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The request involves rental property once held by the county administrator
HILLSVILLE — Two years after two county administrators sold off a piece of rental property on Airport Road, a Carroll supervisor asked for an investigation on a potential conflict of interest.
Supervisor Bob Martin, who indicated he didn’t think anything would arise from an investigation, nonetheless made a motion at Thursday’s county board meeting for the Virginia State Police to look into “land dealings” involving County Administrator Gary Larrowe.
For his part, Larrowe accused Martin of jumping off the team.
Larrowe was a part of “Vandalay Investments” with Grayson County Administrator Jonathan Sweet when, in September 2010, they told the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority that they were divesting themselves of the rental property at 4203 Airport Road to avoid a conflict of interest as the Wildwood Commerce Park development effort proceeded.
On Thursday, during supervisors’ time, discussion arose from Martin’s motion before it ultimately failed in a 3-3 tie.
Martin said the investigation would involve the Wildwood commerce park, “in particular the relationship of any land dealings Gary Larrowe as an individual or a member of a corporation there has had.
The investigation would also ascertain “the purpose of additional land transaction with a adjacent land owner, Mr. Stone, which it’s alleged checks passed hands and then were gathered, taken back at the beginning of the next week.”
Chairman Sam Dickson wondered whether an individual can request an investigation or if the county board needs to ask for it.
On conflict of interest investigations, the request would need to go to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, said county attorney Stephen Durbin.
When Martin said his motion asked for a police investigation, Durbin answered that he didn’t have the records but it was his understanding that Virginia State Police investigated in December 2010.
Dickson asked if the request should be relayed to Carroll Commonwealth's Attorney Nathan Lyons.
“The commonwealth’s attorney has to prompt it, right?” asked Supervisor Josh Hendrick, who was recently cleared of a conflict of interest allegation involving construction inspections on the Fancy Gap water and sewer projects. “I’ve been through this one time before. It has to start with the commonwealth attorney.”
What about malfeasance or misfeasance, Martin asked, adding that he was not suggesting that had taken place.
“It just needs to be solved,” Martin said. “I don’t expect to find anything there. We’ve got to get on with life. The law’s the law…”
Hendrick went from supposedly breaking the law to meeting the law, when an attorney general’s opinion trumped an acting commonwealth’s attorney’s opinion, he added. Whatever the law is, it needs to be cleared up.
Martin agreed to amend his motion to ask the commonwealth’s attorney to proceed with an investigation on conflict of interest, though he preferred one through the state police.
Hendrick seconded the motion.
“I’ve heard enough about it — good, bad or ugly — but it keeps coming up,” he said. “I get asked questions all the time.
“I don’t want to talk about it no more than anybody else wants to talk about it, but since it’s out there, I’ll second it.”
Hendrick, Martin and Supervisor Phil McCraw voted for the motion. McCraw later explained his vote saying that he was certain that an investigation would find Larrowe innocent.
Supervisor David Hutchins prefaced his no vote by saying that Martin and an unnamed colleague had previously gone to a county attorney and asked for an answer on this issue.
“I would say that if Mr. Martin wants an investigation, he needs to ask the commonwealth’s attorney for it,” Hutchins said. “I don’t think it’s the board’s place. I think it was asked then and it was answered.”
Supervisor Tom Littrell said he’s satisfied the matter has been put to rest and he voted no.
Martin noted that when Hendrick was investigated on a question of conflict of interest, Hendrick laid everything out on the table.
Dickson voted no, because the state police was asked to investigate and he saw “the response where they found no reason to investigate.”
It was investigated once and county officials accepted the result, the chairman said
“I don’t see going down the road twice and getting the same result,” Dickson said. “I’ll accept the first one.”
“Except it hadn’t been settled, the issue is ongoing,” Martin said.
“But you are aware that you can go ask for that investigation,” Dickson said.
“I guarantee I’ll be there,” Martin said. “Frankly, if I’d had these allegations about me, I’d be over there personally asking for this to be cleared up.”
Larrowe briefly addressed the supervisors later in the meeting.
“Obviously, there’s been some distraction associated with activities that ended up taking place many, many years ago,” the county administrator said.
He noted the closing attorney on the land sale was actually then the county attorney. He did not specifically name anybody.
“I certainly would hate to disappoint Mr. Martin,” Larrowe added. “Mr. Martin, I have actually been working with our counsel, Steve Durbin, and with the commonwealth’s attorney, so I would hate to disappoint you that that has not been sought after.”
Some activities have been derailed because of the topic, Larrowe said. He gave no specifics.
“You had assured me that we could work through this together and obviously that’s incorrect,” the county administrator said. “We’ll march on and we’ll make things happen…”
Martin answered it wasn’t anything personal, but Hutchins called for a point of order.
Dickson allowed Larrowe to continue speaking.
“I certainly hate that some people have jumped off the team and that is disappointing to me, Mr. Martin,” Larrowe said.
An evaluation was done in 2010, Durbin said. At Larrowe’s request, Durbin is assembling documents to give to the commonwealth’s attorney.
“It was only at the request of the board that an investigation or a commonwealth’s attorney’s opinion was not sought after years ago,” Larrowe added. “So I was acting on behalf of the request of the board at that time, and so if that has been a distraction I think that that was not necessarily all on me…”
“You could have cleared this up in a heartbeat, Gary,” Martin said.
Dickson said it was at his request that no earlier opinion was sought on the matter. He apologized if that was a mistake.
But now Larrowe is working on it, the chairman said, and county officials should pursue a legal determination so the county can move forward, the chairman said.
“You don’t need to go back and bring up things that are pretty much settled,” Dickson said. “Maybe this will be the final settlement.”
Citizen Speaks Out
Mike Goldwasser objected to county officials not being willing to look into the disposition of property matter involving Larrowe while proceeding with investigations on others.
Goldwasser referred to a newspaper article quote from Dickson, in which the supervisors’ chairman reacted to the prospect of an investigation on Larrowe as a waste of time.
“This remark is further evidence of a continuing unwillingness to have an honest and open consideration of that case,” Goldwasser read from a prepared statement. “It shows an inconsistent application of justice, contrasting the handling of the recent potential conflict of interest for Mr. Hendrick with that of the Larrowe case — different rules for different people.”
While Hendrick and Nehemiah Engineering were transparent about the alleged conflict about the company providing construction inspection on the Fancy Gap water and sewer project, Goldwasser asserted Larrowe has not been open about the rental property matter.
“His ownership interest of property near Exit 19 was not publicly disclosed until BRCEDA assumed administrative responsibility for Wildwood, and his private land dealings with the owners of what was to become Wildwood were only made public when uncovered by a private citizen,” Goldwasser said.
“The discussion of the case by the board of supervisors was in a closed session — in fact, when I attempted to bring additional information about the case to an open session, during citizens’ time, I was denied the right to speak.”
The supervisors made no thorough effort to find out the facts, in Goldwasser’s opinion.
“The board has continued to resist a sincere investigation of the case,” he said. “Loyalty to the county administrator can be good, but it must not be at the expense of fairness and truth.”
Getting an opinion from the state’s attorney could put this matter to rest, Goldwasser said.
“It is certainly possible that what the county administrator did was no more than poor judgment or bad ethics,” Goldwasser said. “But there is absolutely no reason not to investigate it as openly and as thoroughly as the potential conflict of interest for Mr. Hendrick was investigated.”