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At the July meeting of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors, a vote cast by Debbie Donehey, who represents the Wakefield District, was questionable and needs to be examined. The board took action on the request from Risk and Strategic Management Corp. (RSM) to amend their existing special exemption permit to allow an increase in the use of their facility from 3 days a month to 10 days a month. 

That request had been forwarded to the board from the Rappahannock County Planning Commission. The commission had voted unanimously to deny the request. The board, in an unusual vote, chose to ignore the Planning Commission and voted 3 to 2 to grant that request. Ms. Donehey’s vote to grant the request could be considered the tie breaker.

The documents that were attached with the request contained a letter of support from the front of house manager of Griffin Tavern. In the letter it stated that “Mike and his company (RSM) have made an effort to channel business into the Tavern, bringing client groups between 5 to 25 in for lunch or dinner in an effort to support the local economy.”

The tavern is financially benefiting from RSM’s business and that benefit could increase if the permit was expanded. Ms. Donehey is an owner of the tavern.

Chapter 31. State and Local Government Conflict of Interest Act of the Code of Virginia prohibits officers or employees of state and local governments from personally benefiting from any transactions they are involved in. 

The law encourages officials to err on the side of caution and recuse themselves from such matters. The question is, did Ms. Donehey violate the law when she voted on this issue? The law is not particularly well written and contains numerous loopholes. Was she able to identify one of the loopholes and justify her voting on this issue which may bring her business financial gain? I am told that she did check with the county attorney [Art Goff].

What she did may have been legal, but was it ethical? 

The spirit of the law is to prevent officials from taking advantage of their office for personal gain. Finding a way to get around the law is not what we want from our elected officials.

Ms. Donehey can take action to correct this poor choice. Having voted on the prevailing side in this matter, she can request that it be placed back on the agenda for the September Board meeting. At that time she can recuse herself, which she should have done to begin with, and withdraw her vote.

Will Ms. Donehey do the right thing?

The writer, a member of the Rappahannock County Board of Zoning Appeals, lives in the Jackson District.

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