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Lawyers weigh in on raceway vote

RELATED: See complete coverage of the Dominion Raceway

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

Spotsylvania County Supervisor Gary Skinner calls the proposed Dominion Raceway a “great idea” and says he’s inclined to vote for it. (View related letter.)

But he says there’s a chance he’ll abstain due to a potential family connection, even though he can legally cast a vote.

The issue surfaced late last year, when Skinner disclosed that his brother may be hired to manage go-kart operations at the planned raceway in Thornburg at an annual salary of about $60,000.

The Lee Hill District supervisor sought legal opinions from Commonwealth’s Attorney William Neely and County Attorney Jacob Stroman—both of whom told him he could vote on the racetrack’s application for a rezoning and special-use permit.

That’s because his brother isn’t considered “immediate family” under the Virginia Conflict of Interest Act, Neely and Stroman wrote in separate opinions.

“So while it is clear that your brother’s salary and other compensation by the speedway will come within the definition of personal interest since he will not live with you in your residence he is not considered to be part of your immediate family,” Neely wrote in an opinion dated Dec. 20, before the raceway had submitted its application to Spotsylvania.

Skinner’s brother, Rick Skinner, currently resides in New Jersey. And Skinner says the two won’t live in the same house if the raceway hires his brother.

Neely and Stroman did recommend that Skinner publicly disclose the issue. Stroman noted that the purpose of the Conflict of Interest Act is to “assure our citizens that the judgment of their public officials will not be compromised.”

If he does vote, Skinner says, it will be based on what’s best for the county—not on his brother’s relationship with the raceway.

“I’ve always been able to back up my votes,” said Skinner, who served on the School Board before being elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2007.

He said he suggested that raceway owner Steve Britt meet with his brother because he thought the developer had underestimated go-kart revenue. Skinner’s brother—who is a three-time national go-karting champion and a former sales and marketing employee at New Jersey Motorsports Park—and Britt continue to talk, Skinner said.

Fredericksburg attorney Charlie Payne, who is representing the raceway, stressed that Britt has received “lots and lots of interest” from people, not just Skinner’s brother, Rick.

“I don’t see Rick’s participation as any different than I do the other people I’ve held meetings with to try to get a plan together,” Britt said. “We’re open to good ideas, no matter who has them.”

He noted that he won’t be offering any jobs until the raceway is approved.

“He is obviously somebody that we would be interested in talking to when the time is right for employment,” Britt said of Skinner’s brother, who he called “very skilled.”

The Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors both must hold public hearings on the project. No dates have been set yet.

Britt hopes to open the raceway in spring 2014 on 160 acres at the northeast corner of the Thornburg exit off Interstate 95. If built, it will include an oval track for stock-car racing, a drag strip and a road course.

Opponents of the raceway have formed The Coalition to Preserve the Thornburg Countryside, which has its own website and has waged an aggressive campaign against the project. The group is being represented by Stafford County land-use attorney Clark Leming.

Coalition member Matt Williamson criticized Skinner for being what he called a “cheerleader” for the raceway.

“So even if Gary Skinner says, ‘I abstain from voting ,’ what difference does it make if he’s out there promoting it all the time?” he said.

And if Skinner votes, “I don’t see how it couldn’t be a conflict of interest,” said Williamson, who lives in the North Point subdivision in Thornburg.

The coalition’s concerns include noise, traffic and the proposed raceway’s affect on nearby property values. It also says the raceway would tax county services such as police.

Skinner says he champions anything that will further economic development in the county, and he supports the raceway based on what he’s heard so far.

“Any time you have a relationship involved in a development like that you’ve got to look at the perception,” he said. “But the bottom line is, I’ve always voted for what is best for the county.”

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

 

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