Janet Clarke’s idea of “ethics”

It’s an old rule of politics to accuse your opponents of your own worst sins. No matter whether the accusation has any substance, this tactic (a) distracts attention from your own worst sins and (b) muddies the waters by spreading the vague impression that “everyone does it.”

"It would be a shame if anything was to happen to your reputation"

Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), who in her first two months in office on Loudoun’s board of supervisors has already shown herself an adept practitioner of the art of political payoff and payback, offered a fine illustration of this tactic with the hatchet job she carried out against a local business owner who had had the temerity to oppose her and the rest of the Purcellville Mafia that has been running the town on behalf of commercial land developers.

Clarke signs her latest “news[sic]letter” with the closing “In the Spirit of Service.” This is only slightly less offensive and nauseating than the letters which constituents have been receiving from the aide to Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), who closes her official correspondence, “Blessings.” (One infuriated citizen who received one of these missives observed, “Whatever that means. But I have a pretty good idea. It’s Evangelical Sunday School shorthand for “I’m ****ing you over, but I want to appear to be praying for your soul.”)

But Ms. Clarke has a point: she certainly is providing excellent “service” — to her political cronies and large campaign contributors.

A bit of background for those not steeped in the arcana of local politics and land grabs. A few years ago the town of Purcellville unilaterally annexed from the county a large swath of land on its eastern end. The action was almost certainly illegal; it was designed to evade county zoning plans and throw open what the Town Fathers euphemistically call the “Eastern Gateway” of the town to a rash of commercial clutter and strip malls;  the county accordingly went to court to block it.

Part of this commercial land-grab plan involves building what is euphemistically termed a Southern Collector Road, supposedly to provide a bypass around the main drag but in reality just part of the developer land-grab infrastructure. Last spring the town condemned 7 acres of land in the annexed area, part of a historic farm on the southeast side of the town that stood in the way of the road scheme, in a “Quick Take” procedure that infuriated many local opponents of the whole misbegotten plan. The town’s vindictiveness was especially ugly: The road design isn’t even complete; the funding isn’t there; construction hasn’t even remotely begun: but the town immediately fenced off the seized land, blocking the farmer’s access to a piece of his land and orchards.

Clarke was on the Purcellville Town Council at the time. A local vineyard owner, Stephen Mackey, was one opposed to the annexation and condemnation of the land. Last fall he was paid a little friendly visit by Ms. Clarke and another council member. Clarke, talking exactly like a thug in a bad gangster movie, informed Mackey she was “worried about his reputation” if he continued to oppose the town’s land grabs.

Mackey, naturally furious at this effort to intimidate and silence him, published a full account of their meeting.

Well, Ms. Clarke’s elevation to the county board gave her all kinds of opportunities to settle scores. She and the new all-Republican very developer-friendly board (and who wouldn’t be, having received $460,000 in campaign contributions from them) went into a secret huddle last week and voted unanimously to drop the county’s legal effort to challenge the annexation. Case dismissed.

Clarke also took some personal revenge, getting Mackey booted off the county Economic Development Commission. (Scott “Profiles in Courage” York, the board chairman, and four others abstained, allowing her motion to pass on a 4–0 vote: all kinds of fun you can have when you have a 9–0 majority, isn’t there?)

Her explanation for her whack job was astonishing:

It is an honor and a privilege to serve [on county commissions]. Just like if you are working for a company, you are representing that company and the company’s image. We want to have a positive approach with the community, with the towns, with the businesses. I don’t think that people who hold themselves contrary to that position should be allowed to serve.

In other words, if you hold a view different from Janet Clarke’s, you are not “representing the image” of the county. (Who was it who said, “L’état, c’est moi”?)

A little later she added some further wisdom:  Mackey’s improper behavior, she explained, underscored “a need for a code of ethics for various county boards and commissions.”

This is a remarkable new definition of “ethics.”Apparently “ethical” means agreeing with Janet Clarke and not speaking out to oppose what the developers want.

By the same token, it apparently does not mean recusing yourself from taking decisions to reward political cronies and campaign contributors. After all, the new board of supervisors has declined to sign — or even mention — the code of ethics adopted by the previous board. But who wants to talk about that? That wouldn’t be “positive” I suppose.

Please see a CORRECTION to this post, here.

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