Prince William County supervisors can’t vote on an issue for which they’ll benefit financially, per Virginia law. Conflicts of interest must be disclosed, and if supervisors stand to personally benefit, they must recuse themselves.
But what about their spouses and other family members? And what if a supervisor is involved with an organization but not being paid?
Supervisor Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville) offered a resolution last week to tackle that. His measure would force supervisors to disclose involvement in organizations that receive county funds and recuse themselves from voting on issues in which they or their relatives, including spouses, are involved in.
“Supervisors may still serve on boards of charities and have a positive impact on their community, but they must recuse themselves from voting when there is a direct conflict of interest,” Candland said in an e-mail response to questions.
The text of Candland’s measure is posted on his Web site, www.supervisorcandland.com, and the Board of County Supervisors is likely to take up the resolution at its next meeting Aug. 7.
The resolution shines a spotlight on how Prince William funds nonprofit groups and charities, an area of contention this past year.
On June 5, the board unanimously decided to ban the practice of supervisors’ ability to dole out excess office funds to charities, nonprofit organizations and other groups. Although the donations were usually in the hundreds of dollars, critics said that supervisors used the funds to build support among key constituencies, translating taxpayer money into political goodwill.
Given that many supervisors and their spouses volunteer with county-funded entities, the impact of Candland’s proposal could be far-reaching.
An example is the Prince William County Boys and Girls Club. The club receives county funding, including about $105,000 this year. It boasts half the Board of County Supervisors among its board members: Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Potomac), John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco), Michael C. May (R-Occoquan) and Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles). Supervisors’ spouses are also often known for being involved with organizations. Ernestine Jenkins, for example, has long led the Dale City Fourth of July parade and is involved with other civic causes.
Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) serves on the board of the Hylton Performing Arts Center, per the organization’s bylaws, he said. If supervisors adopted Candland’s policy, it could cause problems for organizations that often seek out supervisors to serve on boards or advise them, he said.
“You can see the Pandora’s box we’re opening with this,” Stewart said. “Not only are you discouraging board members . . . from participating in not-for-profits but you might have the boards of these charities avoiding putting family on there, and that would be unfortunate.”
Candland’s resolution is scheduled to come up for a vote on the same day as the board is to consider what to do with its “carryover,” or unallocated budget, from last year.
Several organizations have made requests for that money, including Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center, which set off a firestorm this year when Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) sought to allocate $100,000 to the organization. Covington’s’ wife, Connie, was previously the group’s unpaid president but has resigned since the controversy, Stewart said.
Stewart said that he doesn’t know whether Candland’s resolution is aimed at the Covingtons but that “the timing does look bad.”
Covington did not respond to a request for comment. Candland said his proposal is not aimed at Covington or any other supervisor.
“The conflict of interests resolution is about the appearance of impropriety for this board,” Candland said. “We need to make sure that the public can trust our actions and that we are transparent with county business.”