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Bridge Building Exercise

RCC Board conducts annual conference last Saturday.

Recently, the Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors has had a hard time agreeing on anything.

At the board’s all-day annual conference Saturday, Jan. 7, the meeting’s facilitator advised board members to “disagree constructively” and to focus on issues, not positions.

To help guide the informal discussion during the conference, RCC hired the facilitator, Larry Beyna, a senior associate with Management Systems International, to navigate the board through broad questions about the direction of RCC and ways to improve programming and efficiency. Incidentally, Beyna also served 12 years as mayor of Cheverly, Md., another planned community.

While it’s clear that the board members will continue to disagree, it’s unclear whether they’ll do so constructively.

LAST OCTOBER, the people of Small Tax District 5 elected four new people to the Board of Governors. Running as an anti-tax slate, the new members included Mary Buff, Kevin Deasy, George Lawton and Peter von zur Muehlen. Teaming with incumbent board member Joseph Lombardo, the slate gained a majority on the board and has suggested that it will decrease the tax rate, which is currently set at 5.5 cents per $100 assessed value.

Bill Bouie, Beverly Cosham, Roger Lowen and Terry Smith — all aligned with the Alliance for a Better Community — make up the remaining incumbent board members who now find that they represent a minority opposition on the board.

In the coming months, the group will continue to grapple with several significant policy issues, some of which were brought up by tax district residents who attended the conference.

In opening remarks at the conference, Lombardo, the board chairman, emphasized that the event was an opportunity for board members to have an informal discussion, not vote on issues. “Anything we discuss today should not be construed as a position by the board,” said Lombardo.

Lombardo also addressed a rumor that was going around that the board might make a change to the fees associated with historic users. “There is no action before the board that would affect those users,” said Lombardo. “If it came before the board, I would demand that we hold public hearings.”

But several of the 15 attendees at the conference wanted their voices heard anyway. Some members of Reston Chorale told the board that no changes should be made to historic user fees.

“I’m very concerned about this institution that has grown from something very small to something very wonderful,” said Ruth Overton, a member of Reston Chorale and former board member who lost her bid for re-election in October.

However, if the anti-tax slate majority on the board pursues a reduction in the tax rate, program cuts or user fee increases may also be on the horizon.

JoAnn Norton voiced her opposition to a reduction in the tax rate. “Can you even maintain the building at 2 cents?” asked JoAnn Norton. “I just adore all the programs. I’d hate to see that changed.”

The suggestion to reduce the tax rate has also angered many others in the community.

ON NUMEROUS occasions, Lombardo has compared the tax rate of the RCC with other county-run community centers, pointing out that the RCC’s rate is more. Some in the community, however, have argued that the comparison is flawed.

“I’m generally concerned because the day after the election it seemed that we were dealing with people who didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Robert E. Simon, founder of Reston. “It’s ludicrous to be comparing this particular community center with other community centers the county is running.”

Joe Stowers, one of Reston’s first residents, also had concerns about any effort that would scale back the program reach of the community center. “It seems you want to turn this into a rec center and that simply won’t work,” Stowers said. “That’s not what we came here for. We want [the community center] to be an ever and ever better place with better and better programs.”

Several other people threw in their support with Stowers or echoed his statement.

“I’m concerned about anything that would compromise what the community center would become,” said Cathy Vivona.

The original annual conference location was scheduled for the Airlie Center in Manassas, but was changed to the Hyatt Regency at Reston Town Center. Lombardo, who suggested the change, argued in November that the Airlie location was expensive and would be inaccessible to the people of the tax district.