Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says Virginia procurement laws provide no basis for criminal charges against county supervisors who voted to spend $500,000 on a water contract without going through normal government purchase procedures.
Herring’s opinion appeared to tie the hands of Fluvanna County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Haislip, who said he had been “inundated” with requests from citizens to take action against a three-member county board majority that approved the water deal.
However, the water deal was later undone and there has been a change in board membership, Haislip said, so there is no longer a pressing need for action.
The Fluvanna board surprised observers in November when it acted without prior notice to pay a private company to provide water to a rapidly growing area of the county. At the end of an evening meeting, when most attendees had left and county staffers were unprepared to address the matter, three supervisors voted to approve contracts with the water supplier.
Citizens objected to the late night, unannounced action.
In a Dec. 2 letter to then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Haislip said he didn’t believe there were grounds to prosecute the supervisors under government procurement laws, but he asked for an advisory opinion since the issue had generated “a great deal of concern” with county residents.
In a March 14 official opinion, Herring concurred with Haislip that the state code provided no avenue for criminal prosecution under the circumstances.
The outcry by citizens may have been enough to undo the deal, however. The board acted promptly to disapprove the water contracts, and discussions continue – involving county officials – on a deal for water service to the developing Zion Crossroads area, Haislip said.
“It got stopped in its tracks pretty quickly,” Haislip said. “The people of Fluvanna spoke.”