Loudoun’s Pioneering Finance Czar Retires

Loudoun Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) credits Ben Mays with giving the county its flawless triple triple-A credit rating.

“Ben is the guy that brought this county its triple-A credit rating, and Ben managed 20-some years of enormous growth in this county,” Buona said when county supervisors presented a resolution commemorating Mays’ retirement after 24 years of service.

Retired Loudoun County Chief Financial Officer Ben Mays greets well-wishers at a reception in his honor. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Retired Loudoun County Chief Financial Officer Ben Mays greets well-wishers at a reception in his honor.
(Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

The county first met Mays when he worked at the Government Finance Officers Association Research Center, a consultant hired to help develop the county’s first fiscal impact model. It was pioneering work that garnered national attention—and the county hired Mays away to continue his work.

Since then, first as an employee within the Department of Financial Services and eventually as the county’s chief financial officer, Mays has shaped county fiscal policy and growth management with his idiosyncratic offbeat humor and straightforward manner.

When he joined the county, Loudoun was a much smaller jurisdiction, and it didn’t have much of a capital improvement program. Under his watch, Loudoun began its explosive growth, creating enormous pressure to plan ahead to keep up with the demands of its growing population—more roads, more schools, more everything.

A message to Ben Mays from Erin McClellan, director of Management and Budget, scrawled out with other well wishes on a life-size cardboard Elvis. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
A message to Ben Mays from Erin McClellan, director of Management and Budget, scrawled out with other well wishes on a life-size cardboard Elvis.
(Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

The county went from planning only a few years ahead to creating a sophisticated model for planning decades ahead, and tying together fiscal management, land use, and capital improvement—the first system so thorough and integrated in Virginia.

“We probably learned to do it in a more sophisticated way than most people did, but then again, we were the fastest growing jurisdiction in the state—we had to,” Mays said. “It was self defense.”

Then, that work was codified in Loudoun’s comprehensive plan and fiscal practices. With that guidance, despite enormous pressure to keep up with its own growth, Loudoun earned its triple triple-A bond rating in 2005, the highest seal of confidence from major credit rating agencies.

“There have been backroom conversations we’ve had with some of the rating agencies where they have opined that under certain standards, we may well be the highest single rated community in the United States,” Mays said.

In that time Mays has worked with three county administrators and seven Boards of Supervisors.

“Almost everything we do from a financial and budget practice perspective came through you, or from you, or you put your influence on it in some way or another,” County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said.

“I was very lucky to have worked for three great county administrators who allowed me to use my odd talents in my odd way,” Mays said. “I really do appreciate it. You gave me a great deal of rope, and I really very rarely hung myself.”

He also thanked county employees who have supported him and department heads who have “put up” with him: “I know I was more than a bit of a bully.”

During a reception in his honor Thursday, April 21, former county employees, including former County Administrator Kirby Bowers, came from miles around to wish him well and give him gifts—including a life-sized cardboard cutout of Elvis covered in signatures and messages, and a picture of Mays sprawled out in an airport terminal after a successful credit ratings trip.

Mays was also known for speaking directly—to the point of speaking out of turn—with county supervisors. At the reception, he recalled one successful project that garnered him both a bonus for his work and a letter of reprimand for sternly asking supervisors on the dais to pay attention while he presented it.

“I owe him a debt of gratitude,” Buona said. “The whole county owes him a debt of gratitude.”

“I have always stood up for my principles, and I always stood up for what I thought was the right thing,” Mays said. “It serves you well throughout your life.”

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rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene