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LTE: Board Needs Code of Ethics

Former LWV voter services chair calls on supervisors to adopt past guidelines for behavior.

Dear Editor,

In 2007, Loudoun County’s reputation was in tatters. The Washington Post published a series of articles that called into question the ethics of the Republican Board of Supervisors. There were allegations of corruption and first-hand reports of an FBI investigation. This was not a pleasant time to call Loudoun County home.

At the time, as Voters Services Chair of the Loudoun League of Women Voters, I began to work on a committee that included Supervisor Jim Burton and his wife Lina Burton and Senator Mark Herring. We drafted a Code of Ethics that the Board of Supervisors could adopt to increase the public trust. I don’t need to agree with every decision my elected officials make, but as a taxpayer and voter I expect the highest standards of ethics.

It was a great day for Loudoun County in 2008 when eight members of the newly-elected Board of Supervisors voted to adopt the ethics pledge. It was a statement that the County would hold itself to the highest standards. The Code of Ethics passed with bi-partisan support. Supervisor Lori Waters, a Republican, championed it. Chairman Scott York strongly supported it. Every Democrat supported the ethics pledge. Eugene Delgaudio, a Republican, was the only member to not vote in favor of a Code of Ethics.

Fast forward to 2012 and we have a new Board of Supervisors and a new set of unpleasant allegations suggesting Supervisor Delgaudio has misused County resources for his political benefit. But prior to Delgaudio’s alleged unethical behavior becoming public this new Board of Supervisors decided to take Loudoun County backwards, by moving to set aside the Code of Ethics. In January of this year, Chairman Scott York called the ethics pledge “all about show.” Supervisor Delgaudio said that “actions speak louder than words.”

As someone who has voted for Republicans and Democrats, including Chairman York, I agree that actions speak louder than words. And sometimes inaction tells another story. This Board’s deliberate refusal to pass an ethics pledge has set the stage, again, for a Loudoun County government that does not adhere to the strongest, self-imposed set of ethics.

It’s my hope that Chairman York and his colleagues will use this crisis to act and state unequivocally that it supports transparent and ethical government. The Board can start by adopting the Code of Ethics many of us worked so hard on a bi-partisan basis to implement.

Denise Donnelly
Leesburg

Stevens Miller October 05, 2012 at 02:08 PM
One of the practical benefits of our Code of Ethics was that it reminded us, always, to ask ourselves, "Have we kept our promise of integrity to the people?" I agree with Denise about NOT having to agree with a politician 100 percent of the time. I certainly didn't agree with Lori Waters or Susan Buckley all of the time, but I never had reason to question their respect for our Code of Ethics. It's a shame that no one can say that for the members of this board.
Mary M. Bathory Vidaver October 06, 2012 at 02:13 PM
As the person who drafted the LWV recommendations, I can safely state that the Code of Ethics passed by the 2008 Board was not a part of its work but a version of the code adopted by the 2004 Board a year or two into their term. The LWV committee report (some dozen or so pages) formed the foundation of Jim Burton's Transparency in Government initiative. The Board adopted four of the six recommendations. However, under heavy pressure from the Economic Development Commission, NAIOP, NVBIA, and the County Administrator that the disclsoure requirement would have a chilling effect on recruitment of volunteers and employees (though it did not appear to do so in Arlington and other Virginia counties which had enacted such requirements), the 2008 Board chose not to adopt the disclsoure requirements for Board appointees and for County land use and procurement staffs. The first failed 2-7 (Burton and McGimsey yes); the second failed 1-8 (Burton yes). By that time, no one was interested in lobbying the General Assembly for the 14 recommendations that required General Assembly action. Would the passage of those proposals have changed anything? Hard to say. Individuals can ignore policies; a new majority on the Board or the General Assembly can overturn actions taken by their predecessors. Still, it would have sent a clear message to the public by both bodies that our governing officials were at least interested in maximizing the appearance of transparency.
Elder Berry October 08, 2012 at 01:48 AM
I've stopped asking myself how much worse the actions of this BOS can get. The previous board's ethics pledge whether comprehensive or not was clear and understandable. This current board now has failed repeatedly to uphold standards of transparency and ethical behavior. It is truly sad when we school our children in kindergarten or first grade about standards of behavior that this BOS can't seem to grasp or has decided to simply ignore. Mr. York in particular is almost impossible to explain, in that he has apparently regressed in what standard of behavior he is willing to promise Loudoun citizens. Mr. Delgaudio is what he always seems to have been: a complete disgrace to his office and to the county.

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