County supervisors have given County Administrator Tim Hemstreet and County Attorney Leo Rogers the authority to settle some lawsuits without a vote from the Board of Supervisors.
Under a resolution passed Thursday, Nov. 8, the county’s attorney and administrator can jointly agree to settle lawsuits up to the county’s insurance deductible, currently $250,000; where a tax settlement case requires a refund of paid taxes; or where the litigation does not seek monetary compensation. Both must agree the settlement is “reasonable and appropriate.”
Currently, the board often votes to settle lawsuits as part of a routine consent vote after closed-door conferences with county lawyers.
That proposal gave Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) pause. She pointed to the examples of settlements that might transfer land or other items which have value, or in which the county must admit wrongdoing. She also raised the concern of a lawsuit that sets a legal precedent, referring to court cases that could influence future court decisions.
“If this board and future boards end up being obligated by something that’s been settled, I think we should be involved in it,” Volpe said.
Deputy County Attorney Courtney Sydnor pointed out both top officials would have to agree.
“There is a factor there of the board having trust in the professional discretion and judgment of the county administrator and the county attorney together determining that it is reasonable and appropriate,” Sydnor said.
Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) agreed.
“If we can’t trust the county administrator and the county attorney combined to realize where they should settle in a case where there’s no monetary damage… then we have the wrong county administrator and the wrong county attorney,” Buona said.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) wondered why the move, which could take some lawsuit settlements out of the Board of Supervisors’ meetings and out of the public eye, is necessary, and encouraged county staff members to have “a fairly low threshold” for bringing lawsuits to the board.
“When you have clear board direction, or if it’s a very mundane matter, that’s one thing, but if there’s anything you think that could get the interest of the public, could leave us with people having questions one way or the other, please continue to bring those to us,” Letourneau said.
Supervisors passed the new rule 6-1-2, with Volpe opposed and Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) absent.