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Anit-Metro Resolution Divides MCA

Proposed resolution against Phase 1 of rail creates dissent among board members.

When it comes to the drafting and approval of resolutions, the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Board of Directors has long adhered to a specific process. At last week's monthly board meeting, board member and immediate past president Susan Turner initiated a deviation from that process that resulted in an hour of debate, and the resignation of MCA Transportation committee co-chair Bill Byrnes, and Transportation committee member Rob Bates.

Turner's draft resolution was a last minute addition to the Feb. 7 board meeting agenda. Her three-page draft outlined numerous criticisms of the incoming Dulles Corridor Metrorail Silver line, and requested that local, state and federal officials reject the existing plan for the construction of Phase I of the Silver line, and consider alternative strategies for the alleviation of local traffic congestion. Turner cited numerous reasons for her request — including the project's $4 billion price tag, its projected minimal impact on the congestion of major roads in the Tysons area, and Gov. Timothy Kaine's refusal to consider the underground tunnel design for the Silver line segment that would run through Tysons Corner.

Typically, the McLean Citizens Association Board sends a community issue to a correlating subcommittee for investigation and analysis. The members of the subcommittee use their findings to draft a resolution that states an official MCA position and recommendation, and outlines supporting reasons and evidence. The subcommittee then presents the proposed draft to the entire Board of Directors at a monthly board meeting. After discussion and questions, the entire Board votes on the resolution.

TURNER'S DECISION to personally draft a resolution on Fairfax County's most significant and complex transportation project — a project which had already been granted the official support of the McLean Citizens Association 25 years ago — was met with disapproval by several other board members. Many expressed concern over the fact that her unusual procedure meant that the resolution bypassed the fact-finding subcommittee review step, and was subsequently full of questionable statements and supporting arguments.

"I think it would be extremely inappropriate for this organization to vote on this until these statements have been vetted," said board member Chris Monek.

Board member Wade Smith said that he did not see the need for a hasty vote on the matter, and also expressed his unhappiness with Turner's approach.

"I think this is a highly unusual way to act over something that is pretty darn important," said Smith.

Turner said she was compelled to take such action because she felt that the processes of the MCA Board were only serving as an obstacle to this particular issue.

"All these issues have been around for years, and our committee system has failed to address them," said Turner. "For years our organization has ignored these issues of overwhelming importance."

The advent of the Silver Metro line has raised a host of new concerns for the MCA Board about density, traffic and over-development in the Tysons Corner area, and Turner says that these concerns are precisely why the board should act quickly to rescind the approval that it gave to the project years ago.

"A lot of circumstances have changed since then, and I think it's time for the board to reconsider," she said. "We're making a huge investment, and we want to make sure that we're doing the right thing. This is going to trigger an enormous increase in density and we're triggering vastly worse traffic."

Turner also dismissed the notion that the board's previous declaration of support for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project is a prohibitive factor.

"The idea that a body of legislation cannot change its point of view is ridiculous," said Turner. "What do you think is going on in Congress right now with the war in Iraq?"

Board member John Adams agreed with Turner's assessment of the situation and said that it was time for the board to re-examine the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project in its entirety.

"It is kind of like the Iraq war in that it keeps getting worse and worse, and we don't know how to get … out of it," said Adams. "We have voted in support of this piece-meal over the years."

AFTER LENGTHY debate and discussion, the board ultimately decided to create an ad hoc subcommittee that will use the next month to check the resolution for accuracy and make any necessary adjustments. Then, the resolution will come before the board at its next monthly meeting in March. However, on Thursday, Feb. 8, Transportation committee co-chair Bill Byrnes submitted a letter of resignation to McLean Citizens Association president Tom Brock. In it, Byrnes said he was "deeply concerned" by Turner's draft resolution, and criticized its failure to "even take the responsible step of proposing an alternative."

"Perhaps this is in recognition of the fact that every real alternative was already considered in the voluminous studies over the past 10 years and rejected for good reason, and that realistically, any new proposal would likely at best take many years of arduous detailed proceedings," wrote Byrnes.

Byrnes also noted his concern that the resolution would damage the credibility of the McLean Citizens Association.

"The MCA has supported rail steadfastly for several decades, and just as elected officials are about to give the MCA what it has wanted, it is now considering a 180-degree change it its position," said Byrnes.

Byrnes cited the board's decision to bypass review of the resolution by the Transportation committee as his primary reason for resigning.

"The committee has studied Dulles Rail intensively for many years in order to provide the MCA Board with knowledgeable recommendations," wrote Byrnes. "To be bypassed totally on a matter within its expertise is a grave rebuke to the committee, as well as to the Board members who in the past supported its recommendations."

Byrnes said he was sorry to end his 35 years of involvement with the McLean Citizens Association on a negative note, but he simply could not continue in his role after the previous evening's happenings. Just a few days later, Transportation committee member Rob Bates submitted a letter stating his withdrawal from the committee.

"I believe that the board as a whole has done a great disservice to the MCA membership and the citizens of McLean by effectively passing a vote of no confidence in the Transportation committee members and its leadership," wrote Bates.

He added that the situation could have been avoided had the normal draft resolution procedure been followed.

"I am sure that matters might have been different if the executive committee had followed the normal procedures in the case of this resolution, or at least extended the courtesy of forewarning the Transportation committee co-chairmen about its existence," said Bates.

The draft resolution recommending reconsideration of the Dulles Corridor Metroline Phase I plan will be voted on at the March 7 MCA Board of Directors meeting.