Park Board Duty a Labor of Love, Not Money

Park Board Duty a Labor of Love, Not Money

A significant 69 percent of 32,596 registered voters in Dranesville District approved a $20 million bond referendum for the Fairfax County park system last week.

But even so, the Fairfax County Park Authority remains understaffed and underfunded, said Rick Thoesen, Dranesville’s representative to the FCPA board. Thoesen, elected mayor of the Town of Herndon in May, will step down in January, after 15 months of service.

Although he is “frustrated by the lack of resources” available for parks, Thoesen said his service has been a labor of love.

He wanted to stay on the board after his election as mayor for two reasons, he said: to help pass the Nov. 5 park bond referendum that was supported by Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, and also to have a voice in the selection of a new Park Authority Director.

Former FCPA Director Paul Baldino resigned earlier this year to accept a position in Arlington County’s personnel department.

“My motivation is to try and enhance ball fields for kids, and improve park services, he said. “It’s been a labor of love.”

As mayor of Herndon, Thoesen presides over four council meetings a month and meets with citizens and groups.

He also has a demanding full-time position as deputy general manager of the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority.

The FCPA Board is an operational board, meaning it can conduct business, spend money, and enter contracts, rather than just advise other government officials.

But unlike the members of other public boards who receive stipends, including the Planning Commission, Civil Service Board, and Fairfax County School Board, Fairfax County Park Authority Board members receive no remuneration for their service.

“We get not a dime,” said Harold Henderson, who represents Lee District on the Board. He, too, plans to step down as soon as the selection process is completed, he said.

“We do this out of the goodness of our hearts.”

“We try to give people what they want. We try to accommodate the citizens. Why would I give up my time to try to make people mad?” he said.

Henderson said he decided to resign when service on the FCPA Board began to actually cost him.

He was working out of state recently when he needed to return for a park meeting, and had to pay his expenses from his own pocket, Henderson said.

As mayor of Herndon, Thoesen receives a stipend of $6,300 yearly. He attends four meetings a month, alternating between town council meetings and work sessions.

Herndon is grappling with perplexing 21st century issues, including a burgeoning segment of its Hispanic population that needs services such as English classes and employment assistance.

Herndon was hit hard by layoffs in high technology companies that employ many town residents.

The town also has a large Muslim population, and a new mosque that straddles the Fairfax and Loudoun County boundary outside the town of Herndon has been subjected to bias attacks.

Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn said that as yet, he has not considered an appointment to Thoesen’s position.

That person will have one year to serve before Mendelsohn leaves office at the end of 2003.

Recent FCPA representatives from Dranesville District have been Rick Bliss of Great Falls, appointed by then-Supervisor Ernest Berger; Richard Bissell of McLean, appointed by Mendelsohn, and Thoesen, appointed by Mendelsohn in November, 2001.

Thoesen is a certified environmental engineer with a bachelor of civil engineering and a masters in engineering administration. A former captain in the U.S. Army, he was a member of the Herndon Town Council from 1982-1984 and mayor of Herndon from 1984-1990.

He was also a commissioner on the Northern Virginia Planning District Commission from 1986-1990. Thoesen's community activities include the Herndon Optimist Club, past president of the Council for the Arts of Herndon, Reston Hospital Board of Trustees and head coach of five sport programs.