Nearly 170 civic and political leaders from throughout Fairfax County packed the ballroom of the Springfield Hilton Tuesday night to honor three distinguished citizens for their service to the County and Lee District.
Highlighting the 48th Annual Lee District Association of Civic Associations Holiday Banquet was the presentation of the 2003 Les Dorson Awards given each year to outstanding members of the county staff or key leaders as well as to dedicated citizens who have served Fairfax County and Lee District.
This year's recipients were Ho Chang, director, Fairfax County Department of Transportation since 1999, who received the Distinguished Public Service Leadership Award; Michael Congleton, County Zoning Administration, who has served in a variety of deputy positions, received the Distinguished Public Service Professional Award; and Nancy Burns, leader of UCM's Back Porch Thrift Store, received the Lee District Citizenship Award.
The awards are made in the memory of the former chairman of the association, Les Dorson, who, as stated in the program, "was an inspiration for active citizen involvement" in the Lee District.
This year, special awards were also presented to Katherine K. Hanley, outgoing chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and Jack Kelso, outgoing Lee District Planning Commissioner. He also served as the evening's Master of Ceremonies.
In introducing the evening featured speaker, Whitt Clement, Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman noted, "This room is packed with Lee District leaders and volunteers. This is the largest assemblage of leaders in the Southeastern portion of the county. If you want to get your message out, this is the place."
CLEMENT PROCEEDED to do just that by not only telling the crowd about the projects and changes within his department, but also plugging Governor Mark Warner's proposed restructuring of the state tax code and the changes that have occurred in state government under this administration. He also warned, "Even if the governor's tax package passes, there's still going to be cuts."
He noted that Warner's administration has closed a $6 billion shortfall. "That amounts to $650 for every Virginia citizen. But our current budget can not meet the future needs of the state. The present tax structure is unfair to middle and lower income citizens," he said.
Clement added, "Governor Warner has proved himself to be a fiscal conservative in the best meaning of that term. He has brought his sound business practices to State government.
"We have eliminated 50 boards and commissions and have reduced the state payroll by 5,000 jobs — most of those by attrition. We have reformed government both in technology and in procurement," Clement said.
"The governor gave me marching orders to bring sound business practices to VDOT and we have done that. We have tried to take the politics out of VDOT and replace it with professionalism. We have changed the six year program so that it is not a 60 year program," Clement insisted.
AMONG THE CHANGES he cited were streamlined VDOT management; decentralized operations to bring them closer to the districts; improved openness with the public; and adoption of a realistic budget and time frame for projects.
In the latter category, Clement cited both the Springfield Interchange and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge projects. "Both of these are on time and on budget," he said.
"We will not advertise a project until we are sure we have the money to pay for it. Cleaning up the books doesn't result in a lot of ribbon cutting, but it is sound business. As I told the governor, we are making the next governor's job a lot easier."
As for the tax package, Clement said, "The heart of the reform plan is to keep promises already made. Virginia faces a $1.2 billion shortfall in the next two years with no new programs. And it faces major shortfalls through the rest of this decade."
Clement promised, "Reform of VDOT will continue to be our major focus. But turning a ship as large as VDOT is not done quickly or easily."
FOLLOWING HIS presentation, Kauffman initiated the awards ceremony by calling Robert Heittman, Lee District Transportation Commissioner, to the stage to make the award to Ho Chang. He noted that Ho Chang left a position as vice president of a major transportation company to become director of the County department.
Ho Chang was cited for his "extensive experience with VDOT, as well as his skills in interacting with all parties, and in leading his staff. He demands his staff executive work harmoniously ... and put things in perspective, e.g. the pedestrian is as important as the vehicle driver."
In accepting the award, Ho Chang gave the credit to his "incredible staff." He insisted, "I am merely the cheerleader."
Michael Congleton, recipient of the Public Service Professional Award, acknowledged, "One of the things that makes my work so rewarding is the involvement of the civic associations." He has served in a number of deputy administrator roles with the Fairfax County Zoning Administration.
Nancy Burns, who received the Lee District Citizenship Award, was praised by presenter Sharon Kelso, director, United Community Ministries [UCM], who stated, "Nancy Burns is an outstanding example of why UCM works."
Burns first came to UCM seven years ago, as she said, "in response to a desperate call for volunteers." Her first assignment was to sort clothing and household items donated to UCM's Back Porch Thrift Store. "She realized and seized the opportunity to raise more funds ... by an improved understanding of their pricing," the program noted. She now serves as the leader of the store's volunteers.
In a special tongue-in-cheek award presentation, Joe Alexander, former supervisor, welcomed Kate Hanley into the "Society of Recovering Elected Officials." An award of recognition was also presented to Jack Kelso for his years as Lee District Planning Commissioner.
Kauffman gave special praise to Debbie Wilson and Elaine Heittman for their efforts in organizing and managing the annual banquet. He stated, "I actually work for Debbie Wilson." She serves as the receptionist in his office.
Among the dignitaries present were U.S. Representative James P. Moran (D-8); State senators Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-36) and Patricia Ticer (D-30); State delegates Kristen J. Amundson (D-44), Vivian E. Watts (D-39), Mark Sickles (D-43); Chairman-elect, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Gerald E. Connolly (D); Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D); and Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin.
There were also representatives of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and the Fairfax County Police Department as well as officers and members of the various civic associations which comprise the host organization.