Loudoun County
Loudoun County

Article VII Section 4 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia establishes a number of elective local offices that must be filled in every city and county. These offices are Treasurer, Sheriff, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Clerk of the Circuit Court, and Commissioner of Revenue.

The people elected to these offices serve four-year terms, except for the Clerk of the Circuit Court who serves an eight-year term. Elections are typically held in the same year as Virginia Senate elections. This year in Loudoun County, all of these offices, including the Circuit Court Clerk, are up for election.

Treasurer

The Loudoun County Treasurer has responsibility for billing and collecting local taxes, including property taxes and car decal taxes, as well as for investing and disbursing county funds. Treasurers serve a four-year term.

The Incumbent: H. Roger Zurn Jr. (R)

Roger Zurn (R) has served five terms as the Loudoun County Treasurer and is seeking reelection. Before being elected treasurer, Zurn worked over twenty years in the banking industry and served two terms representing the Sterling District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.

Zurn has been well regarded as county treasurer, and has been recognized with numerous state, local, and national awards. The county’s books have received a clean audit each year since 1996, and the county has never lost money in its investments. Zurn’s office was the first in the Commonwealth of Virginia to offer an online tax payment option, and the first to offer e-billing.

If reelected, Zurn promises to continue being a good steward of county funds. His goals are to protect county investments, maintain our AAA bond rating, provide excellent service to taxpayers, prevent wasteful spending and abuse, and properly account for all of our tax dollars.

The Challenger: Evan Macbeth (D)

Evan Macbeth (D) is an active member of the local Democratic Party, and is seeking his first elective office in his run for Loudoun County Treasurer.

Macbeth has worked as an analyst, project manager, program manager, and department director at technology companies. He has also served as Chair of the Loudoun County Democratic Party, as a member of the Virginia Joint Commission on Technology and Science, and on the Leesburg Technology and Communications Commission.

In his campaign, which is very light on details, Macbeth claims that he understands that the county’s assets are more than dollars and cents, and that Loudoun’s assets must be managed as a “single portfolio” rather than only looking at the projected tax rate from year-to-year.

Conclusion

Treasurer Roger Zurn has been a good steward of our county funds, which allows us to provide a high level of service while maintaining a fair, low, pro-growth tax rate. Evan Macbeth has written before about how he wants everybody to pay higher taxes, and implies that he would become an advocate for unnecessary tax hikes if we elect him treasurer.

The incumbent is clearly much more in-tune with the realities of our county finances, and has proven himself competent and trustworthy. I endorse the reelection of Roger Zurn as Loudoun County Treasurer.

Sheriff

The Loudoun County Sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer at the county level, and has responsibility for administering the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, which is the primary law enforcement agency in the county. Sheriffs serve a four-year term.

The Incumbent: Michael “Mike” Chapman (R)

Mike Chapman (R) is completing his first term as Loudoun County Sheriff, and is seeking reelection. Before being elected sheriff in 2011, he had served in a great number of law enforcement and leadership roles, most notably including Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Northern California, DEA Chief of Public Affairs, and member of the Governor’s School and Campus Safety Task Force.

Chapman came into an office that was in apparent disarray. The previous officeholder, Sheriff Steve Simpson (I), had been a relatively absentee sheriff, and left office under a growing cloud of failure and corruption. Chapman promised that he would make the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office more accountable and more willing to communicate, and that he would focus enforcement efforts on white collar crime, drug enforcement, immigration enforcement, and anti-gang activities.

He has done what he promised. Today, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is open and effective, and, despite what you may have heard from his political opponents, Chapman has operated in an above-board and transparent way without even a whiff of corruption or favoritism. On the rare occasion that lower-level officials in the office have acted inappropriately, Chapman acted promptly to set it right.

Chapman has forged effective partnerships with law enforcement agencies in neighboring jurisdictions, and at the state and federal levels, and he has been a good steward of our tax money. Indeed, even as our schools continually beg for more and more money, the sheriff’s office has actually returned over $4 million to the county over the last four years, because they were able to do their jobs at a lower cost than originally expected.

If elected, Chapman promises to continue doing what he is doing—keeping Loudoun safe and leading a department that focuses on service, technology, efficiency, and professionalism.

Brian Allman (D)

The Democratic Party contender for Loudoun County Sheriff is Brian Allman (D), a former law enforcement officer who served in the police departments in Prince William County and Fairfax County, Virginia.

Reading Allman’s web site makes me question if he is living in the same Loudoun County that I live in. He claims, in all capital letters, that it is “time for change” and demands “real transparency” and “real accountability.” But the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) has been very transparent and accountable—a welcome change from how it operated under his predecessor.

And then Allman goes on to support absurd or irrelevant policies . . . for example, restricting use of force against “children or the mentally ill.” This is a veiled reference to an incident a few years ago where a mentally ill teenager attacked a sheriff’s deputy with a knife, and the deputy fired his sidearm in self-defense, killing the teen. The sheriff’s office turned the investigation over to the Virginia State Police, which later found that the deputy’s actions were justified . . . and they were. Yes, it is very sad that somebody lost their life. But they were attacking a police officer at the time. Our use-of-force policy is reasonable, and, unlike in some other jurisdictions, it is not being abused.

Allman also calls for “diversity hiring/promotion programs” that would increase the number of minority deputies, specifically mentioning the African American, Hispanic, Pakistani, and Muslim communities, as well as green-card holders and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) citizens. It is unclear what benefit this would have. The sheriff’s office should—and apparently does—hire on the basis of qualification, without regard to any of those factors.

Additionally, Allman supports establishing a Loudoun County Police Department, which would take over primary law enforcement duties from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and be headed by an appointed chief. This proposal runs directly counter to Allman’s own claims that he wants transparency and accountability from law enforcement. As we have seen in neighboring jurisdictions—including Fairfax County, where Allman used to work—police departments headed by appointees are much more prone to corruption and abuse than sheriff’s offices headed by leaders subject to election.

And lastly, it must be said that Allman has shown signs of instability. He has been engaged in over twenty-five lawsuits since 1989, and was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of obscenity in 2003 for repeatedly calling a defense attorney in Richmond “a term for part of the female anatomy.” The conviction was overturned on appeal. When this incident came up in a Loudoun County Democratic Party meeting, Allman made a threat toward a fellow member and had to be asked to leave.

Steve Simpson (I)

Former Sheriff Steve Simpson (I), who has apparently not created a campaign web site, is seeking to return to the office he lost to Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) in 2011. Simpson served four terms as Sheriff, and left—as I mentioned in my discussion of Chapman above—under a cloud of failure and corruption.

At the time, Simpson had been accused of campaign finance violations, and had come under public scrutiny for allowing his office to release a prisoner after serving only one-hour of a two-day sentence. The prisoner, Osama El-Atari, was charged with driving on a suspended license . . . and happened to have donated five thousand dollars to Simpson’s campaign the day prior.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman (R), who is reported to have a close relationship with Simpson, declined to investigate and declined to appoint a special prosecutor. Plowman, however, had no trouble appointing a special prosecutor to investigate much less serious (and less defensible) accusations against Sheriff Chapman. Curious.

The sheriff’s office under Simpson was less transparent, less accountable, and less trustworthy than it is today, and Simpson himself—who was running a business on the side at the time—seemed both corrupt and insufficiently dedicated to his job.

Conclusion

There is little reason to even entertain the notion of replacing Sheriff Chapman, who has been a professional and reliable leader of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. Allman’s nonsensical policy proposals, apparent instability, and support for establishing an unaccountable police department makes his campaign a complete non-starter. And Simpson has already proven himself unsuited to the office he seeks. I endorse the reelection of Mike Chapman as Loudoun County Sheriff.

Commonwealth’s Attorney

The Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes in the county, including felony, misdemeanor, traffic, and juvenile offenses. Commonwealth’s attorneys serve a four-year term.

The Incumbent: James “Jim” Plowman (R)

Jim Plowman (R) has served three terms as Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney, and is seeking reelection. Earlier in his career, he worked as a U.S. Navy defense contractor and law clerk. After completing law school, he worked as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in neighboring Fairfax County, Virginia.

Plowman’s reelection campaign focuses on responsible government, addressing child abuse, combating domestic violence, fighting gangs, and protecting senior citizens. These are reasonable areas of attention here in Loudoun County. Plowman also—understandably—calls attention to a number of high-profile prosecutions that he has led during his three terms.

The focus on responsible government, in particular, rings hollow. In the 2016 fiscal year, Loudoun County has budgeted about $3.4 million to the commonwealth’s attorney office. Neighboring Fairfax County, Virginia, which has about three times our population, budgets only slightly more—$3.7 million. If we need to look to Fairfax County for tips on fiscal responsibility, something has gone horribly wrong.

Plowman has also shown very poor judgement in a number of key cases, and has shown apparent favoritism in what he investigates and what he doesn’t.

In one case, he pursued a frivolous child pornography charge against an assistant principal who—in accordance with the law and school system policy—kept a student’s ‘sext’ message as evidence (the charges were dismissed by a judge).

In another, he investigated Virginia Senate candidate Mark Tate (R) for campaign finance irregularities in an apparent effort to help Tate’s opponent, Virginia Senator Jill Vogel (R-VA 27th). This investigation was so out-of-line that it ended up being turned over to other agencies, and Plowman himself was investigated by the Virginia State Bar Association (though the complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence).

Plowman has showed inconsistent judgement in other campaign finance investigations. In 2011, when serious allegations against then-Sheriff Steve Simpson (I) came to light, Plowman—who is reportedly close to Simpson—declined to investigate or appoint a special prosecutor. This year, when much less serious and obviously politically-motivated accusations were made against incumbent Sheriff Mike Chapman (R), Plowman immediately appointed a special prosecutor and moved forward with an investigation.

Even giving Plowman the benefit of the doubt and assuming that there’s something other than favoritism going on, this still demonstrates a troubling lack of consistency.

The Challenger: Robert Ohneiser (D)

Robert Ohneiser (D) is the Democratic Party challenger for the office of Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Ohneiser is a lawyer and project manager who has practiced law since 1987, ran his own investment and business consulting business, and managed the international government services group at MCI. He served two terms on the Loudoun County School Board representing the Broad Run District. In 2011, he unsuccessfully sought the board’s at-large seat.

Ohneiser is campaigning on a platform of reforming and improving the commonwealth’s attorney office. Specifically, he claims that he would treat all citizens equally and not grant any special treatment to elected officials and sheriff’s deputies. He pledges not to engage in politically-motivated investigations and prosecutions. He also promises to use discretion when deciding what cases to prosecute, and ensure that only worthy cases move forward.

He also plans to reduce the use of plea-bargaining, especially in cases involving driving under the influence or violation of a child, the disabled, or the elderly.

In addition, Ohneiser intends to push for a reestablishment of a ‘drug court’ that would help drug-challenged youths, and initiate—on a trial basis—a ‘restorative justice’ program in Loudoun County, which would shift our focus toward reformation rather than mere punishment, at least when it comes to non-violent offenders.

Conclusion

Incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman has repeatedly shown poor judgement, and there are indications—admittedly unproved—that he engages in corruption and favoritism. His only opposition is Democratic Party nominee Robert Ohneiser, who makes a pragmatic and reasonable case, but is associated with a party that is increasingly out-of-step with law-and-order and human rights.

Thankfully, the commonwealth’s attorney office is one that is not inherently political (despite how Plowman has operated). What matters most in this office is an ability to make rational decisions, and an ability to read and apply the law.

Despite Ohneiser’s unfortunate party affiliation, he was a competent leader on the school board, and has shown no sign of seriously poor judgement or corruption. I endorse the election of Robert Ohneiser as Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Clerk of the Circuit Court

The Clerk of the Loudoun County Circuit Court is responsible for court recordkeeping, issuing marriage certificates, issuing concealed handgun permits, recording deeds and land transactions, and coordinating jury selection. Circuit court clerks serve an eight-year term.

The Incumbent: Gary Clemens (R)

Incumbent Clerk Gary Clemens (R) has served two terms and is seeking reelection as Clerk of the Loudoun County Circuit Court. Clemens is a Loudoun County native who began his career as a paralegal before joining the Office of the Clerk of the Fairfax County Circuit Court as a deputy clerk. Later he became and investigator and then case manager with the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney office, before being elected Clerk of the Loudoun County Circuit Court in 1999.

As clerk, Clemens has spearheaded a number of beneficial initiatives, including a digital land records management system, online applications for marriage and business licenses, and a digital court docket system. These initiatives resulted in taxpayer savings and improved citizen services. Indeed, Clemens and his office have won several national awards for these efforts.

If reelected, Clemens intends to continue providing high-quality, innovative services to the citizens of Loudoun County while maintaining his office’s fiscal conservatism.

The Challenger: Eileen Tagg-Murdock (D)

Democratic Party challenger Eileen Tagg-Murdock (D) is a lifetime Virginia resident who has worked as a paralegal and legal researcher for over a decade. She is also a licensed real estate professional.

If elected, Tagg-Murdock promises to bring greater transparency and openness to the clerk’s office. She says she would work to educate citizens on the responsibilities of the clerk, increase digitization and automation, streamline the court’s operations, and increase public involvement and participation.

Her campaign is, however, very light on details. The most important proposals she makes—more digitization and streamlining court operations—are especially curious, since these are areas where the incumbent clerk has excelled over the last sixteen years. And it is unclear why it is necessary to increase public involvement or participation in the work of the clerk’s office, which is charged with serving the public, not ‘involving’ them.

Conclusion

Incumbent Clerk Gary Clemens has been an effective and responsible clerk, and Tagg-Murdock—while not making any serious campaign errors or poor policy proposals—has not made a compelling argument for why she should replace him. I endorse the reelection of Gary Clemens as Clerk of the Loudoun County Circuit Court.

Commissioner of Revenue

The Loudoun County Commissioner of Revenue is responsible for property tax assessments and the issuing of business licenses. Commissioners of revenue serve a four-year term.

Unchallenged Incumbent: Robert “Bob” Wertz Jr. (R)

Incumbent Commissioner Bob Wertz (R) has served three terms and is seeking reelection as Loudoun County Commissioner of Revenue. He has no opponents on the ballot.

Wertz has focused on providing innovative and efficient services to the people of Loudoun County. He implemented an electronic document imaging system, and under his leadership Loudoun became the first locality in Virginia to offer online car tax account maintenance, business license renewals, and business property reporting.

And, perhaps most impressively, Wertz operates the commissioner’s office with the same number of staff it had in 2004, even though the county’s population has skyrocketed in that time.

Conclusion

Wertz has proven himself an innovative, competent, and trustworthy commissioner, and a good steward of county funds. I endorse the reelection of Bob Wertz as Loudoun County Commissioner of Revenue.