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RA, Cluster Officials Bang Heads

In a meeting Monday night, Reston Association representatives tried to address concerns from cluster residents about the governing documents.

In a governing documents campaign meeting last Monday evening, representatives from the Reston Association presented the changes in the governing documents to about 70 cluster officials.

However, during most of the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, cluster officials bombarded the panel with questions about the draft governing documents that will be voted on by referendum in October.

The panel — made up of RA President Jennifer Blackwell; RA CEO Milton Matthews; Bob Diamond of Reed Smith, the attorney hired to assist RA to draft the documents; and Scott Creech, president of E.L. Creech and Company, RA’s insurance carrier — spent more than two hours responding to questions.

The purpose of the revising the old documents, Diamond said, is “to make them more modern, make them more flexible for things that aren’t foreseeable in the future and make them more functional for your board.”

Issues brought up by the cluster officials, who were spilling out of the room, concentrated on concerns related to cluster matters and insurance, the elimination of the cap, the resale fee and the addition of commercial members.

Blackwell explained in her opening statements that passing the changes to the documents “is absolutely vital to the long-term viability of Reston.” She emphasized that they have not been updated in 21 years. “This could be one of the most important votes that RA members make in the next 20 years,” said Blackwell. “We hope to incorporate some of the comments that are made tonight into the final document.”

MANY OF THE cluster officials had questions about provisions in the draft documents that required clusters to have a certain level of insurance and name RA under their insurance.

“What we are concerned about is liability insurance predominantly,” said Diamond. “By naming RA as an insured and by a cluster naming RA as an insured, it does not mean that there’s no recourse. It means you go after the wrongdoer’s insurance company,” said Diamond.

But some cluster officials were still worried about a cluster’s ability to sue RA if it were negligent.

In a question by Dick Rogers of Golf Course Island Cluster, Blackwell was asked about how the relationship between RA and clusters would be affected.

“We view clusters as being an integral part of the community we live in,” Blackwell said. “These documents don’t in any way change the relationship between RA and the clusters.”

After Blackwell's answer, someone from the audience shouted, “Then you haven’t read these documents.”

Blackwell responded, saying, “It is not our intent to change the relationship, it is not our intent.”

RA Director Robert Poppe, who attended the meeting, also had concerns about cluster governance. “I find the document, as it is today, appears to take away the clusters’ right to live,” he said. “You’re beating people on the head with it.”

Diamond responded by saying that the documents “make sure the clusters are doing what they are supposed to do.”

“Does this require any more of the clusters than what should be required?” said Diamond.

For many people, Diamond and Blackwell’s message was getting through. “One by one, my points of skepticism are being shot down,” said Stephen Skousgaard of Old Salem Cluster. “Except for one thing: to open the possibility of unlimited taxes,” he said, referring to the elimination of the assessment cap.

In response, Blackwell explained that board members also must pay the assessment and that a third of the board is voted on each year if members decided they wanted new representation. “We believe that will be enough of a check,” she said.

Diamond argued that an assessment cap is antiquated. “Almost no documents that are drafted today, or even in the 1980s or 1990s, have any kind of cap on assessments,” said Diamond, adding that if Reston can’t raise enough money to meet the needs, then services will suffer.

Carol Roxbrough agreed. “I think it’s important that we keep the services that make Reston a high-end community,” she said. “People will move here because of a denigration of services, just like there are people who will move here because of our high level of services.”

In an interview after the meeting, Roxbrough said she would vote in favor of the new documents.

However, after the meeting, many people were still undecided, and others were against it. “As of right now, I would urge everybody in my cluster to vote against it,” Rogers said. “I think there’s a tone to all this of the RA grabbing for power without explaining their rationale.”

One such issue was the resale fee, also referred to as a “capital contribution,” which would charge anyone buying a home in Reston $250. Many members asked why the fee was being added and whether or not it would offset assessments.

“The capital contribution,” Blackwell said, “is a creative way to see that we are ensuring that Reston is maintaining what it is supposed to.” Diamond said that this type of fee is being used in many communities these days, “becoming a common provision.”

THE EDUCATIONAL EFFORT will take time, said Matthews, adding that revisions to the documents are still being made. “I don’t think there are a lot of things that people are opposed to,” Matthews said. “What we have to do is a better job of clarifying the changes that we are trying to do.”

Blackwell sees all these meetings as important steps toward ensuring the documents reflect what the community wants. “We need to hear the changes that people want, to ensure we have ‘yesable’ documents,” she said, emphasizing that comments from the community will be incorporated into the documents.

For Vera Hannigan, revisions will need to be made before she will support the changes. She thinks the documents as they are now are flawed and require “serious revision.”

“And what really concerns me is the fact that we still don’t have a final draft,” Hannigan said, adding that people need time to review the documents in their final form before voting on them.

Like many at the meeting, Hannigan is opposed to the elimination of the assessment cap. “I’d call that the poison pill and I think it would cause the referendum to fail.” She is more open to the cap alternative, which the board voted on as an choice for members if the elimination of the assessment cap looks like it might jeopardize the referendum’s passage. The alternative cap maintains a cap but ties it to the Employment Cost Index or an increase of 5 percent, whichever is greater.

ANOTHER ISSUE that came up during the meeting was the inclusion of commercial members in the draft documents. “To me, membership is the most significant issue of all,” said Mason Knowles of Heather Knoll Cluster. “From what I could see, it would be possible for Reston to be a commercially dominated association, instead of a residential association as it is now.”

Diamond responded to Knowles, saying that the board has not yet decided how commercial membership and voting would work, only that commercial members would be able to join. However, he said commercial membership would have financial benefit to the association.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have commercial members paying assessments,” he said. “You’ll probably want to tie the commercial vote so they don’t ever predominate the residential vote.”

The audience was well prepared and thorough in its review of the draft documents, which exceed 70 pages. Ron Stock brought up several typos in the documents throughout the meeting. Another audience member questioned the resale fee, telling Diamond and Blackwell that it applied to anyone moving to Reston — from inside or outside of Reston — not just “new” residents, as they had presented.

Another cluster representative noticed that the draft documents had defined common areas to include cluster common areas, which was an error, according to Blackwell. “That’s a revision that we intended to make,” she said.

Throughout the meeting, people voiced concern about having the time to review the document in its final form before voting on it.

“My concern is that we are looking at this document in a draft form,” said Nicole Oden of Old Salem Cluster. Stock also said he was concerned about having time to review the final draft.

Blackwell said the schedule was still not set, but also said that she and other board members needed time to hear from the community.

“I’d like to see in writing a red-line version with all the changes from the documents that exist now,” said Oden. Blackwell responded by saying that was virtually impossible because so many changes had been made, including changes in organization and terminology. She did say that RA would try to provide a detailed list of changes by subject area.

“The language is just totally, absolutely different,” said Diamond, responding to Oden’s concern. “I would challenge the people of Reston to read the documents and ask themselves, ‘Are these documents what we want governing Reston going forward?’ because that’s the appropriate question.”