Joan DuBois, the Republican candidate for Dranesville District supervisor, says Fairfax County Attorney David Bobzien ruled early on that her duties as a Fairfax County Planning Commissioner don’t conflict with her candidacy for a county political office.
Under that ruling, Democrat Linda Smyth, a planning commissioner who is running for Providence District’s open seat on the Board of Supervisors, also says there’s no conflict of interest.
But others including those trained in the law, sometimes disagree on whether planning commissioners should run for office.
Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, a lawyer for Piper, Rudnick who’s not seeking re-election after two terms, says he sees no conflict.
But Jim Hyland, like Mendelsohn a Republican and a lawyer for Piper, Rudnick, says the arrangement “doesn’t pass the smell test,” even if the county attorney ruled there was no conflict.
REASONABLE PEOPLE, including those trained in law, also disagree on whether there’s a conflict between DuBois’s day job as an associate for the government affairs firm, Travesky & Associates, and her role as a planning commissioner.
John Foust, an attorney who’s running against DuBois for the open seat Mendelsohn is leaving, says it’s a major conflict.
“The bottom line is that when I am elected, I will not be working at Travesky,” DuBois said. “I have been a planning commissioner for two and a half years, and no one has raised the issue before,” DuBois said. “I have been doing public service work for 20 years or more."
But Foust points out interlocking references to DuBois at the web sites for Travesky & Associates, the firm where DuBois works, and Fairfax County government’s web site.
A boilerplate description at www.Travesky.com, says the firm “provides land use consultation services for corporate clients and non-profit organizations …”
Its major clients include Mobil Oil, which Travesky helped win county approval for a mini-mart and carwash at a gas station in Sully District, and Tysons II-Galleria, where the firm helped get permits for signs, DuBois said.
“Travesky & Associates is contracted to obtain county approvals for various commercial and non-commercial land use projects,” says its web site.
“The firm has been very successful in navigating through the land use and permitting processes, which are often time-consuming and difficult.”
“The firm, through careful strategic planning, has been successful in obtaining a favorable majority decision among approving bodies,” the web site says.
“IT’S A SALES PITCH for six full-time employees,” DuBois said. “[Travesky & Associates] is a small firm. You are out there to get business.”
She points out that the Planning Commission doesn’t make decisions.
“The Planning Commission recommends,” DuBois said. “The ultimate authority is the Board of Supervisors,
On the Internet at www.fairfaxcounty.gov a link to the Planning Commission also leads to a DuBois’s bio.
“Presently, Commissioner DuBois is an Associate at Travesky & Associates, Ltd.,” it says. “Her primary focus is the ongoing Dulles Corridor Rapid Transit Project, and all its public meetings, conferences, and public outreach programs that are associated with the engineering phase of this project."
"The Planning Commission advises the Board of Supervisors rezonings, special exceptions, development plans, proffered condition amendments, and amendments to the County’s Comprehensive Plan,” says Fairfax County’s web site.
Citing that description, Foust says DuBois “has callously disregarded any ethical considerations and done both: Work for Travesky, and serve on the Planning Commission.”
“Everybody has a right to have a job,” DuBois said. “It is always easy to throw stones when you don’t have all the facts.”
Like Hyland, a Republican, Foust says if he’s elected supervisor, “The first thing I would do is demand her resignation. Hopefully she would respect that.”
IN JUNE, DuBois voted for the Lerner Corporation’s plan to build a high-rise residence adjacent to a Metro stop that is planned at the intersection of Route 123 and Tysons Boulevard in Tysons Corner.
In November, 2002, she voted against West*Group’s proposal for the 1,356 residences at Tysons. Although he was recused and could not vote, Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn opposed the proposal because it was too far from the Metro station that is planned at Spring Hill Road and Route 7.
“I think most of them can walk to the Park‘n Ride,” DuBois said.
“I thought the proffer package was all wrong. I didn’t think the impacts to Dranesville District were addressed,” she said.
“I said that when I voted against it. A homeless shelter in Sully District?
“It is so easy to cast suspicions. It is really the negative side of public service,” she said.
But Foust says “There is no way the community can trust it is getting a fair hearing when [DuBois] gets her paycheck from the firm that has a huge contract to work on the Dulles Transit project and her employer serves as a deputy project manager for the project.”
IN THE LATEST LIST of itemized campaign contributions on file with the Fairfax County Electoral Board, Foust’s shows none from developers. His largest contributor, Crystal Blosser, gave $2,500, he said. She is a longtime friend and client who now runs a plant nursery in the Shenandoah Valley, Foust said.
The Fairfax Education Association, which represents Fairfax County schoolteachers, gave him $500 and a public endorsement.
DuBois listed donations from Keith Martin and Lynne Stroebel, attorneys for Walsh, Colucci, Stackhouse, Emrich and Lubeley.
The contributions, says DuBois, are legal and “disclosed on an affidavit. It is publicly disclosed.”
She dismissed the implication that a campaign contribution from land use attorney would translate to influence. “Come on. For a hundred and 50 bucks?” she said. “What are you going to buy me?"
Martin, a McLean resident who gave the DuBois campaign $150, represented Exxon in its successful application to add a carwash and mini-mart at the gas station it owns at McLean’s central intersection at Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road.
Foust has criticized DuBois for voting in favor of the application even though it was opposed by the McLean Planning Committee.
All 16 members of the MPC, composed of four commercial landowners, representatives from four surrounding residential neighborhoods, four representatives of citizens organizations, and four members of the McLean Chamber of Commerce, voted against it, and Fairfax County’s zoning staff issued a negative report on the proposal.
One of those members, Dan DuVal, made a donation to Foust’s campaign.
When Exxon’s application came before the Planning Commission, it passed on a vote of four to three. Two of the yes votes came from DuBois and from Chairman Peter Murphy, who was originally appointed to the commission by Marie Travesky when she served as Springfield District supervisor.
But DuBois said she approved the proposal because it met the requirements of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, and Exxon proffered $250,000 towards the cost of underground utilities near the station.
IN AUGUST, DuBois also received $1,500 from Bob Belair, the travel soccer chairman for McLean Youth Soccer, and $500 donation from Sportgrass, Inc., a turf sales and consultant firm in McLean.
“I know some people who are active in the organization and I know some kids who play,” she said. The Sportgrass donor “is an active Republican, and he probably has given to other candidates besides me,” she said.
In July, when the issue of artificial turf at Lewinsville Park created conflict among the residents of nearby homeowner associations and the management of MYS, DuBois was a guest at a meet and greet hosted by MYS Chairman, Ted Kinghorn.
“I don’t vote on fields,” she said. “The Park Authority makes those decisions. Park master plan issues do not come before the Board of Supervisors. We are really grasping at straws here,” she said.
Constituent services are the most important thing a supervisor does, DuBois says. “The main difference between [her and Foust] is the level of experience, and knowledge and interest."
While she has spent 20 years in public life, the last three at Travesky & Associates, and knows how county processes work, she said, Foust has not picked up an overflowing stack of materials which are provided to political candidates at the office of the clerk of the Board of Supervisors.
“That’s not an accusation,” DuBois said. “That’s a fact.
“It is every bit of material that has been provided to the Board of Supervisors since July 1,” she said: police reports, press releases, board packets, land use materials, reports given to the board, and appointments to boards and commissions.
“The idea is to keep you up to date with what is going on with the county while you are running.”
“I constantly pick up my stuff and read it, so I know the issues. Obviously, [Foust] doesn’t have the knowledge or interest. Maybe that’s why he’s picking on me."
She says Foust’s negative comments about her fill a void in his campaign strategy.
“The bottom line is if you don’t have enough positive to say about yourself it is easier to be go negative on the opponent,” DuBois said.
“When you are working with people, it is so easy to accuse,” DuBois said. “You almost need a shield of honor to be a good public servant these days.”
Negative criticism comes along with public service, DuBois said.
“You come back the next day, and wait for the thank you’s. They always come. In between those thank you’s, you put up with a lot,” she said.
Foust and DuBois were scheduled to appear at a candidate debate before the Great Falls Citizens Association on Oct. 14. The McLean Citizens Association’s candidate night will be held at the Alden Theater at 8 p.m. on Oct. 21.