Forget the headline, that’s not the real ethics problem in Fairfax County
Fairfax County Attorney David Bobzien, who showed how much of a priority ethics are in the county when his office helped engineer the cover-up after a police officer shot John Geer, has issued some new ethical guidelines for the board of supervisors.
Because of new state gift standards adopted after the scandal involving former Governor Bob McDonnell, Bobzien believes supervisors should no longer accept free passes to county facilities, including golf memberships and fitness passes.
That’s interesting and may be a good idea. But the article by Anthony Olivo also illustrates much more important issues related to ethics that Fairfax County continues to ignore – transparency and accountability. When transparency and accountability are absent, your ethics will almost always be questioned.
Bobzien himself is a great illustration of the accountability problem. It’s ridiculous that he’s still employed by Fairfax County, after the Geer debacle. Failing to hold the top officials accountable who engineered a plan to withhold key information about that case from the public, prosecutors, Geer’s family and a U.S. senator, should be a major embarrassment for our elected officials. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Now, you have the laughable situation of Bobzien setting ethics policy. This is just as comical as the board of supervisors expecting the police department leadership responsible for the Geer cover-up to now “change the culture” to prevent a Geer type situation in the future. What Chairman Sharon Bulova and the other supervisors have consistently refused to admit is that these leaders are the “culture” that needs changing.
The article also shows at least three great examples of the failure by Bulova and company to embrace transparency. Just read this paragraph:
Bobzien declined to discuss the county’s policy change, and the county park authority would not say which other Fairfax officials are given free passes and whether they will continue to receive them.
Bobzien has such contempt for the citizens, he’s unwilling to explain to a reporter anything about this policy change.
Then, the park authority says “screw you” to all of us who pay their salaries when asked a question that should be easily answered. No one should have to jump through hoops to get that kind of information.
Sadly, these are not isolated examples and remain the standard operating procedure in Fairfax County. Bulova created a commission and claimed multiple times that lessons were learned from the two-year embarrassment following John Geer’s killing. If lessons were learned, they were quickly forgotten. More likely, lessons weren’t learned at all and it was just lip service during an election year.
If the board of supervisors was at all serious about change they would have immediately adopted important, no-cost, policies put forth by the communications subcommittee of the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission (Full disclosure: I was appointed to that commission by Sharon Bulova and helped write the communications report — The following sentence in Olivo’s article convinces me that the board of supervisors has no intention of changing the status quo when it comes to ethics and the related issues of accountability and transparency:
Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), in office since 1996, would not say whether she has ever used her parks pass.
How can we even expect the county attorney, the leadership of the park authority, those in charge of the police department, or any other Fairfax County officials to be responsive to the citizens if the supervisors themselves don’t think it’s important?
What possible reason does Penny Gross have for not telling us if she used her parks pass? Where is Penny’s accountability? Where is the transparency in government when an elected official shows such contempt for the concept?
Penny is my representative on the board of supervisors and I have known her for years and actually like her. I personally don’t care if she used the free parks pass. It’s not that important of an issue and wouldn’t think less of her, even if she used it every day of the week. But I care greatly that Penny Gross won’t say if she used that pass. And everyone else who lives in Fairfax County should care too.