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Letter: Rules of Civic Involvement

The freshwater marsh in the Potomac River in Mount Vernon, near the mouth of Little Hunting Creek.

The freshwater marsh in the Potomac River in Mount Vernon, near the mouth of Little Hunting Creek. Photo by Jay Spiegel

— To the Editor:

As I had hoped, on July 11, the Park Authority Board unanimously approved establishing the interim use off-leash dog area (OLDA) at Westgrove Park. Today (July 19), the Planning Commission will vote on whether the OLDA comports with the Comprehensive Plan. I am optimistic the vote will be favorable for the OLDA. Only time will tell.

After lengthy experience in the civic arena in Mount Vernon, I have come to realize that there are two distinct and diverse notions of civic involvement in our community. My version of civic involvement includes the following aspects:

(1) Entities that hold themselves out as representing a group of citizens or an entity such as a park are legally incorporated in Virginia, enact bylaws, and follow them.

(2) In accordance with Virginia law, those entities hold their meetings in public and notify the public so that citizens can attend those meetings. Those entities welcome comments from citizens who attend their meetings even if those citizens are not members of the entity, and those comments are seriously taken into account.

(3) Representatives to those entities from communities are well-versed in the views of their respective communities and take positions in concert with the views of those communities, not their own personal views.

(4) If such entities conclude that certain bylaw provisions require changes, they follow the bylaws in amending them and, until that occurs, they strictly abide by those bylaws.

(5) When advocates for a particular position concerning an issue wish to meet with a politician or other government official to advocate for their position, people representing all sides of the issue are invited to attend so that the official with whom they are meeting can engage both sides in a discussion that hopefully will lead to compromise or resolution of the issues.

(6) Politicians and government officials refrain from meeting with people on one side of an issue and encourage dialogue between those asserting opposing views.

My vision of civic involvement is shared by those members of the civic community whom I respect even under circumstances where my views on particular issues diverge from theirs. To their credit, Supervisor Hyland and Planning Commissioner Flanagan operate in concert with items (5) and (6) above.

Unfortunately, as a whole, the civic community in Mount Vernon doesn't operate in concert with my notion of civic involvement. A small group of extremists operates behind the scenes, using persistence and political influence, and in the case of the MVCCA operates not in concert with items (1) - (4) above.

Meanwhile, in my continuing series, the accompanying photo shows the freshwater marsh in the Potomac River in Mount Vernon, near the mouth of Little Hunting Creek.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon