First-term Spotsylvania Supervisor Kevin Marshall recently left his longtime job as a county fireman to take a high-ranking position in the county’s Department of Economic Development.
Marshall, whose new position is business development manager, is one of two supervisors with employment connections to the county. Supervisor Greg Benton is the other. He is a former captain with the Sheriff’s Office and was a county firefighter when he was elected in 2015. He retired from that position in 2017.
Both supervisors regularly read disclosure statements at board meetings, which is required by state law on potential conflicts of interest.
Such disclosures are aimed at letting the public know an elected official has an interest in the given issue, such as the county insurance program the supervisors have dealt with over the past year.
Marshall’s hiring came as a surprise to his colleagues on the board. It also has the supervisors considering whether the county should take a stronger position on allowing county employees to also serve on the board.
The supervisors interviewed about Marshall’s new job had no complaints about his work or decisions as a supervisor, with some saying good things about what he has done in the new position.
Still, some wonder if the county should avoid such scenarios in the future because it raises at least the perception of a conflict of interest. As a result, the board might pursue an ordinance that would likely preclude county employees from serving on the board.
The county’s code of ethics states that in “order to assure their independence and impartiality on behalf of the common good, members shall not use their official positions to influence government decisions in which they have a material financial interest, or where they have an organizational responsibility or personal relationship that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Marshall noted that he worked for the county as a firefighter for 16 years before taking over the seat as the Berkeley District supervisor in 2018.
“Just a different role,” he said of his new job, explaining his primary tasks as attracting new businesses and retaining existing ones in the county. He said part of the reason for the career change was based on the hours.
His new job has more regular hours than a fireman, Marshall said, which allows him to spend more time with his family.
Marshall, who works under Economic Development Director Tom Rumora, will earn more than $74,400 a year in the new job. As a supervisor, he earns $24,000 annually.
Marshall, whose great-grandfather and grandfather also served as county supervisors, said he brings a vast amount of knowledge about Spotsylvania and other experience to the position. He doesn’t see any issue concerning his job and duties as a supervisor.
If the board considers an ordinance, he’d have to see it before deciding its merits.
However, he agreed with a concern Benton has about such an ordinance. Benton said he’s uncomfortable with the idea of disqualifying someone the right to hold a publicly elected position because of their job.
The Livingston District supervisor said the county has checks and balances, and that he and Marshall rely on the county attorney to make sure they are in line with all rules.
“I don’t see how people can complain,” Benton said.
Yet Benton also understands the scrutiny and actually is “on the fence” regarding an employee/supervisor ordinance.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” he said, adding that the same issues can be raised with school teachers serving as elected officials, or with Del. Mark Cole also serving as the county’s deputy county administrator.
Benton, who is not seeking re-election, said he would want an ordinance to cover a broader swath than just county employees.
Supervisor David Ross has no issues with Marshall and his situation and said everything is within the rules. But Ross said it is a bit uncomfortable, explaining that “the perception could be seen as ‘special favors.’ ”
Ross said he may pursue an ordinance that could address the issue in the future, with any changes grandfathering Marshall.
Supervisor Gary Skinner doesn’t have any issue with Marshall’s job and his duties as a supervisor.
Supervisor Tim McLaughlin said he trusts that county staff made the right decision in hiring Marshall. But he added that the situation “is a little confusing. Kevin’s his boss’s boss.”
In an email, Supervisor Paul Trampe, the board chairman, noted the fact that Marshall has been a county employee all along and that Benton was when elected four years ago. He added that he “never felt it was my place to tell the voters of Berkeley or Livingston what factors they should take into account when voting.”
“However,” he added, “I personally would not want to be in a position of voting on the budget or other proposals put forward by my boss in my other job. There does seem to be at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
If any ordinance is created, Trampe said Marshall should be grandfathered.