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Votes

Now It's the Residents' Turn

Despite dissent, RA sends proposed governing documents to voters.

After a four-year effort, the proposed governing documents, which will be decided by referendum this month, won’t have the support of the entire Reston Association Board.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the board voted 7-1 on the final language of the governing documents, which set the rules and regulations of how the association is governed.

Director Barbara Aaron (Hunters Woods/Dogwood), the lone dissenter, argued that the last minute change to the assessment cap a week earlier would place too much restraint on the financial flexibility of future boards.

“We are elected to fill a bigger hat and to look at what is right for the association in the long run,” said Aaron. “We didn’t have a lot of people come to us and say, ‘You should restrict your abilities.’”

RA President Jennifer Blackwell defended the board’s last minute decision to adopt a tighter assessment cap, formally known as the maximum assessment.

“I was one of those who felt strongly that there should not be a cap,” said Blackwell. But, she said, the board “did the right thing” by listening to member concerns and lowering the cap.

Aaron said the last minute provision would soon force future boards to make cuts to current budget items.

“Are we going to cut staff? Are we going to lose our great staff? Because this is what we’re talking about,” said Aaron.

The membership, Aaron also argued, should be given some time to consider the change. She recommended to the board that the referendum be delayed by some period of time.

The rest of the board disagreed, and instead voted, again 7-1, to send the proposed governing documents to referendum on the scheduled date, Feb. 13.

FOR SEVERAL MEMBERS, the argument over the cap during the board meeting on Jan. 18 spilled over to last week’s meeting on Jan. 26.

In April 2005 , when the board first dealt with the cap issue, it voted to do away with the cap altogether. Five months later, after some members said they would not support the documents without a cap, the board reinstituted a modified cap proposed by Director Rick Beyer.

That modified cap would have increased the estimated 2005 cap by an initial $69 from $465 to $534, and then adjust it in future years by the greater of 4 percent or the Employment Cost Index, which has averaged 3.9 percent since 1984. The one-time $69 increase was put in to account for a decision in 1991 to roll-in a $50 recreation pass fee into the assessment. The 1991 roll-in instantly reduced the cap margin by $50, which equals about $69 today after accounting for inflation.

The cap the board agreed to Jan. 18, which had been negotiated by the Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH) and Beyer, eliminated the $69 roll-in, keeping the maximum assessment at $461 and then increasing it each year by the greater of 4.5 percent or the percentage change in the Employment Cost Index.

One set of residents, agreeing with Aaron, asked the board to revive the cap that had been agreed to in September 2005, a cap that allowed the board more future financial flexibility.

“I believe it’s really important that we never have to rely on a special assessment or dipping into reserves to meet our financial responsibilities,” said Vicky Wingert, a former board member, who asked the board to revive the September agreement. “We need to be able to account for foreseen and unforeseen events.”

Reston resident John Lovaas said that many members applauded the board’s April decision to eliminate the cap, calling it “courageous.”

“But then a small minority of naysayers, some of which don’t live in RA, got organized and the board started retreating,” said Lovaas, who also asked the board to either eliminate the cap or return to the cap agreed to in September.

Some members, like Steve Cerny, felt the decision would affect the health of the association.

“I’m concerned, like everybody else, about the health of RA and the maintenance of our infrastructure and keeping our programs fully funded,” said Cerny, who wondered why RA made the last minute change. “I’d like to see that issue explained more clearly.”

Still others, like Terry Maynard, argued that the cap provision agreed to in September gave the board too much financial flexibility and needed to be changed.

ANOTHER ISSUE discussed through member and board member comments was the perceived influence ARCH had in forcing a change to the cap at the Jan. 18 meeting. The issue drew fire last week, when Barbara Aaron said she considered it blackmail when ARCH offered to support the documents only if their suggested change to the cap was made.

John Aaron came to the meeting to ask if any of the RA board members sat on the ARCH board. Every RA board member answered no. Director Joe Leighton (South Lakes) said he served as ARCH’s treasurer.

But John Aaron’s concerns were not allayed.

“My point is that anyone on this board could represent this board and ARCH. Clearly, a conflict of interest, the perception of one, is there,” said John Aaron.

A member of the ARCH issue’s committee, Vera Hannigan argued there was no conflict of interest.

“ARCH is made up of Restonians,” said Hannigan. “How could someone say we are lobbying? I’m a [Reston Association] member and I’ll speak to the [RA] board anyway I know how.”

Beyer, who worked closely with ARCH, suggested that the board listened to ARCH because its members were so active. “Every member is important. But some make themselves more important by participating in the process,” said Beyer.