residents said Herrity tried to discourage them from opposing the Hersand project.
"Clearly it's in everyone's interest that this thing gets resolved as quickly as possible," said Davis. He said it was premature to measure the long-term impact of the controversy surrounding Herrity.
Two members of the board's Democratic minority also expressed concern about the public reaction to the investigation of Herrity.
Board Vice Chairwoman Martha V. Pennino, a Democrat representing the Centreville District, sharply criticized Herrity in a recent interview for what she said was an attempt to shift the criticism from himself to the board as a whole during a prepared statement at a board meeting two weeks ago.
"By inference, it implicated the whole board," said Pennino, a supporter of Herrity during the first days of the controversy. "It was like he was saying that the board shares the guilt. The board shares no guilt in this whatsoever . . . . The board is not implicated in this whatsoever."
Supervisor Audrey Moore, an Annandale Democrat and a longtime Herrity adversary, said the investigation into the chairman's role in a rezoning dispute sends negative signals about the county's conduct on planning and development matters, the preeminent issue in fast-growing Fairfax.
"It's very important for people who make decisions on rezonings to build public confidence in the rezoning process, and this doesn't help," Moore said.
Moore also disputed Herrity's contention that his dissenting vote on the rezoning application demonstrated that he was not trying to benefit the developer.
Moore, who was absent from the Feb. 10 meeting during which the rezoning was approved, said she was surprised that Herrity and Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell, a Republican representing the Springfield District, voted against it.
"I was surprised they voted against the project because I knew they favored it," said Moore, who was present for a public hearing on the town house application and earlier discussions. McConnell refused to comment yesterday on the issue.
The county prosecutor also is investigating Herrity on allegations that he failed to disclose campaign contributions before voting on land use issues and an $8 million government bond for a development project connected with those contributors.