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Several county supervisors raised questions about an appointee to the Fairfax County Water Authority Board on Tuesday and tried to convince their colleagues not to appoint him for a new term.

The board typically approves all appointments to boards and commissions en masse, but Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) called for a separate vote on the reappointment of Burton Rubin to the Water Authority.

Rubin was the author of a letter last year, sent to the county’s congressional delegation, that suggested that the authority would be likely to drop health care coverage due to a provision of the Affordable Care Act. Rubin was the sole signatory of the letter, although it was sent on water authority letterhead.

The letter was also leaked to the Washington Post, bringing national attention to the fact that an appointed board in a Democratically-controlled county was opposing the president’s signature health care law.

Rubin also wrote an editorial in January criticizing the health care law for the online publication the Jefferson Policy Journal that repeated some of the messages from his letter.

McKay said the letter was overly politicized and inappropriate for a non-partisan board like the water authority.

“I think it did permanent damage to the water authority’s relationship with our congressional delegation,” he said.

The board later approved and sent a different letter to try and smooth things over, according to McKay.

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), who nominated Rubin for reappointment, said that it was not Rubin’s idea to write the letter and that other board members signed off on the language.

Emails provided by Herrity’s office indicate that Water Authority board Chairman Philip Allin (Sully District) and several other board members reviewed and signed off on Rubin’s letter.

“I find this truly disturbing,” Herrity said during the debate over Rubin’s reappointment, saying that calling out Rubin was comparable to “Chicago boss-style politics.”

Board members typically defer to district supervisors on their appointments to boards and commissions.

“I will always give deference to the district supervisor until something goes wrong,” McKay said. “Something as important as people’s drinking water should not be politicized.”

Herrity said he thought the concerns expressed in the letter were reasonable.

“The concerns documented in this letter are the same concerns I hear from businesses every day,” Herrity said, adding that the Board of Supervisors also took a similar position on the tax on high-cost health plans.

Supervisors did eventually approve Rubin to another four-year term by a 7-3 margin, with McKay, John Foust (D-Dranesville) and Penny Gross (D-Mason) voting against his reappointment.

“We need to select folks for their good judgement. This letter … did not reflect good judgment,” Gross said. “I think the water authority had a lot of cleaning up to do after that letter, as did we.”

However, other Democrats on the board said they believed the water authority had “learned a lesson” from the experience.

“Hopefully that message will go back to the Water Authority board that they need to look at their practices,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large), who voted in favor of the appointment.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com