As the new Loudoun Board of Supervisors starts work, members will consider whether to impose on themselves a new Code of Ethics, Standards of Conduct, and a few new rules of order.
“The ideal outcome is to make sure the public always knows that we are here to serve them, that we are servant leaders,” said County Chairman-elect Phyllis Randall (R-At Large), who championed the idea of a code of ethics throughout her successful campaign.
The draft Code of Ethics is 16 items long, including mandates such as making no private promises binding on official duties; avoiding even the appearance of conflict of interest; never using information gained confidentially for personal profit; paying taxes; and exposing corruption, misconduct, and neglect. The Standards of Conduct are 13 items, and include to promote a positive working environment, courtesy towards board members and citizens, concision in meetings, and a prohibition on paid speaking engagements.
The rules of order have, among their revisions, two new passages: “During the public comment period, Board Members shall give their full time, attention and due respect to the speaker,” and “During debate, Board Members should strive to remain in the room until the vote has been taken.”
The proposed rules were crafted cooperatively between Randall and Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and in consultation with County Attorney Leo Rogers. Buona said he supports the idea, but not the current wording.
“I support these in concept, but we have to make sure we do things right,” Buona said. “For example: It says you’ll put loyalty to the county. Well, we all agree with that, but it does say ahead of your district.” He cited the example of a supervisor voting against a motion that was unpopular in her district but popular with the county at large: “Would she have violated the greater good because she supported her constituents?”
The second item in the proposed Code of Ethics reads “Put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to the people of Loudoun County, as a whole, above loyalty to individuals, districts, or particular groups.”
Buona also pointed out that there was no enforcement written into the rules, and that enforcement would be very limited—state law precludes elected officials being removed from office except in very rare circumstances. He said the proposed rules are “somewhat symbolic in nature.”
A majority of members on the previous board voted to not adopt local ethics rules four years ago, in part because critics said such a policy could not be enforced.
“You can only go so far with enforceability, so it starts to become more of a personal integrity issue,” Buona said.
“The people that enforce this code of ethics are the people of the county, because in four years, they will look back on the code and be able to see, did my supervisor live up to it,” Randall said. She said she plans to make the Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct available on the county website when and if they are adopted.
Buona agreed that for elected officials, enforcement happens at the ballot box.
Buona said he expects the board, at its first meeting Wednesday, to send the rules to a committee for review. Randall expressed confidence something in the spirit—if not the exact words—of these proposed rules will be adopted.