Leesburg Town Council members should be required to fill out disclosure forms outlining their contact with developers, council member C. Kelly Burk proposed Tuesday night at a work session.
"With all the growth that's going on, you want to make sure that process is open and that everyone knows about it," Burk said in an interview before the meeting.
Burk said the issue came to her attention after she became a council member in July and developers began to contact her to discuss possible projects.
"I think it's important that the public know if you're meeting with someone who has business in front of the council," she said.
As the seat of the nation's fastest-growing county, Leesburg has also experienced considerable growth.
Council members are regularly approached by commercial and residential developers and businesses considering relocating or expanding to the town.
They now verbally report contact with developers at council meetings, in line with an ethics policy adopted as a Town Council resolution in 1996, and their remarks are included in the minutes.
However, there is no town or state law requiring such disclosures and no official sanction for failing to report contacts.
Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd acknowledged that all contacts might not be recorded in the minutes.
"The clerk has been very good, but I don't know whether every single meeting [with a developer] has made it into the minutes," Umstattd said in an interview.
Burk said a more systematic approach is needed to keep the public apprised of elected officials' interaction with "any group that would make a profit" from Town Council decisions.
Creating a form to be filled out by council members -- similar to one used by members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors -- would ensure openness by enabling any member of the public to know exactly whom an elected official was meeting with and how often, Burk said.
"Then the citizen may say, 'Why have you met with this developer five times?' or 'Why haven't you met with him at all?' " she said.
Town attorney William E. Donnelly III wrote in a memorandum for Tuesday's meeting that the council's ethics policy should first be amended to define all its terms. The policy now calls on council members to disclose "any meeting with an individual or group with an active application, bid or proposal before the town, where a discussion relating to such application, bid or proposal took place."
Donnelly said the language does not make clear whether the rules apply only to land development applications or include other types of business before the council, such as zoning permits.
In addition, Donnelly said the rules might not apply to a meeting between a council member and a developer before the developer submits an application to the town.
Council member Robert J. "Bob" Zoldos said the process does not need to be altered.
"The minutes are record keeping enough," he said.
Umstattd also said she sees no need to replace the current disclosure system.
She said it would be easier for members of the public to learn about a Town Council meeting by watching it on cable TV or looking up the minutes online than by poring over documents at Town Hall.
However, Umstattd said she would support the requirement to fill out the form if it were an addition to, rather than substitute for, the current procedure.
She said such a form should include a brief explanation of the substance of a conversation and perhaps be used to report phone conversations with applicants if such discussions extended beyond simply scheduling a meeting.
Although the town ethics policy is difficult to enforce, Umstattd said, it can help the public keep tabs on elected officials.
"A lapse in memory, which can happen, is not tantamount to a willful violation," she said. "You want to make sure the mayor and the council members are not involved in a backroom deal."