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Thursday, May 16, 2019

McKay accused of using position as supervisor to benefit from a land deal

Jeff McKay speaks at his campaign kickoff event in January.
With just a few weeks until the June 11 Democratic primary, Jeff McKay, the Lee District supervisor who’s considered the frontrunner in the race for chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has become embroiled in a controversy over allegations that he benefited from a land deal.

The three other candidates running in the Democratic primary issued statements denouncing McKay’s conduct.

The allegations against McKay, first reported by WAMU, are described in a memorandum from the Nelson Mullins law firm that says the supervisor “used his public position for private financial gain.”

According to the memo, McKay pushed through a rezoning application and later obtained property on Roxann Road from Kingstowne developer Warren Halle after the property was funneled through an entity affiliated with McKay’s friend Michael McGhan.

Before the vote on the rezoning request, McGhan or his associates created Roxann LLC, the entity that ultimately purchased the property from Halle’s company and transferred it to McKay, the memo states. After the rezoning was approved, McGhan obtained permits to build a house on the property. The house was conveyed to McKay in 2017.

“Efforts were made to hide the identifies of the sellers and buyers in various transactions, and Supervisor McKay never revealed his conflict of interest or potential conflict to the board before the rezoning vote occurred,” the memo states. “The Roxann Road property was purchased by Supervisor McKay and his wife at a below market rate and was never publicly listed for sale.”

Attorney Grayson Hanes of Reed Smith LLP issued a memo on behalf of McKay disputing the allegations and stating that Nelson Mullins “invented some smoke but there is absolutely no fire.”

The statement from Hanes says the Nelson Mullins memo “infers that the names involved in these transactions were hidden from the public for some nefarious reason. Recorded deeds and deeds of trust reflect the names of the parties as well as the consideration paid. A recorded deed in the land records of Fairfax County is deemed to be notice to the world.”

“There was no money or anything of value paid by Halle to Supervisor McKay,” Hanes states. “Halle sold the lots [on Roxann Road] to McGhan. There was no bribe, no violation of any criminal statute involved in the purchase of McKay’s home.” The sale “represents fair market value.”

According to Hanes, there is no evidence that McKay entered into a conspiracy with Halle and McGhan to ensure approval of a land use case, that Halle bribed McKay in exchange for land use approval, or that McKay engaged in any criminal conduct.

 Alicia Plerhoples, a professor at Georgetown University who is running against McKay in the Democratic primary, accuses McKay of being too cozy with developers.

“When there is smoke, there is not always fire. But the corruption allegations against Jeff McKay are the very reason why I refuse to take political contributions from developers,” Plerhoples says.

According to Plerhoples, McKay’s campaign has received more than $89,000 from the real estate and construction industry and $50,000 from businesses affiliated with the Halle company.

“Taking such contributions while also overseeing zoning approvals is not illegal, but it raises the specter of impropriety and gives the public doubt about whose interests the Board of Supervisors serves as Fairfax County continues to grow,” she states. 

Plerhoples is most troubled by the fact that the Roxann Road property was not publicly listed, and as a result, McKay was able to purchase it at an affordable price. “Private sales occur all the time, but we need to hold our elected officials to the highest standards of integrity,” she said. “One of the principal roles of the Board of Supervisors is approving development throughout the county. We need stronger internal board policies to keep developers at arms’ length to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Tim Chapman, a developer of affordable housing who contributed more than $835,500 of his own money to his election campaign for board chair, said the allegations against McKay are “serious and troubling,” and the Board of Supervisors “should immediately refer this matter for investigation in the proper forum.”

“Most troubling is that Supervisor McKay’s attorneys appear to confirm elements of the transactions were structured so that, ‘the property then could be purchased at a price Supervisor McKay…could afford after selling his family home,’” Chapman states.

Candidate Ryan McElveen, an at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board, said the allegations against McKay “are disturbing and reopen the wounds of a painful history of untoward development deals in Fairfax County.”

“I was born in Fairfax County in the 1980s, and I have early memories of vast swaths of bucolic farmland and horses roaming near my childhood home in Tysons Corner,” McElveen says. “During my lifetime, we have lacked a commitment to sustainable development from our Board of Supervisors, and when I see allegations emerge about quid pro quos involving board members and developers, I am deeply saddened as a constituent, taxpayer, and resident.”

“The appearance of a conflict of interest is unequivocal,” he says. “My discomfort with the fact that a supervisor has such a close relationship with a developer is my primary and enduring concern, and that concern is not alleviated by the response.”

If elected, he vows to strengthen the board’s commitment to transparency and ethical behavior. “Years of greedy, selfish development have driven many residents away and prevented many members of our local workforce and youth from returning,” he states.

“As this race has played out,” McElveen says, “I have had no need to reject donations from developers or make a pledge to do so, because developers have known from the outset where I stand – with the everyday residents of Fairfax County.

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