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Coalition Criticizes RA Committee

Local group challenges RA's look at governance documents.

Calling themselves the Reston Homeowners Coalition (RHC), a group of six local residents is angry with Reston Association's (RA) handling of their governance review process.

Led by former Reston Community Center (RCA) president George Kain, the re-established RHC is looking to provide a community-wide forum for RA members to discuss "important issues" affecting the community.

In the coming months, Kain said the group will focus its attention on the proposed revisions to the Reston Association governing documents which are currently being considered by a special committee to the RA board of directors. Under RA bylaws, the governing documents are to be reviewed only every 20 years.

Kain said he and his group are concerned that RA is ignoring member input into the process. "No doubt the RA board will make the document public at some point, but making a document public and inviting meaningful and adequate public input are two entirely different things," Kain said in a release.

WHILE KAIN COMPLAINED that RA did not advertise meetings well, Susan Jones, the RA president, insisted that the public was properly alerted about all special committee meetings. Jones took offense with Kain's comments. To her knowledge, Kain never called RA about the meetings or asked about them or expressed any interest in attending the meetings, she said. "Our meetings were completely open and anyone who wanted to come could," Jones said. "We publicized our subcommittee meetings and I haven't heard any request from George Kain about wanting to come to these meetings. I don't know what he is talking about."

Jerry Volloy, the executive vice president of RA, dismissed the RHC's contention that they didn't know about the meetings. "There is no reason they should not have known. This is a group that keeps track of events in Reston, there is no reason why, with any small amount of effort, they would not have known," he said.

In the long-dormant group's reemergence, Kain insisted that RA staff and board members were discussing proposed changes to the governing documents without "any opportunity for Reston citizens to participate or make comment."

"Frankly, I find this very insulting that he should say those things because, in fact, we have done exactly the opposite," Jones said. "If he had so much as called me and discussed this with me, but I have not heard one word from George Kane. So to come up in this time of the process and challenge the process is just outrageous. I don't know what his agenda is on this."

Kain said he was not trying to diminish the work of the committee and RA staff, but he said that the process "could have been done better."

"He can disagree with the recommendations, everybody in the community has a right to do a full debate of all the issues, but to say that we were meeting behind closed doors and to question our process is outrageous," Jones added.

THE RHC'S STEERING committee and its founding members are made up of six residents, including former RA president Mike Freeman and three former RA board members.

"If there is one thing which I have learned over all these many years of being involved in community organizations in Reston, it is that early and complete involvement of the entire membership base is absolutely critical to ensure that these changes will reflect the wishes of the community," Kain went on to say.

Vera Hannigan believes that the committee will recommend "major changes" including increasing the cap on assessments and decreasing the 40 percent threshold for RA referendums. "These are huge ideas," she said. Hannigan wondered why RA didn't promote the governance question as publicly as it dead with its Southgate project. "Is this not a 'win-win' situation as it was for Southgate?" she asked. Contrary to the Hannigan's contentions, Volloy insisted that the special committee had "not decided on any recommendations" and he said, before long, there would be "major public input."

Calling it "hand-picked," Hannigan also questioned the makeup of the special committee saying it wasn't representative of the entire Reston community.

Jones said that the public was involved in the process of putting the committee together originally. "You need to have some sort of a committee go through all of this. You can't just have the entire community sorting through this stuff," Jones said. A call to the community was issued in March of 2002, and the search was completed the following May.

"I take responsibility for the committee. We looked for a balance and this is not a homogeneous committee," Jones said. We looked to have a representative committee which was reflective of the various components of this community so that we would end up with recommendations that people from various perspectives could live with."

THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE is expected to submit its final report and recommendations to Board of Directors during Sept. 25, 2003 regular meeting with a public hearing scheduled for October, according to a draft timeline provided by RA. At the Nov. 13 regular meeting of the RA Board of Directors, the board is expected to votes to send the issue of governing documents amendments to referendum. Another public hearing on the referendum question would be held in December, according to the timeline. Early next year, RA staff would lead a nearly three-month long public relations campaign, much like "Operation Southgate" leading up to a referendum which would wrap up in April 2004. For more information on RHC, visit their Web site at www.RestonHC.com.