Fairfax supervisors have voted to ask the county Park Authority to reconsider a policy that gives supervisors, park board members, their families and friends free use of county parks, recreation centers and golf courses.
In a unanimous vote Monday, supervisors said they want more information about who has free access and how often it is used and an explanation of a recent decision by the Park Authority board to expand the benefit.
"In a polite fashion, clearly what the board did was to ask the Park Authority to review and reconsider the policy," said Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence). "I just think that's awfully hard to justify to the tax-paying and fee-paying public."
Free passes for Park Authority board members and supervisors became an issue two weeks ago when the park board voted to expand the guest privilege, allowing pass holders to bring as many as three free guests for golf. Previously, the guest limit was one.
Several supervisors expressed surprise yesterday on learning that more than 500 park employees have for years had free access to most county parks and golf courses. Some supervisors called for a halt to that practice as well.
"We try . . . to fund the services that the Park Authority provides out of user fees. When someone gets in free, essentially someone else is paying their fare," said Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock). "It would be prudent to discontinue that policy."
Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) said paying customers shouldn't have to take a back seat to park employees or VIPs at golf courses or other popular sites, such as the Water Mine park in Reston. "If it gets filled with employees who get in free, I don't like that," he said.
Park Authority spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said she views the employee benefit as different from the free passes officials get. "Just like with any other business, when you come on board, you get certain benefits," she said, comparing the practice to employee health benefits. "When you run a recreational agency, it's not only valuable to have your employees use the facilities, but it's also something that's done frequently in this type of business."
Fitzgerald said park employees do not have free access to Pleasant Valley, the county's premier golf course in Centreville, or to public tournaments or to other events with limited capacity or that require reservations.
That news did not entirely mollify some supervisors, who said the practice simply sends the wrong message.
"We've extended the privilege to a whole raft of people for whom it has the appearance of being a perk," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D). "I don't think we ought to be doing that."
Fitzgerald said she believed that Monday's vote simply asked the Park Authority board to review its policy, an action she said the board has undertaken on its own. "We already had a review under way. We review this annually," she said. "It will be up to the Park Authority board to deal with this as they see fit."
The park board was scheduled to meet tonight, but Fitzgerald wasn't sure whether members would take up the matter.