Three weeks before the Nov. 4 election for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the Virginia Attorney General’s office wrote to Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Horan asking for an investigation of allegations of impropriety involving Gerry Connolly’s relationship with WestGroup, a Tyson’s Corner developer.
“From the information you provide, it appears that there are allegations of conduct that could be in violation of [a Virginia state law that] provides, in part, that a local government employee ‘shall not solicit or accept money or other thing of value for services performed within the scope of his official duties …’” wrote Christopher R. Nolen, chief counsel to Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R).
Connolly, a Democrat member of the Board of Supervisors, faces Mychele Brickner, a Republican, and current member of the school board. While Connolly has attacked Brickner for lack of experience in county government, Brickner has attacked Connolly on the issue of campaign contributions and outside employment.
Nolen was responding to information provided in a letter from Del. David Albo, (R-42nd). Albo says he was acting on behalf of Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville) in making the request.
The request concerns Connolly’s work as a consultant for a company called World Resouces.
His consulting work with World Resources was cleared by the county attorney before hand, Connolly said, and involves no conflict because the firm does no business with Fairfax County.
“I can’t begin to tell you how outraged I am at having my ethic questioned,” he said.
The link between World Resources and WestGroup is Peter Halpin of Great Falls, who is the son of WestGroup founder and CEO, Gerry Halpin. Peter Halpin heads World Resources as president.
“His only link with WestGroup is his name,” said Connolly. “Peter and I have been friends for 25 years, ever since we were both involved in the Gary Hart campaign.” Connolly said he and Peter Halpin had never discussed land use issues.
Mendelsohn asked that the Board of Supervisors refer the matter to Horan, but the board voted against it.
"The problem is that the issue's so confusing,” said Albo. “If he didn't do anything, why don't they send it to the Commonwealth's Attorney and have Bob Horan go 'Yeah, you're right, he didn't do anything wrong.'"
Horan could not be reached for comment.
"All we did was point him to the various laws in question and we said this is really a matter for the Commonwealth's Attorney,” said Tim Murtaugh, spokesperson for Kilgore. “We're not really going to comment on what is contained in the letter.”
Mendelsohn, who is not seeking reelection, says Connolly should have publicly disclosed his relationship with World Resources before voting in January on a rezoning for WestGroup’s proposal to build more than 1,300 condominiums in Tyson’s Corner.
Mendelsohn had to recuse himself from that vote after Connolly objected that one of his law partners had done work for the senior Halpin. The rezoning was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, with Mendelsohn abstaining.
WITH OFFICE space in Tysons Corner standing empty, the frenetic pace of residential home sales offered an incentive for WestGroup to build the condominiums rather than offices at Park Run Road between Westpark and Jones Branch Roads in Tysons, Connolly said.
Fairfax County’s comprehensive plan “incentivizes” residential development to bring people into the area, he said, characterizing the staff report on the proposal as “glowing.”
But the simmering political tension between Connolly and Mendelsohn erupted in December when Connolly asked that the board vote on the WestGroup proposal be deferred for a month because Mendelsohn did not disclose that one of his law partners had at one time advised the senior Halpin on a proposal for a start-up company that never materialized. Mendelsohn said the work was distant, in both time and subject matter, from his scope of duties with Piper Rudnick in Reston.
Another lawyer, in a different branch of the firm, did the work for Gerry Halpin, Mendelsohn said.
He was angry that he was forced to recuse himself from the discussion and vote on WestGroup’s housing proposal, which brought forth a $1 million proffer for a homeless shelter in the southwest part of Fairfax County but did little to ameliorate the effects of such intense development on Dranesville District, Mendelsohn said.
It was Connolly’s $10,000 work for World Resources that “set me off,” Mendelsohn said.