The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has approved a code of ethics that holds the supervisors to high standards of personal conduct.
The 14-point policy declares that the supervisors should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, and that they will treat one another, the public and staff members with professionalism, courtesy and respect. It also promises transparency in conducting public business and states that the board will support the rights and recognize the needs of all residents.
Board Chairman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), whose four-year term began Jan. 1, said that it was significant that the board adopted the policy during the first month of its term.
“If you’re going to sit under a code of ethics, you should sit under the code throughout the entire term,” Randall said in an interview.
In adopting the code, the board signaled that it hopes to avoid the legal and ethical controversies that plagued some members of the previous board.
In 2012, then-supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) was charged with improper use of county resources after a former aide alleged that he had directed her to make political fundraising calls on county time.
Although a criminal investigation ended without an indictment, and Delgaudio later survived a recall effort prompted by the controversy, the charges dogged him throughout his term. He was defeated by Democrat Koran T. Saines in November in his bid for reelection.
Last year, Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run), who was then vice chairman, dropped his campaign for board chairman after it was revealed that he had been arrested multiple times for driving under the influence and that he had a history of domestic altercations. Williams resigned from the board after a new assault allegation surfaced.
Randall, who repeatedly stressed the need for a code of ethics during her campaign last year, said the code was not intended as a reflection on the conduct of any past board members. “The code of ethics is a forward-facing document,” Randall said. “It’s not an accusation that somebody was or was not unethical on past boards.”
The code states that board members should use county resources, including staff, solely for county business. It says that board members must comply with all federal, state and local laws, and that they will not grant special favors or privileges based on any outside influence or personal relationships.
The code also declares that the board will be transparent “to the greatest degree possible” when conducting public business and that the supervisors will enter closed session only “when clearly allowed by law to serve the public’s interest.”
Several board members collaborated in drafting the code. At the board’s first meeting Jan. 6, Randall introduced a longer document that she said she had crafted with County Attorney Leo Rogers.
At the Jan. 12 meeting of the board’s Finance, Government Operations and Economic Development Committee, Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) countered with a much shorter document.
“I felt that the [first draft] was very specific, to the point where it really did everything but tell us to eat our vegetables,” Letourneau said at the meeting. “It got into specific items that I didn’t think were really ethical issues.”
Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) offered a compromise. After accepting several changes requested by Randall, the committee approved Buona’s compromise version. The full board unanimously adopted that version Thursday, after some further amendments that were offered by Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin). Letourneau was absent for the vote.
Randall said she appreciated the “incredible collaborative manner” in which the supervisors drafted the code of ethics.
“All of us who . . . are married have a wedding ring on our finger,” she said at the meeting. “The wedding ring does not make us act married. But the wedding ring is a symbol to the outside world that we have made a commitment and a promise to something.
“So this code of ethics will not make anyone act” ethically, Randall said. “But it is a commitment that we made to the citizens of Loudoun County.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.