Michael Frey's philosophy of leadership is to bring people into the decision-making process, include them in the choices and be honest with them.
It's stood him in good stead with local residents because, since Frey was first elected supervisor of the newly created Sully District in 1992, his constituents have continually returned him to office.
It's been his full-time job and primary focus, the past 11 years, and now he's running for his fourth term. Said Frey, a Republican: "I hope people will vote for me because of what I've done and because, hopefully, I've made many right decisions."
SULLY DISTRICT PLANNING COMMISSIONER RON KOCH has known him since 1981 and calls him an "all-around good guy who cares about people and about doing the right thing. He leads by example and has proven his leadership skills. And with his excellent recall and historical knowledge, he remains on top of issues important to Sully District."
Frey's accomplishments are numerous. During his tenure, a whole slew of new elementary schools have opened here, plus Westfield High and Liberty Middle. The Sully District rec center broke ground on March 29, and the new Sully District Police Station opens May 3.
Under Frey, the much-needed Routes 28/29 interchange became a reality. And Route 28 will be widened and six interchanges constructed — including Barnsfield Road, leading to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Annex in Chantilly. Frey's also played a vital role in land preservation.
"One of the things I'm most proud of is convincing the Board [of Supervisors] to buy 1,800 acres of parkland," he said. "Some of it will be used for ballfields, but it's primarily for permanent open space. The start of the master plan for the Hunter-Hacor tract will be in May-June."
It begins at the rec center, in Westfields, and includes the Pleasant Valley Golf Course — which Frey had a major hand in building. "It'll be something like Fairfax County has never seen before," he said. "The primary concept is that the more active areas would be north of Braddock Road, and areas south of Braddock and on both sides of Pleasant Valley Road would be mostly permanent open space."
The land will be made accessible by trails. With its rare forest, said Frey, "We want to use it as an ecological tool, as well. That's one of the most exciting things [on the horizon], for years to come."
Also during his watch, Centreville Fire Station 17 underwent a major renovation and West Centreville Station 38 was built. Instead of cutting a ribbon when it opened, Frey — with his trusty dog Mosby at his side — and Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley uncoupled a fire hose.
FREY'S EARNED HIS STRIPES in historic preservation, too. "Early in my first term, I convinced the Board to buy the last piece of the Ox Hill battle site to be preserved — about 2 1/2 acres," he said. "The owner was going to sell it to a developer to build townhouses — but two generals died there."
Frey also had the Board buy Mount Gilead — a circa 1789 home in Centreville's Historic District. And he began the Centreville Strategic Planning Task Force, appointing members to help chart Centreville's future. "We'd seen such rapid growth, and it was time to take stock and look at what kind of community we wanted," he explained. "It needed to develop as a whole."
Toward that end, garden clubs and VDOT are uniting on a Routes 28/29 beautification project. The rec center will provide a focal point for community activities, and the new police station will contain the Sully supervisor's office, community meeting space and programs for senior citizens and, possibly, teens. The community coalitions for safe and drug-free students also help shape Centreville's identity.
But there's still lots of work to do, and Frey has many goals he'd like to accomplish. He wants to see Mount Gilead developed: "I'd love to see a little village green [on that property]. The house is turned around now, but I'd like the original front restored to overlook the seven acres there."
He'd like that whole area opened up for community use. "What a nice place it would be — a seven-acre park to have a Sunday picnic," he said. "There could be a bandstand and a gazebo for summer concerts. Architect Bill Robson is already working on it."
Noting the "huge impact" the Air and Space Annex will have here, Frey's spent time "getting the Smithsonian people together with the Park Authority and other community groups" to maximize the facility's benefit for everyone.
"I always thought bringing 3 1/2 million people a year to the Air and Space Museum would be a good opportunity to expose people to Sully Plantation — where the first Northern Virginia congressman lived," he explained. "They could see the past and the future, all in one trip."
FREY WANTS TO INSURE that whatever happens is compatible with Chantilly. Furthermore, he said, "We have to make sure that VDOT and the Smithsonian follow through on their commitments to build effective transit systems. We'll have to monitor [this situation] and continually reassess it to see if it's working."
He'd also like the Hunter-Hacor tract developed to its full potential for both active recreation and passive recreation — including nature trails and ecological observation. "Maybe an equestrian facility can go there," he added. "There's a lot of potential."
And as always, said Frey, "Certainly, one of the challenges we've got to grapple with is housing and affordability and taxes. I didn't support the budget in six of the last seven years. When things were going great, we didn't do anything to reduce taxes or do any long-range planning for the taxpayers. Here we are in the fourth year of double-digit tax increases for Centreville/Chantilly. You can't expect people to absorb that."
A resident of Centreville's London Commons community, Frey said taxes on his own home rose 53 percent in the last three years. "The way to reduce taxes is to reduce the tax rate — because, legally, we can't reduce assessments or cap the assessment increase," he said. "And the way to reduce the tax rate is to reduce spending."
"You need to do it over the long term and by setting priorities and getting public input," he continued. "You have to be honest with people and lay out the choices. Lots of programs are nice to have, but maybe they should be funded by user fees." Actually, Frey's always believed in explaining how he's reached his decisions: "People may not always be happy, but they're going to understand the process and where I'm coming from."
Regarding transportation, he said projects such as the Tri-County Parkway and the Battlefield Bypass also require planning for the future. "You've got to plan corridors and finish traffic studies — then make choices," he said. "And we've got to plan for rail. It's only one of the answers, but it would have an impact. Where would we build the station, park cars and turn around the trains? And do we build another HOV lane or add general lanes?"
FREY SAID THE TOUGHEST PART OF HIS JOB is communication — getting people involved in the process and making them understand the issues: "You've got to just keep working at it."
So what keeps him doing that, year after year? "The people," he replied. "If it weren't for my job, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet them and make the wonderful friends I've made." For example, he recently helped a woman qualify for a property-tax exemption. He investigated and learned that, as an elderly widow, she fell under guidelines for tax relief. "You help people when you can," said Frey. "That's really why I do it."
Sully District Park Authority representative Hal Strickland says Frey's "the best guy to work with. His approach is always positive, and he has a remarkable inner strength. He gets to the heart of an issue and he's nonjudgmental. And as a representative of all the folks in Sully, he's always looking at what solution will bring the best result for the most people."
Frey said most of his job is helping people with their daily lives. Residents call him about potholes, stop signs, problems with development, trails, street lights, etc. "One man called because he had too many squirrels in his yard," he said. "It's not life and death, but it's important to someone."
He also works well with both Democrats and Republicans. "If they have the best interests of the community at heart and are willing to work hard, that's what's important to me," he said. And he wants people to vote for him because he's proven he can get things done.
Frey helps people find common ground to work out their problems, and he's always addressing homeowners, youth, civic groups, etc. "It's fun meeting people and hearing about their concerns," he said. "Being accessible is important to me."
Del. Gary Reese (R-67th), who's known Frey 12 years, says, "He's been able to maintain a level of trust with his constituents that is just outstanding. If you think about Sully District 12 years ago, its tremendous growth is remarkable. But Mike's worked hard to preserve open land, develop Westfield High and help with the rec center. He's really been a man of vision and rare honesty."
"As a politician, he often gives people more than they expect — and cheerfully," added Strickland. "I don't know what else you could ask in a person representing you, and I certainly give Michael my full support for the November election."