Editor: The Conflict of Interest Act can be subject to interpretation by just about anyone looking to stand on the side of a politician or appointed public servant that decries there is nothing wrong with the issues that have been raised. Usually, it is the public that raises the question with anticipation the elected official will have the integrity to recuse themselves, or step down from their position for the good of the business of the people. Over the nearly nine years I have lived in Purcellville, residents registering conflict of interest concerns receive harsh criticism or are simply ignored.
The meaning of “conflict of interest” from a dictionary is: n. a situation in which a person has a duty to more than one person or organization, but cannot do justice to the actual or potentially adverse interests of both parties. This includes when an individual’s personal interests or concerns are inconsistent with the best for a customer, or when a public official’s personal interests are contrary to his/her loyalty to public business.
The Virginia Code is more specific. The Conflict of Interests Act it states state and local officials ”may realize a reasonable foreseeable direct or indirect benefit or detriment as a result of the action of the agency considering the transaction.”
There are conflict issues plaguing the current members of Town Council and the immediate past Town Council, committees, commissions, and boards.
- former chairman of the planning commission submitted a bid on and was awarded a $100,000 design contract for the current town hall while in his official capacity.
- a planning commissioner voted on a matter and their spouse was the vice president of the bank financing the project.
- the employer of a chairperson of a committee was paid thousands of dollars for town projects.
- a current council member has been and continues to paid thousands of dollars by the town for services since they were a planning commissioner.
- a council member’s employer is the consultant for numerous development applications in Purcellville and has already defied citizens’ concerns and voted on two of his employer’s applications.
- a land use attorney applied for a position on the Purcellville Board of Zoning Appeals without disclosing that he had a conflict of interest with the first case that would come before him. After a majority appointed him to the BZA a ruling from the town attorney found him to be in a conflict of interest. Instead of resigning, he took himself off the deed of the property that was part of the case to come before the BZA. He voted on the case before the BZA in favor of the party he represented.
- a planning commissioner who also sits on the BZA, is engaged in business dealings with a property owner who had an appeal before the BZA and he chose to vote on the issue.
A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest. The newest amendment to VA Code 2.2-3103 Prohibited Conduct says this about what an official should never do: “Use his public position to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against any person for expressing views on matters of public concern or for exercising any right that is otherwise protected by law.”
There is no time like the present to set high standards from the status quo of the past and give the citizens’ confidence that their elected neighbors in the community will always do the right thing and remove themselves from the real and perceived conflicts. We are fortunate to have a mayor and a minority of the town council who are listening to the residents of the town, and we know that by their actions, comments, and voting record.
Kelli Grim, Purcellville