AG addresses HRTAC quorums

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The state attorney general has issued an opinion on the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission that would appear to allow remaining members to conduct business no matter how many members were sidelined by conflicts of interest.

Sen. Frank Wagner, a Virginia Beach Republican on the commission, sought the opinion from Mark Herring, following concerns from members of the commission and the public that ties between members and banks could make it impossible to form a quorum.

Wagner chairs the commission’s finance committee, and the concerns arose during early discussions on selecting a financial institution to handle deposits from the Hampton Roads Transportation Fund, estimated at $150 million annually.

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The concerns intensified in light of the previous relationships between commission members Linda T. Johnson, Paul Fraim and Will Sessoms — mayors of Suffolk, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, respectively — and TowneBank. HRTAC members with bank ties likely would have been expected to recuse themselves from voting on contracts for deposit accounts, based on the potential for conflicts of interest.

All three mayors have since relinquished posts at the Bank after the Virginian-Pilot reported in an investigation unrelated to HRTAC that Sessoms had voted on matters before the Virginia Beach City Council that benefited bank clients.

Herring has opined that if disqualifications leave fewer members than required by the commission’s rules to constitute a quorum, the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act gives the remaining voting members authority to act by majority vote.

According to Herring, the act authorizes this, even if the number of chief elected officials falls short of representing two-thirds of the region’s population, which commission rules also stipulate.

After holding its first regular monthly meeting last July, HRTAC has been working toward fulfilling its General Assembly-mandated mission of spending new transportation funding, with the ability of combining it with bonds and tolls, on road projects to solve traffic congestion in Hampton Roads.