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K.G. official steps aside on votes 19 times

August 30, 2009 1:10 am




During the 20 months that James Mullen has served on the King George County Board of Supervisors, he has disqualified himself from voting 19 times.

Each time the board deals with construction projects, such as approving new subdivisions or expanding county buildings, the Dahlgren District representative doesn't voice an opinion.

He disqualifies himself on the basis of possible future conflicts, which is what a law professor said a supervisor should do.

Mullen, 59, runs an excavation business in Dahlgren and wants to be able to bid on projects that come before the board, he said.

"Being in business, I have to look out for my company," he said recently. "That's the simple reason."

Mullen points out that his vote wouldn't have made a difference. The 19 development-related issues that he didn't vote on were denied or passed by fellow supervisors by a 4-0 or 3-1 vote.

The recent Fairview Beach rezoning looked as if it might have had a different outcome. Supervisors held a public hearing in June for a request to replace an aging trailer park with luxury townhouses.

At that meeting, Mullen disqualified himself, left his seat among supervisors and sat in the audience beside Bob Moesle, spokesman for the development company.

At Moesle's request, Mullen said, he also gave him his card, listing his contact information as a King George supervisor.

After citizens spoke about the rezoning, the supervisors shared their thoughts, and opinions were divided.

Cedell Brooks Jr. said he wouldn't support the rezoning, and Chairman Joe Grzeika had concerns about the proffers the developer was offering the county.

Dale Sisson Jr. and James Howard, whose district includes Fairview Beach, favored the project.

Had the board voted that night, it might have been a 2-2 split. A tie caused by the fact that Mullen would not have voted would have killed the proposal.

When the rezoning came up for a vote in August, Mullen disqualified himself once more. This time, all four fellow supervisors supported the project.

Mullen, who has been in the site-work business for 37 years, said he consults his lawyer or County Attorney Matt Britton about disqualifying himself.

Britton wouldn't discuss the matter because of attorney-client privilege. He said there are no sections in the Virginia Code that speak to Mullen's situation.

No one in Virginia's Attorney General's Office wanted to render an opinion.

Donald Hart, president of the Virginia Association of Counties, didn't want to discuss an individual either.

"In general, whether a supervisor abstains or not is a personal decision," he wrote in an e-mail.

Richard Schragger, a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, said, "It seems quite proper for the supervisor to recuse himself if he might have a potential conflict of interests."

If a supervisor bid on a job after he had voted to approve it, that certainly would be a conflict, Schragger said, "and would invite suspicions of collusion or corruption."

Whether Mullen is fairly representing his constituents is another matter, the professor added.

"The voters can decide if he is properly doing his job," Schragger said.

No other King George supervisors have disqualified themselves from voting while Mullen has been on the board. Nor have they missed as many meetings.

Since Mullen joined the board in January 2008, he has been absent 11 times. He has missed seven work sessions and four board meetings.

Six absences came in spring 2008, when Mullen suffered health problems. During part of that time, he traveled to Florida for medical treatment.

Sisson and Grzeika each missed four meetings in the same time period, and Howard missed one. Brooks hasn't missed any regular meetings or special work sessions.

Mullen said he believes he's representing the residents of the Dahlgren District, even if he doesn't vote on development projects.

"I'd be looking out for them a whole lot worse if I voted for [developers and their projects], then went to work for them," he said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

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