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Vihstadt Calls for Stronger County Gov’t Gifts Policy

John Vihstadt debates at the Arlington Civic federation on Sept. 2, 2014(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt is calling for a stronger gifts policy for county government employees and officials.

The county’s current Code of Ethics says that county workers should “ensure that no favors, gifts, gratuities or benefits are received for actions taken.”

Additionally, conflict-of-interest rules state that county employees “may not accept personal gifts, gratuities, or loans from organizations, businesses, or individuals with whom the employee conducts or will conduct official County business.”

(The rule does not apply to “articles of negligible value that are distributed to the general public,” “social courtesies which promote good public relations,” and “obtaining loans from regular lending institutions.”)

Vihstadt is calling for a specific $100 gift limit from any source, in addition to prohibiting gifts given in exchange for official actions.

Vihstadt, who is running for re-election against challenger Democrat Alan Howze, issued the following press release this morning.

Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt is calling for a firmer and more specific ethics policy regarding gifts to either county board members or county employees.

Vihstadt, an Independent running for re-election Nov. 4, said, “Arlington must signal its commitment to foster the highest standards of ethical conduct” in the wake of the convictions of former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen on multiple corruption charges.

“To start, the County should consider adoption of a $100 value limit on gifts from any source per year, and provide that in no instance shall a board member or county employee accept a gift given for services performed within the scope of an employee’s duties or given with intent to influence one’s actions” he added.

The current county ethics policy places no dollar limit on gifts to board members or employees. Vihstadt also noted that the current ethics policy describes “principles” of proper conduct. “This is more limited than what I am calling for, which is (a) a rule and not a principle and, (b) I prohibit anything intended to influence – not just items received for actions taken.”

Vihstadt noted that Arlington Public Schools adopted a similar provision effective July 1, and that Gov. Terry McAuliffe has likewise taken comparable strong steps for himself and senior staff in Richmond.

“We must work hard to restore trust in our elected leaders and public officials at all levels of government, Vihstadt said. “Let’s do our part in Arlington now.”

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