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Labor Site Loses Funding

New operator solicitations, comments of vice mayor cited as basis for decision.

The Town of Herndon saw the atmosphere of its search for a new day labor site operator alter drastically after Fairfax County announced Friday that it will terminate its contract with non-profit organization Reston Interfaith to operate the Herndon Official Workers Center by Sept. 6.

The news of the pending termination was delivered to Herndon interim town manager Art Anselene in a letter from county executive Anthony Griffin dated Aug. 3. The move was an "administrative decision" made by Griffin, Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly, Supervisor Joan DuBois (R-Dranesville) and county staff member Dave Ellis, according to DuBois.

"The town has repeatedly attempted to find a new operator, and we knew, based on what they were saying, that it would not be Reston Interfaith," said DuBois in a phone interview Monday. "So, it was either pull the plug now, or pull it in a month."

Herndon’s Town Council is set to review the Herndon Official Workers Center operating permit at an Aug. 14 public hearing, ahead of its Sept. 15 expiration. Town officials will review a permit application that would allow for both Reston Interfaith and a potential new operator to manage the site over the next year at that hearing.

"What hubris, what arrogance," Husch said upon learning of the cancellation. "Once again, [county officials] take a unilateral action without any correspondence with the town."

THE COUNTY LETTER cites Herndon's repeated attempts to secure a new operator for the day labor site and comments made by Husch in a July 12 e-mail to Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell as the basis for its decision.

The county would terminate the contract "based on recent public comments from members of the Herndon Town Council accusing the County of interfering with the Town's sovereignty and the Town Council's own solicitation for services outside of the county's existing contractual relationship," the letter read.

Husch’s e-mail came as a result of Fairfax County’s renewal of approximately $175,000 in annual funding to Reston Interfaith in June to operate the site.

"Fairfax County’s transfer of public funds to Reston Interfaith for operation of the day worker hiring site has outraged the citizens of Herndon," Husch wrote in the e-mail. "Fairfax County has violated the sovereignty of the Town of Herndon and interfered with the citizen’s right to pursue acceptable solutions to local issues."

DUBOIS SAID that it was that e-mail and Husch’s subsequent publicized insistence that she "lied" when she said that she met with Anselene and Herndon Mayor Steve DeBenedittis to discuss the future of the contract before it was extended that ultimately led to its termination.

"When you have a letter from a Herndon Town Council member to the attorney general accusing the county of impeding on the town’s sovereignty that is signed by the vice mayor, that rings a bell," DuBois said.

Husch said his e-mail was meant to chastise the procedure of the contract’s renewal.

"I objected to the way that it was done," he said. "My complaint was that this was a unilateral action made that affects Herndon without any communication with the Town Council."

The Town Council failed to clearly communicate its intentions with the site with the county despite repeated attempts, DuBois said.

"Communication is a two-way street, and I’ve always communicated with the town very closely on issues that pertain to both them and the county," she said. "The Town Council has been conspicuously quiet about this issue, and if the Town Council refuses to communicate with me about this, I don’t know what else to do."

"Every action they take is against" the current operation of the day labor site, DuBois said. "When I try to help the town by extending the contract, I get blasted for it, so I did what I did."

"Some serious decision-making about how the town is going to handle the day labor site needs to be done, and so far, I don’t think they’ve done that in good faith."

THE DAY LABOR site will continue operations as normal until at least Sept. 15, when its two-year permit with the Town of Herndon expires, according to Kerrie Wilson, CEO of Reston Interfaith. She added that she was not sure if the organization could continue its operations further than that in the absence of the county funding.

"The Town Council has made their intentions very clear to us that they do not want to continue to operate, and we have always wanted this transition [to a new operator] to be as smooth as possible," Wilson said. "It’s obvious that the town wants a new plan and they seem to have one in place, so until we speak with the Town Council, I’m not ready to say what we would be doing."

In an email, DeBenedittis said that the town regrets the decision made by the county.

"It would be much more productive if we were all able to work together and we remain open to working with Fairfax County," the email read. "We will take whatever steps we can to avoid the recreation of informal day labor sites in Town."

The contract is not necessarily dead; DuBois implied it could be reinstated.

"Anything is possible," she said.

Herndon's Town Council has issued three requests for proposals for a new day labor operator that would check for legal work authorization status of its users so far this year, and is currently reviewing one application from the most recent request.

Herndon passed an ordinance forbidding informal work solicitations with the creation of the Herndon Official Workers Center, which requires the presence of an organized worker-gathering site to remain legally in effect.

Reporter Julia O’Donoghue contributed to this story.