As part of Loudoun County’s 2014 legislative agenda, county leaders are pushing for an amendment to the Virginia Code that would make all government officials and employees subject to laws governing the misuse of public resources.
Under current law, only government employees with full-time positions can be charged with a felony if they use public resources for private or personal purposes. Under the proposal by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, the law would apply to all local government employees and officials across the commonwealth, including the General Assembly.
The revision is necessary for parity and integrity, several supervisors said. Some voiced doubts about how the proposed change would be received in Richmond.
The legislative request stems from a June 24 report by a special grand jury that concluded a months-long criminal investigation of Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling). The investigation, led by Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, was opened after one of Delgaudio’s former staff aides told The Washington Post last year that the Sterling supervisor had misused county resources and staff members to aid his political campaign.
The special grand jury did not indict Delgaudio but released a report identifying numerous concerns with the operation of his public office. In their report, jurors said they had been advised by Stamos that they could not return an indictment against Delgaudio because the relevant law did not apply to part-time government officials.
“As currently written, any government employee or elected official who is not serving in a full-time capacity can utilize public assets and other employees for private or personal purposes without any criminal liability,” the report said. “Because of this language, the commonwealth’s attorney stated that no criminal charges could reasonably be filed in this case since Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are typically considered part-time employees, and most supervisors maintain another job as supplemental or primary income.”
At a Sept. 18 meeting, supervisors voted to request that the full-time qualification be removed from the statute, which would eliminate the loophole. The request had unanimous support from the board. But several supervisors said they expected that the General Assembly might not be enthusiastic about the change.
“The General Assembly and Congress don’t like to be under the same laws that they enact for others,” Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) said.
Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) said she had discussed the request with several legislators.
“Let’s just say the members of the Virginia General Assembly like the fact that they are part-time legislators and like that they have part-time legislative aides,” Volpe said. “So if we just strike the words ‘full-time’ out of [the statute], the entire General Assembly would fall under the same rules that we are trying to have ourselves fall under. And they technically only meet two months a year.”
The General Assembly might also question whether the statute already applies to county supervisors and other local officials, Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said. Letourneau said he thinks Stamos “was not right in her interpretation” of the statute.
Stamos focused on whether the term “full-time” applied to an employee’s salary, Letourneau said, rather than the amount of time devoted to an official’s role.
“The reality is we are always the district supervisors,” he said. “It is a legal question, and I’m not sure that others would agree with [Stamos] in not seeking an indictment in that case.”
Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said the statute should be clearly applicable to all officials.
“I think it should apply to the General Assembly,” he said. “Given what has occurred in Richmond in the past several months, I think it’s important. . . . We all have to be transparent; we all have to have the utmost integrity. And I think it’s a good way to go to go statewide.”
Board Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) said legislators could find a way to exempt themselves if they wished.
“If they don’t want to do it for themselves, they can always write the language that applies at a local level,” he said, “which is telling in itself.”
Delgaudio did not comment but joined his colleagues in voting for the request. His attorney, Charles King, released a statement Tuesday reiterating the supervisor’s support.
“Supervisor Delgaudio has worked full time for the people of Sterling since 1999, but he fully supports adding part-time elected officials to the categories of persons who may be prosecuted for violating the misuse of public assets statute,” King said.