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Votes

New Panel to Look at RCC Board

Trying to set aside past differences, RCC and chamber of commerce will work on the make-up and selection of the RCC board.

Reston business owners, looking for a seat on the Reston Community Center board, are one small step closer to their goal, after Monday's RCC board meeting.

During its monthly Board of Governors' meeting on Feb. 3, the RCC board agreed to undertake a review of its governance policies, specifically with respect to changes experienced by both the RCC and the Small Tax District Number 5 in the 27 years since the agency was first established. It would be the first such internal review for the board, according to chair Ruth Overton.

The formation of the RCC Governance Review Panel, which Overton will also oversee, stems from the board's efforts to reach out to segments of the Reston community, specifically the business sector, that, to date, have been largely left out of the community center's decision-making process.

"This comes as a result of our annual board retreat," Overton announced at the meeting. "The main purpose is to take a look at the idea of reviewing the structure of the RCC board and the preference polls as a means of selecting board members."

The preference poll, the annual October election that fills vacancies on the 11-member board, has come under fire in recent years because of low voter turn-out. "I'm surprised how many longtime Reston residents don't even know what the preference poll is," said board member Beverly Cosham.

For representatives of the Reston business community, the RCC's decision to create such a panel is long overdue, but welcomed. "It's a step in the right direction," said Mark Looney, a Reston-based lawyer who represents several commercial property owners located in Special Tax District 5. "It's one step at a time. Just six months ago, the RCC had no interest in looking at their governance structure. They have come a long way."

<b>NOT ALL BOARD MEMBERS</b> were happy with the establishment of new committee. The panel must report its findings by June. In an interview before Monday's vote, board member Terry Smith said he didn't think the panel was necessary. Smith, who will be one of the three board members on the panel, argued that the board, and not a separate panel, should look into the questions surrounding governance and structure. "A lot of changes need to be made, but I think the board should be making these on their own volition," Smith said. "The chair (Overton) feels she needs to involve more of the community."

Cosham, the third RCC board member on the new panel, had an answer for Smith. "We need to find out and define 'success' for the community center," she said. "We have to decide where we are going, and this panel will help us get there."

Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) believes that a review of long-standing governance policies will benefit the RCC in the long-run. "A review, be it invited or uninvited, is a positive aspect for any organization," Hudgins said. "It helps you evaluate where you are, to affirm who you are and maybe it helps you address issues that may not be on the surface of what you do every day."

Looney applauded the RCC's newfound willingness to study its governance policies. "It's an education on their part. The budget has essentially doubled in the last five years thanks to the influx of businesses in and around the Town Center," Looney, who lives in Arlington, said. "It is a trend that is not going away."

<b>THE ESTABLISHMENT</b> of the panel comes just months after the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce and the RCC publicly clashed over the proposed construction of a skate park behind the Reston YMCA.

In October, the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce issued a non-binding resolution supporting the use of surplus small district tax funds for the maintenance, operations and programming of existing RCC facilities. More significantly and symbolically, however, the chamber said it opposed "the use of any surplus funds generated by the properties within Small Tax District 5 for additional expansions by RCC."

The skate park, which remains in limbo today, was considered by the chamber to be an "additional expansion."

In the fall, Overton expressed surprise and disappointment at the chamber's actions. "We respect their opinion, but I think it's important to note that the chamber does not speak for all Reston businesses," Overton said at the time.

The ongoing squabble over the skate park sometimes overshadowed another of the disputes between the two high-profile Reston organizations: board representation. The chamber maintains that because its members pay upwards of 50 percent of the Small District's taxes, there should be seats on the RCC board set aside for commercial business owners.

The RCC is funded through taxes paid by residents and businesses in the special tax district number 5 within the Hunter Mill District. In turn, residents and businesses enjoy lower fees for RCC programs and events.

Late last year, Tracey White, the chamber president, expressed cautious optimism that the RCC board would take a look at its makeup. "I think that when things have been the same for 20 years or more, sometimes it is tough to incorporate change," she said, back in November. "The conversations continue and we are hopeful in talking to Supervisor Hudgins and the Board of Governors that we will be able to make some headway."

For her part, Hudgins has worked to bring RCC and the GRCC to the table. "I have tried to convey on both sides that where there are differences, maybe there is a point where we can reach some resolve with this," Hudgins said. "If there is an appropriate way to review the questions that have been raised in regards to governance, then I think we should. I think the panel is a positive step."

Overton made a good-faith pledge to explore any and all options regarding the governance of the RCC. "We are keeping an open mind," she said. "We are hopeful that we can learn some new best practices."

The business community holds out hope that "best practices" translates into "greater, if not, proportionate" representation on the RCC board. "It is clear that there are some on the board who are reluctant to take this step," Looney said. "It is great that the board has moved towards our position because change is necessary, but that doesn't guarantee that they will act on it."

<b>THE PANEL WILL CONSIST </b>of three members of the RCC board, one GRCC representative, one non-GRCC business representative, one Reston apartment resident and five Reston residents. Overton, will select the non-GRCC business representative while the Reston Citizens Association will be responsible for choosing the six citizen panel members.

Cosham said she thought that the myriad of voices on the panel would be "enlightening" for the board. "The panel is great because you need other voices. You need to bring people in who think differently from you because that is the only way you can advance," Cosham said. "If there is criticism, it is easier to answer it if the people are in the tent."

Hudgins agreed. "I thought it was important to have all of the stakeholders come together to the table," the Hunter Mill District supervisor said.

While the panel is free to review any and all issues pertaining to governance, Smith noted that recommendations are not binding. "It's important to point out that the results of the committee's findings will be given to the board," Smith said. "The board will then make a decision on the recommendations. The board can accept or reject any or all of the recommendations."

According to White, the chamber has been lobbying the RCC for more than two years about setting aside seats on the board for business members.

"We are obviously very supportive of the process that RCC is taking to look at governance," White said on Friday. "The chamber will have a role on the panel. Our priorities will be looking for a role for the business and commercial land owners, since we do pay almost half of the taxes in the area."

Hudgins seemed pleased with the progress. "Obviously, there is a lack of comfort when the chamber and the RCC are not in agreement, but I think there are many other stakeholders in the community, and I don't think we should be swayed to think there are only two voices there," Hudgins said. "The RCC serves a breadth of constituents, and I would hope that any review will give firm consideration to every stakeholder in the community."