10 May 2016
But sometimes those votes affect the lives – and the pocketbooks – of supervisors themselves. In those cases, Fluvanna residents sometimes begin to wonder whether their supervisors are involved in a conflict of interest.
The questions arise every few years, usually during a time of controversy. Right now some eyebrows are raised over the savings most supervisors gain from the county’s land use program. A few years ago, questions surfaced about a supervisor’s ties to the school system during a particularly bitter budget year.
So what exactly constitutes a conflict of interest – and are any of the supervisors in the midst of one?
Conflict of interest
Different criteria exist for when an elected official can or can’t vote on a matter, said Phyllis Errico, general counsel with the Virginia Association of Counties. “But generally speaking, when you’re part of a larger group, you can usually disclose that you’re a member of the affected group, then vote,” she said.
“The principle is when something is of direct benefit to that one person, they really shouldn’t be making the decision,” Errico said. “But if something is going to affect a group of people in exactly the same way, you certainly don’t want to take away someone’s voting ability because that’s what they’re elected to do – if it’s something of broad application.”
Currently the county’s land use program is under the microscope. Land use – which gives tax breaks of up to 90 percent to landowners who keep their property in rural uses such as agriculture, forestry or open space – benefits four of the five Board members.
Supervisor Trish Eager tops the list with $28,515 in tax savings last year through land use. Next is Supervisor Don Weaver with tax savings of $1,995. Supervisor Mozell Booker saved $944 and Chairman Mike Sheridan saved $445 through land use. Supervisor Tony O’Brien has no land in the program.
Board members don’t set the values of land in land use – that job falls to Mel Sheridan, commissioner of the revenue, who saved $1,157 in land use last year. But supervisors do decide whether Fluvanna has a land use policy.
“I don’t feel that that is a conflict of interest as long as they’re not voting on whether they’re allowed into the program,” said Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association. “They can apply to go into the program – anyone can do that, anyone should be able to apply – but no one should be able to vote on their own application.”
Employees in the commissioner of revenue’s office – not supervisors – process land use applications.
Add a comment