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Letter: Expand Use of Sworn Testimony

August is a good month to take a step back and think about what improvements can be made in the discourse occurring in the civic arena. In August, the Board of Supervisors (BOS), Planning Commission (PC), Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), and Park Authority (FCPA) are all in recess along with the MVCCA.

Last week, my letter mentioned that community activist Glenda Booth had stood up before more than 100 attendees at the Master Planning Meeting for Westgrove Park and represented that she was there on behalf of the Friends of Dyke Marsh (FODM) and "the 5,000 members of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia" (ASNV) to oppose the proposed off-leash dog area (OLDA) at Westgrove Park. I explained that I subsequently contacted the president of ASNV (whose name is Terrence Liercke) who informed me that "ASNV has taken no official written position on the issue."

This is not the first time Glenda Booth has misrepresented who she speaks for in an effort to leverage her personal views to make it look like they are shared by a significant constituency. On April 11, 2011, Ms. Booth corresponded with the FCPA to state opposition for the proposed OLDA. In so doing, she claimed her comments were made in representation of fully 15 organizations and additional individuals. Among the claimed organizations was "River Towers Condominium."

Several months later, I contacted the president of the Board of Directors of River Towers Condominium Association and he informed me that they had never taken up the OLDA issue as an agenda item at any of their meetings. Thus, Ms. Booth's representation in April 2011 that she was taking a position on behalf of "River Towers Condominium" was false. They hadn't taken a position.

These examples point out a significant problem in the civic arena, that of activists who take extreme positions on issues, way out of the mainstream of community thought, and seek to make it appear that those views are in the mainstream by falsely claiming that their views are shared by numerous organizations and people. This practice must be stopped.

People appearing before the BZA are required to swear that their testimony will be true under penalty of perjury. This procedure is not followed by the BOS, PC or FCPA. Perhaps, to make sure representations made by witnesses are true, the process employed by the BZA should be employed by other boards, authorities and commissions. Additionally, people who provide written statements should be required to attest to the truthfulness of their statements under penalty of perjury. These small steps would go a long way toward ensuring that civic discourse is honest and ethical. The MVCCA is to be commended for only taking public positions based upon enacted resolutions. They could enhance their credibility by taking steps to ensure that community representatives take positions in concert with the views of their respective communities rather than asserting their personal views.

It is unfortunate that the vast majority of citizens might have to be inconvenienced by a new procedure to prevent a small minority of activists from obtaining undue influence in the civic arena. However, the minor inconvenience is surely better than permitting community decisions to be improperly influenced by inappropriate behavior.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon