The issue over a town donation to the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce for Mayfest drew many area residents and business owners to council chambers this week.

A tiff on the Strasburg Town Council started over a question from a council member about a possible conflict of interest a few months ago in regards to the donation and ended this week with the council’s unanimous approval of next year’s town budget.

That budget now includes a line item amount of $8,000 that will go toward Mayfest, which has been organized by the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce for many years.  But instead of money being donated directly to the chamber for the event,  any organization can now step forward to apply for the funds and enter into an agreement with the town to organize the spring festival.

Regardless of who organizes the next Mayfest, whether the chamber applies for the grant or some other group does, this issue brings up the need for elected officials to always be vigilant about possible conflicts of interest or perceptions of conflicts of interest. In this instance in Strasburg, the town lawyer said there was no conflict of interest, and the mayor said he will see if they can add what is legally considered a conflict of interest to the town’s code of conduct.

Virginia’s State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act already requires financial interest disclosure statements of certain government officials, and it details prohibited and unlawful conduct for local elected officials such as county supervisors, town and city council members and school board members. It’s online and a must read for local officials.

Transparency in government is not optional — it is absolutely necessary.  Anytime someone raises a question about a conflict of interest, the governing body needs to investigate and address the issue as soon as possible.  Trust in our local government is vitally important — it’s our tax dollars being spent, and how those dollars are being handled is vitally important to us.