The tombstone had almost been written. Last Friday, March 31 at 5 p.m., the Reston Association’s governing documents referendum was set to die: failing to reach its required 40 percent quorum of eligible voters, the equivalent of 6,828 votes, despite more than $100,000 spent on get-out-the-vote efforts.
Instead, less than 24 hours earlier at an emergency meeting, the Board of Directors resurrected the dying referendum by voting unanimously to extend the referendum’s voting period by 10 days, even as some members warned that the measure would irrevocably sever trust between the members and future boards.
The 10-day deadline extension makes it likely that the referendum’s quorum will be met. As of Thursday, March 30, the referendum still needed 745 votes to be valid. In the past 60 days, since the ballots were sent out Feb. 13, about 700 votes have been cast each week on average.
AT LAST THURSDAY’S sometimes contentious meeting — directors shouted at residents to stay quiet when they asked questions out of turn during board discussion — the board decided to change the voting deadline to April 10, the maximum extension legally possible.
The decision hinged on guidance from Ken Chadwick, RA’s general counsel, who told the board it had the authority to extend the deadline. This is the only extension allowed by law, he said.
In RA’s history, a referendum’s voting deadline has never been extended, according to RA staff.
“This manipulation of the referendum is why trust was the victim tonight,” said Donn Dears, a former vice president of RA who opposed the revised governing documents and the extension.
OPPONENTS OF the board’s decision further argued that the rules of the referendum were being side-stepped. “Everybody wants to act like lawyers and see how to bend the laws,” said Kenneth Anderson, adding that the extension throws “the bylaws out the window.” Anderson, a Reston resident, has attended numerous meetings related to the governing documents, often in opposition.
Others questioned the board’s authority to make the change at all. “I don’t think you can change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Vera Hannigan. She thinks “the community has spoken loudly by its silence” and that the board should have accepted the referendum’s defeat.
The directors, who do not know who voted or how people voted, disagreed. RA President Jennifer Blackwell made an impassioned argument to the rest of the board to adopt what she called a “last resort measure.”
“We are so close,” said Blackwell. “I think it’s a disservice to our members not to extend this deadline.” She added that not extending the deadline would have been “irresponsible.”
Yet for some on the board, it was a difficult decision. “My initial reaction was to vote no. It’s the boy who cried wolf if we don’t drop it at 5 o’clock, March 31,” said Director Robin Smyers (Lake Anne/Tall Oaks). “But it is our fiduciary responsibility to the members to do everything in our power.”
BOARD MEMBERS also said they didn’t want to see all the time and money invested to go to waste. “I just feel we’ve come way too far and spent way too much money not to do everything we can to make this a valid referendum,” said RA Vice President Doug Bushée.
In the past four years, RA has spent more than $350,000 in the process to revise the governing documents, including more than $250,000 in legal fees, according to Milton Matthews, executive vice president and CEO of RA.
When a few board members dismissed the four opposing residents at the meeting as “naysayers,” back-and-forth yelling erupted between the members and the board. Only one member, Gerald Volloy, who is also running for the South Lakes district board seat, attended the meeting to support the extension.
Dears suggested that changing the deadline could anger members to such a degree that they’d want to change “yes” votes to “no” votes — also an idea that was dismissed by the board.
“People aren’t going to want to change their votes,” said Director Rick Beyer (at-large). “I don’t think [this decision] sours people’s opinion of the referendum.” He said that there has been “overwhelming consensus” for the governing document revisions.