Smith Navigates Possible Conflict of Interest

Smith Navigates Possible Conflict of Interest

With Herndon Police Capt. Darryl Smith newly sworn in as a member of the Herndon Town Council, he will need to navigate potential conflicts caused by his dual roles until he retires from the police department in October.

"He's the same old Capt. Smith," said his boss, Chief Toussant Summers Jr. of the Herndon Police Department. "He separates the two very well."

Smith began his term on the Town Council on July 1 and attended his first meeting as vice mayor and council member on July 6. "As far as we know he is the first town employee to have a position on the Town Council," said Robin Runser, public information officer for the Town of Herndon. At least since 1879 that is, before which, records are scant.

"It's a touchy situation," said Smith of the possible appearance of a conflict of interest between his roles as town employee and council member. "As soon as I can retire, I will."

SMITH MOVED his retirement date from the police department forward, from Feb. 1, 2005 to Oct. 1, 2004 in consideration of his new office. The state requires three or four months notice, and Smith gave them four, as soon as the election was over.

"Sept. 1 would have been pushing it," said Smith. The department is going through a national re-accreditation process, and Smith wanted to see it through. "I've been here for 31 years," he said.

Richard Kaufman, Herndon's town attorney, believes that throughout the commonwealth, it is not infrequent for town employees to serve on town councils. "This is a representative democracy. Our laws encourage people to be active in the community and to make a living. The laws favor that," Kaufman said.

Laws such as the Hatch Act prohibits participation in selected political activities by certain federal, state and local public employees, but which exempts those, like Smith, who win their offices in non-partisan elections.

Tucker Martin, spokesperson for Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, said of Smith's situation, "It appears that there are no statutory prohibitions," but stipulated that this was not a formal opinion.

To support his view that Smith can indeed simultaneously hold the positions of police captain and Town Council member without violating any laws, Martin cited a 1998 legal opinion. It considered whether an employee from the Town of Christiansburg was eligible for election to the Town Council, and concluded that as long as the employee wasn't appointed by the council, no prohibition existed.

"IF PERSONNEL issues come up, I plan on excluding myself," said Smith. That is what he plans to do for any issue that arises that would affect him personally. But since the Town Council approved the budget for the police department before Smith's term began, he doesn't foresee any such instances before his retirement.

"I think it can be all positive," said Smith of his police affiliation. "I know the town inside out, probably better than the other council members." But he is grateful for the knowledge and experience that his colleagues bring to the council. "I have a lot to learn about some of the zoning issues," he said. "It may take a while before I can contribute."

Smith describes his first council meeting as "interesting. It's very different when you're on the other side of the table," he said.