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The Virginia Attorney General’s Office has found no conflict of interest after its review of whether an elected Carroll County supervisor can work for a company inspecting the Fancy Gap water and sewer project.
This opinion comes after an appeal by Joshua Hendrick, the Laurel Fork District supervisor, who had worked with Nehemiah Engineering.
The engineering firm had landed a contract with the Carroll Public Service Authority to provide construction inspection services on utility projects before Hendrick won his election.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, in a four-page letter, offers an opinion that differs from the one provided by the Franklin County commonwealth’s attorney, who got involved when Carroll prosecutor Nathan Lyons removed himself from the matter. Lyons was avoiding his own conflict of interest, as the county supervisors provide funding for his office.
The opinion by the Franklin County official led Joshua Hendrick to resign as an employee of Nehemiah Engineering while asking the attorney general’s office to weigh in on the issue.
Prior to that, Hendrick had forfeited his ownership interest in Nehemiah Engineering.
“You ask whether an impermissible conflict of interests arises from serving as a member of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors while employed with a firm that holds a contract with the Carroll County Public Service Authority,” Cuccinelli recapped. “It is my opinion that no impermissible conflict of interests arises under the act based on the facts presented.”
Virginia law says that “no person elected or appointed as a member of the governing body of a county, city or town shall have a personal interest in any contract other than a contract of employment with any other governmental agency if such person’s governing body appoints a majority of the members of the governing body of the second governmental agency.”
Hendrick serves on the Carroll County Board of Supervisors as an elected official, but that’s not the agency involved in the contract with Nehemiah Engineering.
(James Light was appointed to serve as the Laurel Fork representative on the Carroll Public Service Authority.)
The attorney general’s opinion falls under one of the exceptions written into the conflict of interest law, Cuccinelli wrote.
Months before Hendrick’s election, Nehemiah Engineering had responded to a request for proposals from the public service authority to provide inspection service. The PSA members accepted the bid, according to the attorney general’s opinion.
Because the contract procurement involves the PSA and not the board of supervisors, Hendrick did not participate in any transaction in which the government agency he serves on was involved.
“Given the timing of the procurement action and that it was an action of the PSA, you neither participated nor had authority to participate in the contract procurement as a member of the board of supervisors,” the attorney general wrote to Hendrick.
“Moreover, the transaction at issue, i.e. the selection of Nehemiah Engineering Inc. to provide inspections for the PSA, was considered prior to your becoming a member of the board of supervisors,” Cuccinelli wrote. “A pre-existing contractual relationship does not constitute a ‘transaction’ under the act…”
Cuccinelli noted that supervisors can appoint themselves to the PSA. If that were the case and Hendrick were appointed to the authority, then he would be an “officer of the agency holding and/or procuring the inspection services contract for that agency.”
The attorney general also encouraged Hendrick to consult with legal authorities again if he resumes his job with Nehemiah Engineering and the company submits more proposals to the PSA in the future.
“[Josh is] just glad everything’s resolved and his name is cleared,” said Jeremy Hendrick, Joshua’s brother and owner of Nehemiah Engineering. “On behalf of the company, I’m just glad we can get back to business as usual and get funds from the PSA we have been owed for quite some time.”