Grand Jury: Not illegal, merely corrupt, abusive, dishonest, unethical, and altogether appalling

Claiming complete vindication and asking for a return to “civility” in politics, Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) held a press conference Monday at which he took no questions and had his lawyer demonstrate his newfound commitment to civility by immediately blaming the grand jury’s investigation of Delgaudio’s misuse of office, improper use of county staff for political fundraising, abusive and retaliatory behavior toward his aides, and receipt of large unreported cash contributions and corrupt bargains with campaign donors on the fact that good, decent Eugene takes “pro-family positions which offend some of the folks who live in Loudoun County.”

It will be interesting to see whether the rest of the all-Republican Board of Supervisors goes along with Delgaudio, as they have so far throughout the matter. When Delgaudio’s aides first brought his actions to the attention of Chairman Scott York (R) last spring, York tried to cover it all up for six months — finally explaining (after the story broke in the Washington Post) that it was just fine for a supervisor to abuse his staff and retaliate against them by firing them when they complained, since supervisors’ aides were not officially full-time employees of the county and thus were not covered by county policies that protect employees from abuse and retaliation.

Then last fall, piously invoking Delgaudio’s presumption of innocence and explaining that the Board could not possibly even investigate violations of its own code of conduct by a fellow supervisor while a criminal investigation was proceeding, York yanked off the agenda a planned censure motion. The Board has kept completely mum since then, except for York’s repeated declarations that he cannot “fire” Delgaudio and it is up to the good voters of Sterling to decide who will represent them.

Now the ball is back in the Board’s court. What is most striking about the special grand jury’s report issued this week is how plainly appalled and outraged the jurors were by what they saw, and how frustrated they were that legal technicalities apparently made it impossible to bring an indictment for actions that outraged and offended them. It would be nice if our supervisors showed one iota of the same honest outrage at what their fellow GOP stalwart Delgaudio has been doing.

Specifically, here is what the grand jury found in its report  —actions that even if they are not criminal violations are clear violations of the Board’s own code of conduct, not to mention common expectations of minimal honesty and moral behavior on the part of an elected official:

1. Lies The jury concluded that Delgaudio simply lied when he repeatedly insisted to the media, the Board, and the citizens of Loudoun County last summer and fall that his fundraising activities on taxpayer time and expense were aimed solely to raise money for a local youth football league. On the contrary, multiple witnesses supported by ample documentary evidence, according to the grand jury’s report, testified that Delgaudio approached donors solely to raise money for his own political campaign and never mentioned youth football. The football league said that it was not conducting any fundraising campaign at the time and had no knowledge of Delgaudio’s activities supposedly on its behalf. The potential donors were given a card with an envelope that read “Retire Delgaudio’s Campaign Debt.” (That by the way, was also a lie: Delgaudio had raised so much money during his last term in office that he ended the 2011 campaign with more than $50,000 in his campaign account.) Using county-paid staff for political fundraising is misuse of office and an open-and-shut violation of the Board’s own rules.

2. Abuse of staff  The grand jury found that Delgaudio repeatedly engaged in verbal abuse of his aides, created a hostile work environment, and isolated his staff by ordering his aides not to have any contact with other supervisors’ aides and  not to attend regular Board staff aide meetings. “These actions were in direct violation of the Board of Supervisors Code of Conduct,” the grand jury concluded.

3. Neglect of duty  The grand jury found that Delgaudio had specifically ordered his staff not to spend time answering inquiries from or helping constituents and on one occasion reprimanded his staff for dealing with constituent concerns instead of fundraising.

4. Misuse of office  The grand jury found ample evidence to conclude that Delgaudio misused his office for personal gain, specifically by having county-paid aides engage in political fundraising activities. The only reason charges were not brought was that the Virginia statute that makes misuse of public assets a criminal offense appears to apply by its wording only to “full-time officers, agents, or employees” and, incredibly, a member of the elected Board of Supervisors is legally considered not “full-time” on the grounds that there are no specified hours that a supervisor must work. The jury urged a change in the law to cover all elected officials, and made it abundantly plain that were it not for this legal loophole, they would have found ample grounds for proceeding with an indictment against Delgaudio.

As the jurors stated, this was an “eye opening experience” for them. They were plainly stunned that a local official could do what Delgaudio did for so long — and get away with it.

To summarize, a special grand jury found ample evidence that an elected official had (a) misused his office for personal gain (b) directly violated the Board’s own Code of Conduct and (c) neglected his basic duties to his constituents in his obsessive focus on having his county-paid staff engage in improper political fundraising. The jury also found at least possible evidence of illegal unreported large cash campaign donations, bribery, and embezzlement.

Under Virginia law it is very difficult to remove an elected official from office; there is no recall provision in our statutes. But the law does allow the circuit court to remove an official for “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office. ” A petition signed by about 600 Sterling voters would be required to initiate the process. No criminal action need be shown for the court to remove an official in such a case: and by the grand jury’s own findings there is plainly substantial evidence of misuse of office and neglect of duty.

Moreover, the grand jury unequivocally asserts that Delgaudio engaged in multiple actions that were a “direct violation” of the Board’s own code of conduct. The Board can censure a member for such violations, which at least would show some spine and moral responsibility.

But this Board has shown zero on those counts to date, preferring to sweep any political embarrassments under the rug and hope that people will forget about it — as unfortunately they have too often in the past. Noting the lack of any meaningful ethics policy or enforcement (something York has said is “unnecessary”) the jury also recommended that the Board adopt an actual ethics policy to ensure that the sort of behavior Delgaudio engaged in does not recur and that a non-political third-party oversee the business of supervisors’ offices to make sure the rules are followed. (Right now supervisors answer to no one but themselves in how they run their office and use their staff.)

Perhaps the most poignant remark of the grand jury was this:

This investigation has been an eye-opening experience for this Jury. As a result we expect to all spend more time learning about our respective supervisor and other local politicians. We likewise strongly encourage every other individual who is eligible to vote to learn about his or her local representatives and candidates and to participate in voting when the time comes.

Amen!

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