Chamber Blasts Results of Governance Panel

Chamber Blasts Results of Governance Panel

Panel prepares to present final report.

If the recently completed work of the special panel looking into the governance of the Reston Community Center (RCC) was supposed to heal lingering wounds between the RCC and the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, it didn't work.

The ad-hoc panel wrapped up its work during a Monday, June 30 meeting at the RCC at Lake Anne. In the panel's draft final report, it outlined the recommendations for changes in the way the RCC Board of Governors is selected and the formation of a new advisory committee to oversee the RCC. All recommendations will now be sent to the RCC board for review. The suggestions are not binding and the board can accept any or all of the panel's findings. Whatever is accepted will then be passed on to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Terry Smith reminded the panel that their final report was conditional. "The RCC board may accept everything, or pieces of it or nothing at all," he said, adding that he was confident they would be comfortable with the final recommendations.

At the conclusion of the meeting, business representative Susann Gerstein urged the panel to focus on its positive steps rather than the lingering issues that caused a "philosophical divide" among the members.

Michael Horwatt did not share Gerstein's feelings about the "accomplishments" of the panel. "I cannot be enthusiastic about this," he said.

IN A STINGING three-page rebuke of the panel's draft report, Horwatt, the chamber's lone appointed representative, blasted the final outcome and what he described as the RCC's continued neglect of the business community's interest in Small Tax District 5. The memorandum, dated June 30, will be attached as an appendix to the group's final report. Horwatt bemoaned that the Reston business community has had "no meaningful voice over decisions by the governing board," and he expressed little faith in the panel's series of recommendations.

"The intransigency of the RCC board members on the Study Panel derives from the perpetual incumbency of the RCC board," Horwatt wrote. "The incumbent members dismiss the spate of letters expressing concern about the board's performance and composition simply by ignoring those communications. They failed to equate growing press coverage about their activities with concern about how the Special Tax District governing board gets selected."

Three RCC board members, Smith, Ruth Overton, and Beverly Cosham, sat on the governance panel and they were frequently at odds with Horwatt and other more business-friendly panel members like Gerstein and Robert Goudie.

AS A RESULT of the panel's findings, the chamber said it could "no longer support an expansion of the RCC or additional capital projects under the present system of selecting the governing board."

In his three-page missive, Horwatt also criticized the composition of the panel.

Frequently, though not always, Horwatt found himself in the minority with fellow members Goudie, Gerstein and Bill Westcott. These four members endorsed a "hybrid" plan for selecting the RCC board. Under the plan, four seats would be selected by preference poll and the Hunter Mill District Supervisor would have appointed five seats, three of which would have included chamber-approved business representatives. Another "hybrid" proposal without designated business seats, put forward by Richard Eckhardt, also failed to pass.

In a supplementary report, the hybrid-supporters emphasized their "strong support for the common ground that was found," especially the 'supermajority' requirements. "It was our view, however, that supplementing the preference poll along the lines of the various hybrid proposals could have produced an even more inclusive and representative governance model," the report authored by Goudie read. "We think [the hybrid model] held out the possibility of unifying all elements of our community, including the business community, around meaningful reform."

"Frequently these task forces reach a consensus based upon sharing common information, building trust among the members and having the imagination and will to find solutions that respond to the varying needs of the diverse constituencies affected by the agency," the addendum said. "Here, we had the exact opposite. The governing board sought members of the study panel that reflected their own views."

Horwatt conceded the panel's RCC-contingency did "get more than they bargained for," but he still called the entire process "preordained."

UNHAPPY WITH THE outcome of the RCC governance review panel, the chamber has vowed to continue its fight for business interests in the all Small District 5 issues. In his memo to the panel, Horwatt said the chamber would take its concerns directly to the Board of Supervisors.

The chamber will request, Horwatt wrote, that the Board of Supervisors revise its Memorandum of Understanding with the RCC to prohibit the center's "undertaking of any new capital projects or expanding existing facilities.

The chamber, according to the position paper, will also ask the county to limit the governing board members selected by a preference poll to five members, while urging the county to directly appoint the other four members consistent with Horwatt's stated preference of a hybrid-system.