Last year, Board of Supervisors chairman Scott York raised some eyebrows when he endorsed his controversial colleague Eugene Delgaudio for re-election to the board, despite the fact that York and Delgaudio had often clashed openly during their 12 years together on the board. York also openly wished for an all-Republican board.
As my mother likes to say, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.” York got his wish, and now Delgaudio has become his thorniest problem.
On September 25, the Washington Post reported that Donna Mateer, a former aide, accused Delgaudio with improperly using her services – while she was being paid by the county government – for campaign fundraising activities.
She also said Delgaudio’s rants directed at his staff, as well as his racist and homophobic comments, had created a hostile work environment. The Post reported some of Mateer’s allegations were backed up by other former aides.
In March, Mateer complained to the county human resources office and was fired by Delgaudio later that day.
Now, according to the Post, Delgaudio is being investigated by the FBI. And his problems have also become problems for York.
As Leesburg District Supervisor Ken Reid put it, “The integrity of the board as a whole is at stake.”
That’s because York and Vice Chairman Janet Clarke have apparently known about Mateer’s charges for months, and have done little to follow up on possible violations of county policies by Delgaudio – at least, not until the Post broke the story.
York said he asked Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman to look into any possible criminal wrongdoing on Delgaudio’s part. Plowman, like York and Delgaudio a Republican, then relayed the matter to his Democratic counterpart in Arlington County.
Now the Post has reported that Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos declined to pursue the matter because, based on the statement she received from Plowman, she felt that the charges would be difficult to prove in court.
For now, the county isn’t doing anything to investigate any possible violations of law. Instead, upon York’s motion, the board authorized up to $15,000 for the county attorney to hire an “independent” investigator to look into possible violations of county policies.
So, for any wrongdoing to be pinned to Delgaudio hinges on whether the county had adequate policies in place to prevent board members from using their aides for activities that are political or unrelated to county business.
Fortunately, such policies do exist. Since the first board aides were hired in 2001, county policies have clearly stated that the aides’ work activities cannot include political activities or campaigning. The policies have been reaffirmed several times over the years, most recently in 2012.
In 2008, the Board added language to the policies stating that the aides’ “compensable work hours that are paid for with county funds must be in support of county government needs and activities.”
This is important, because Delgaudio has claimed he directed Mateer to develop phone lists that would be used for raising funds for a youth football league. Though York has suggested that this would not violate county policy, it’s quite a stretch to say that fundraising for a charity supports county government needs and activities.
It is now left to the investigator to determine the facts as they relate to these policies.
One only has to read comments on news websites or local political blogs to know that many residents question the independence of an investigator whose hiring was directed by an all-Republican board, including Delgaudio himself. Anything less than some finding of wrongdoing by Delgaudio will look to many people like a whitewash.
That’s why I believe that, if Delgaudio is ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, that finding would have much more credibility if it were issued by a bipartisan panel of former supervisors, rather than the board’s investigator. Democratic former supervisor Susan Buckley, an independent-minded lawyer, would have been an excellent choice to head such a panel.
I’m quite sure York hopes that the hiring of an investigator will ultimately make his Delgaudio problem go away, one way or another. A finding Delgaudio violated county policies would help achieve this, because the board could then determine the appropriate punishment for Delgaudio and declare the matter closed.
At minimum, such punishment would have to include the reimbursement of all county funds paid to Delgaudio’s aides while they were conducting non-county business, and would probably also include reducing or eliminating Delgaudio’s staff budget in the future.
York and seven of his colleagues should be hoping for such an outcome. Because anything less will, as Reid said, call the integrity of the entire board into question.