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Votes

Letter: How a Volunteer Committee Works

To the Editor:

This letter to the editor is in response to H. Jay Spiegel’s commentary concerning the sewer resolution passed by the MVCCA during its December 2011 general membership meeting.

Mr. Spiegel does raise a good point about not reporting member association’s attendance for Consumer Affairs committee (COAF) meetings. However, there is no requirement to publish the list of attending member associations although it would be a good idea in order to eliminate any scrutiny by those who do not attend COAF meetings.

Mr. Spiegel is also correct about the MVCCA requirement to have a quorum particularly in order to pass a resolution in committee. COAF did in fact meet the MVCCA requirement for a quorum that passed the sewer resolution. I would be happy to share the names of the attending associations since I do maintain a list in the event of a “challenge” that could nullify any meaningful action by committee such as a resolution. Mr. Spiegel did not and has not ever attended a COAF meeting — teleconference or at a physical location.

There is nothing underhanded or anything mysteriously going on in the COAF meetings as Mr. Spiegel alludes. All meetings, when held and regardless of method, are open to the public. As Mr. Spiegel states, the conference telephone number and passcode is published in the MVCCA’s newsletter, the Record, which is posted on its website — www.mvcca.org. The number and passcode is also sent to a list of individuals on the COAF e-mail distribution list. Some are not official members designated by their association president. It does not matter because they are a part of the “public.” Names are removed when requested.

Mr. Spiegel fails to mention that as a cost-saving measure, the MVCCA no longer mail its monthly newsletter, the Record, to member associations unless the requestor pays a hefty fee. This action was approved by the member associations a few years ago. In fact, anyone who attends the MVCCA general membership meetings must bring their own copy of the Record that they print from their own computer to the meetings. Otherwise, attendees use their laptops, handheld devices or ask to share a hardcopy with a fellow attendee. Hard copies are hard to come by. With another postage rate increase that went into effect on Jan. 22, there’s no way the MVCCA would revert to mailing the Record again.

By this time, I’m certain Mr. Spiegel is aware that I’m not like all the other MVCCA committee chairs.

The other committee chairs do not use teleconferencing but wear out the use of other information technology devices/tools such as e-mail to communicate committee business to include decisions pertaining to resolutions. Just because COAF is thinking out of its box, what’s the problem for not holding meetings in a brick and mortar building particularly if the regular member association representatives voted to do so and there’s no conflict with MVCCA bylaws? To paraphrase one member association representative statements when the committee agreed to teleconferencing — we are taking vehicles off the roadway, making better use of our time and able to hold meetings regardless of the weather. Another member representative welcomed teleconferencing because it minimizes conflicts with family obligations and volunteering. Overall, teleconferencing is a good fit for today’s schedules.

However, it should be duly noted that teleconferencing is not used to vote on resolutions. We are required to meet and vote in a “physical location.” COAF has not and will not violate that requirement.

Did it occur to Mr. Spiegel that perhaps for that one particular joint committee meeting with E&R that other committee members were not available to attend because it was not on COAF’s regularly scheduled committee meeting night? There is something called a conflict with schedules. Or that since it was a joint meeting that certain member associations saw no need to have more than one representative attend? As chair of COAF, it was my responsibility to attend and report back to the committee about the meeting which was about litter and trash in case the committee had questions. I was also interested in that particular meeting since the topic of discussion was a part of a matter addressed by the Mount Vernon Visioning Task Force of which I was a co-chair and chair of the Environment, Parks and Recreation Committee.

Let’s not forget that the MVCCA is an all volunteer organization. You can’t merely take the “face value” for when meetings are/are not held without a meaningful analysis. It appears Mr. Spiegel did not conduct such an analysis since I was not contacted for input. This MVCCA committee chair is not often available to chair every monthly meeting and if the assigned MVCCA co-chair is not available, then there is no meeting. This MVCCA committee chair has a life outside MVCCA.

During 2011, each COAF member was asked to take on a topic for 2012. For the first COAF meeting for 2012, there were not enough member association representatives to hold the meeting. The topic was a presentation by another member association representative whose area of expertise is public utilities.

The lack of member association representatives was stated in the COAF minutes for the January 2012 Record. The lack of attendees may have been victim of timing, which was Jan. 3. Perhaps too soon after the new year.

In response to Mr. Spiegel’s comments about the sewer resolution, there has been more than one homeowner who had to obtain a zoning permit to dig up a sewer line under a public street and repair the line at his/her own expense for more than $15,000. Although Dominion offers a sewer line repair program, this service is limited to $5,000 per occurrence and does not cover full protection for paved surfaces to include restoration. Homeowners have little or no recourse if Fairfax County or the Commonwealth of Virginia employees or those working on behalf of those entities damage a sewer line while performing work under a public street. It’s hard for a homeowner to prove but by pure luck, one homeowner was able to do so. Otherwise, he would have been out of more than $25,000. It appears that other homeowners have not been so lucky.

The resolution is requesting that Fairfax County maintain the sewer line beneath a public right-of-way in the same manner as the City of Alexandria and Arlington County.

According to Fairfax County, 654 lateral repair permits were issued during 2010. Fairfax County was asked by COAF to break that number out so we could determine how many lateral repair permits were for work done within the property line. Although the question was asked on Oct. 14, 2011, we have not yet received a response from the County as of Jan. 26, 2012.

Mr. Spiegel further failed to state that Fairfax County clearly provided a disclaimer stating that the cost and number of lateral repair “estimates were very preliminary.” So, don’t put too much faith in that $15M price tag. This information was also discussed during the December 2011 MVCCA general membership meeting.

To support the resolution, the latest homeowner who experienced the problem spoke in support of the resolution. What better “supporting documentation” than to have someone who could better explain the challenges a homeowner may encounter to the MVCCA general membership? It’s what one could call firsthand knowledge and appeared to be welcomed based on the number of questions asked during the debate session for the resolution and prior to the final vote.

Another important fact is the collaboration amongst MVCCA committees. COAF began working on the sewer resolution during June 2011. A draft of the sewer resolution was provided to the Budget & Finance; Environment & Recreation and Planning & Zoning committees for review and comment. Member associations also had an opportunity to discuss the resolution within their organization prior to final preparation and submission by COAF. The MVCCA general membership took final action on the resolution during December 2011. December is normally not a high attendance month. However, that turned out to be the vote month after the resolution worked through more than one committee and discussed with outside organizations to include Fairfax County staff. Regardless of the number of member associations represented as stated by Mr. Spiegel, he refused to acknowledge that the number was in fact more than enough to have a quorum for the general membership. Not knowing the number of households represented by the 14-member associations’ representatives who attended the December 2011 general membership meeting, it is reasonable to assume that based on membership fees that those 14-member associations represented 1,050 households on the low end and 7,000-plus households on the high end.

Finally, how thoughtful and timely for Mr. Spiegel to express concern about COAF because unbeknownst to most, I submitted my resignation as chair of COAF to the MVCCA Board of Directors on Jan. 12.

However, after much discussion, I agreed to stay on a little while longer. Would Mr. Spiegel be interested in being the COAF chair or know of someone who would be interested? If so, please contact one of the MVCCA co-chairs or myself. I would be happy to make room for that individual and move on.

I’m not at a loss for being involved with community projects and don’t forget — I have a life outside MVCCA.

Queenie Cox

MVCCA COAF Committee Chair