Tuesday night’s Town Council debate over whether to change its capital project funding request took a controversial turn.
The council was considering whether to modify a letter it sent to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors two weeks ago stating its preferred projects for inclusion in the county’s Fiscal Year 2019 Capital Improvement Program. The county annually asks its incorporated towns to submit requests for pedestrian or transportation projects that would benefit the greater county. The letter sent by the council had asked for support for phase one of the Tuscarora Creek pedestrian trail; the widening of Evergreen Mills Road from Heritage High School to Rt. 15; and, at the suggestion of Councilman Tom Dunn, Leesburg Executive Airport’s list of capital projects.
Dunn’s Oct. 10 suggestion to add the airport projects was supported by the rest of the council, after he noted the airport’s countywide and regional benefit.
It was that suggestion that came under scrutiny this week.
At the close of Monday night’s council work session, Mayor Kelly Burk found support from the rest of the council to reconsider that vote the following evening. Burk noted that members of the Airport Commission had reached out to council in the intervening weeks expressing concerns about asking for county funding for the town’s airport and the operational impacts such a request could have. A motion made by Burk on Tuesday removed the request for airport funding.
“The reason I’m making the motion is because I feel [the vote] was done in a hasty manner, although I do understand whole idea of asking the county for additional funding,” she said. “The concern is we’re bringing this forward without looking at all the ramifications. The Airport Commission has asked us to reconsider this and take that out. The commission would like to create a work group [to study] how we can work with the county. This is a great opportunity to get this discussion and conversation started in a manner that is much more thought out, much more to the benefit of the county and town.”
A motion by Councilman Ken Reid to postpone the vote until after the Airport Commission meets next week failed. Councilman Tom Dunn raised concerns about the commission’s request to be consulted in the first place and, reading from an email sent by Airport Commission Chairman Dennis Boykin, said it appeared the commission’s concerns about county involvement came out of fear over operational impacts or ceding control to Loudoun County.
“I really think that if we are to go forward with a letter withdrawing the original letter to the county, we put in long-term jeopardy any serious funding request by the town by showing this waffling,” Dunn said. “We have finally gotten to the point where are moving a ball forward asking the county for funding. We have not done this for decades in any real measure.”
After the motion to reconsider the vote was successful, the gloves came off.
Dunn accused other council members of being swayed on the issue because members of the Airport Commission had made contributions to their campaigns. Dunn said that he, too, had received such contributions, but that they did not cloud his judgment.
“I’m not going to call this corruption. Corruption’s a big word. But I did find that [the definition of] corruption is a perversion of integrity. To pervert is leading to a false judgment,” Dunn said. “To go back on [the vote] now because commissioners make campaign donations or excuses of ‘we need to evaluate this,’” is improper.
Dunn noted that every member of the commission has a “monetary interest” in what goes on at the airport, and that Boykin had even agreed with him years ago that the fees at the airport should be raised.
According to the campaign contribution database maintained by the Virginia Public Access Project and reports filed with the county election office, since 2014 three of the eight members of the Airport Commission have made political contributions of more than $100. Boykin, Vice Chairman Tom Toth and Thomas Dunlap, combined, made donations totaling just over $3,000 during the past four years. Burk, Dunn, Marty Martinez, Suzanne Fox, and Ken Reid were recipients. Some contributions were for non-Town Council races, including bids for Board of Supervisors seats. For campaign contribution of $100 or less, the donors are not required to be disclosed.
On Thursday, Dunn said he was not backing down from his comments.
“I still stand by everything I said,” he said.
Dunn’s comments Tuesday night immediately drew a sharp response from his council counterparts.
“I think it is totally unfair on your part that you should suggest that any member of the council is doing anything other than looking at the best actions for taxpayers,” Burk said. “It’s a real shame you were going to call people corrupt.”
“I just find it very sad that because somebody doesn’t get what they want they have to result to that kind of insulting,” Councilman Marty Martinez said.
The vote to modify the request to the county passed, with only Dunn dissenting. Now, the original letter will be tweaked to request funding for only the trail and road widening projects.
Reached Thursday, Boykin explained the commission’s initial concerns over seeking county airport funding.
“We remember the difficulties we had coordinating with the county in 2005 and 2007 regarding taxation issues at the airport, as well as zoning and land use disagreements that took years to resolve. Several members of the Airport Commission felt that the town would be better served if we ironed out details on taxation, revenue streams, and town-county coordination before the town went and asked for county funding,” Boykin said.
Boykin also said he took umbrage with many of Dunn’s statements Tuesday.
“Mr. Dunn’s charges regarding the airport were factually inaccurate and completely inappropriate, in my opinion, especially in the context that he had just finished accusing the Town Council of corruption,” he said. “However, my colleagues on the commission have not yet had a chance to weigh in on this subject, so I’ll withhold any further comment until the next meeting, where hopefully Councilmember Dunn will attend and help us clear up the situation he created.”