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Votes

Governing Documents Approved

Successful referendum caps off four-year effort.

It was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” And so it was with Reston Association’s governing documents campaign held from Feb. 13 to April 10.

Via a quiet Web page posting last week, members learned that the most expensive campaign in Reston Association history has paid off.

The four-year, $391,000 effort came to an end Friday, April 14 with a resounding decision by members to approve the revised set of governing documents. Like a town charter, the governing documents codify how RA administers, governs and manages itself.

The referendum, which concluded amid controversy and contention based mostly on a 11th hour 10-day deadline extension to meet the 40 percent quorum, passed with more than 70 percent approval on all three questions. To pass, the questions required two-thirds approval.

“I view this as a mandate,” said RA President Jennifer Blackwell. “I think when we extended the deadline, members took to heart the seriousness of our effort.”

A total of 6,828 valid votes were required to reach the quorum. The counting agency received a total of 7,051 valid votes. There were 259 invalid votes, 238 of which were double votes.

Yet despite the 10-day extension, the referendum barely edged the 40 percent quorum, receiving votes from 41 percent of a possible 17,000 eligible voters. “It took a little bit of prodding,” said Director Rick Beyer (at-large), adding that local elections typically don’t get high turnout. “But I’m delighted by the fact that people with different philosophies came together for the betterment of the community.”

THE VOLUNTEER, nine-member board worked overtime the past two months trying to convince the membership to pass the revised documents. In the last year, the board held an unprecedented 99 meetings, including several district meetings and public hearings.

During the campaign, the board argued that the old documents, which date back to 1984, were too financially restrictive and would necessitate cuts in services and amenities. The board campaigned that these problems were solved in the revised documents, which include provisions to broaden the board’s discretion to raise member assessments and a charge of $250 to non-Reston residents who buy a home in RA.

In the past few weeks, though, opponents shifted their ire from the documents to the board.

When the board unanimously decided March 30 to extend the voting deadline from March 31 to April 10, opponents criticized the board for “changing the rules” midstream.

Board members, however, justified the move, saying it was within the Association’s legal right and the right thing to do.

“It was too much effort not to see a result. It would have been a waste of money,” said Beyer.

“We always knew [voter turnout] would be a challenge,” said Blackwell, adding that she didn’t anticipate that an extension would be needed. “I think we were surprised that we didn’t meet the quorum by March 31.”

In the last 10 days, though, votes poured in. “I truly believe that our members thought we did the right thing [by extending the deadline], and it really showed in the last 10 days of voting when we had about 1,000 votes.”

BOARD MEMBERS said they are relieved that the governing documents have passed and won’t be forced to start all over or worse, forced to consider budget cuts.

Instead, the RA Board can now turn its attention to more immediate issues. But the board is not through with governing documents-related issues. In the next few months, the board will have to revise its resolutions, which are regulations and rules based on the old governing documents.

Members, who were bombarded with mailings and flyers on the governing documents, have not seen the last of referendums. Sometime this year, RA staff expects to prepare and send out a referendum to decide whether or not to authorize the purchase of a headquarters, which has been an issue of concern for some time.