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Votes

Reston Association Candidates Face Off

Forums and debates give RA Board candidates a chance to present views on pressing issues.

The ballots for the Reston Association (RA) elections have been mailed out, and four candidates' names are on them. Barbara Aaron, the incumbent, is running unopposed for the Hunters Woods/Dogwood District seat on the board of directors. But the other three candidates — Brian Brown, William Keefe and Gerald Volloy — are in a race for a single at-large seat.

THE RA assessment cap is an issue of importance in the race. Volloy said a cap is necessary because it forces the board to prioritize issues. With a number of recently reported, and currently worked on, studies on the table at the RA — such as the Capital Reserves Study and the recreation survey — the RA has the necessary components to determine how to calculate the cap. Volloy, the immediate past executive vice-president of the RA, added that in his conversations with Restonians he found few who think the elimination of the cap to be a viable solution.

"I would rather not see a cap," said Keefe, "but the reality is there's going to have to be some kind of a cap." He believes the cap ought to be indexed differently. Currently the index used is the consumer price index (CPI), an average change over time in the prices paid by consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics). Keefe also believes the studies done for the RA must be looked at first, and then it can be decided how to determine the cap, and which index to use.

Brown, an advocate of the cap, also does not think the CPI is a good way to measure it. “RA members will not be forced to pay for what they don’t use,” said Brown. The cap will force the board to limit what it takes from its members, and force it to find creative ways to fund the RA’s programs.

The only opponent of a continuing cap assessment is also the only candidate running unopposed. Aaron said she is against the cap because of the differences between today and when the cap was first instituted. She said the RA members stated they did not want to cut current programs that are run by the association. “The RA is the only homeowners association that puts a cap on its assessment,” said Aaron, a real-estate agent.

ANOTHER IMPORTANT topic in the elections is the referendum on RA's governing documents. Since the cap is tied to the governing documents, it will need to be passed or rejected along with the rest of the documents, which is one of the reasons why it is so hard for the board to come to an agreement on a draft to be presented to the members for approval. That the task of revising the documents is complicated, said Aaron, is evident in the fact that the RA board, after months of negotiations, had to hire an expert, Bob Diamond, to look at the current language and translate it to something more understandable. “The governing documents,” she said, “need to be more up-to-date, and easier to read.” Aaron added the board should revise the documents in a flexible way, so there is a possibility to change them again 20 years from now. The documents should not be set in terms of today. Brown agreed, saying the priority for the documents should be “forming a system that is timeless.”

The governing documents make a constitution of how the Reston community operates , said Keefe. Issues in the documents range from specifics, such as the assessment cap, to administrative daily activities. Keefe said the documents should not be separated into different issues, and sent to the public for approval. “When you buy a home, you buy into the covenants,” said Keefe, “we can’t take referenda every three weeks.” In his opinion, the members should have a chance to learn what is in the documents, and then vote yes or no on the documents as a whole.

Volloy disagrees. He thinks the issues such as the assessment cap should be separated from the documents, and sent to the members as a separate referendum. As far as determining which issues deserve to be looked at on their own, Volloy said a dialogue between the members and the RA is needed. “The documents define the RA’s role in regard to our community and our members,” said Volloy. Currently, he added, the communication is a one-way flow. The members are aware of RA’s actions through the media and the RA’s quarterly newsletter. The RA is aware of the members’ opinions through member participation at the board meetings, which is limited. However, a dialogue is not established, and in order for the RA board to be aware of members’ concerns it has to exist, said Volloy.

ANOTHER ISSUE discussed by the candidates was the recreation and use of open spaces in Reston. Keefe said there is a need in the community to accommodate the growing interest in indoor sports. “The needs are huge for indoor facilities,” he said. However, the outdoor sports cannot be forgotten about either. Keefe suggested the Baron Cameron Park be looked at closely for improvements. The 60-acre park, owned by the Fairfax County School Board, is underutilized and poorly designed, said Keefe, a professional land use planner. He added the fields at the park needed to be upgraded, and the park redesigned.

“We need to look at the types of recreation Reston residents want,” said Brown, and then address the wants by priority. The new programs or facilities, he said, should be funded through user fees, to keep the costs down for Reston residents. The user fees would ensure that those who come from other areas to use the programs and facilities would pay for the services as well.

The RA will need to find creative ways to fund the emerging recreational needs of its members. One of the ways to do so, Volloy suggests, is to form public-private partnerships, by joining efforts with other community leaders, such as the Reston Community Center, businesses and the county. The priority, he said, should be to maintain and improve the trail system in Reston. “If you look at any survey,” added Volloy, “the single most important facility is the trail system.” He also said there is a growing need for indoor swimming, and indoor tennis, as Reston has a “huge” tennis population.

THE CANDIDATES had a chance to present their views on the issues at two candidate forums, which will be aired on Comcast later this month, and at a meeting held by the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH).

Other issues discussed included covenants enforcement, existing and new infrastructure, and the Design and Review Board process. The ballots for the elections are due on April 1. Frank Pfeilmeier, the director and president of ARCH, gave some statistics regarding the voter turnout in last year’s elections for the RA board. The average participation within Reston’s 131 clusters was 22.2 percent. The turnout, he said, was “pitiful, considering the directors we elect have such a profound impact on what we do.”