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Letter: Behind the Message

— To the Editor:

Last Thursday, the Planning Commission approved the interim use off-leash dog area (OLDA) at Westgrove Park by a vote of 7-2-2. The opposition of a handful of community activists was overcome, mainly by the truth and logic. Most inappropriate was Martin Tillett's insinuation in a letter to the Planning Commission and in testimony that approving the OLDA was tantamount to rewarding "bad behavior." Most incredible was Glenda Booth's talking point that Westgrove Park is part of a wildlife corridor from Mount Vernon District Park to Dyke Marsh, this despite the existence of (1) Fort Hunt Road, (2) a high chain link fence completely surrounding Westgrove Park, (3) the intervening land of River Towers, (4) the four-lane George Washington Parkway, and (5) its bike path.

Last week, I explained my notion of the way civic activity should be conducted. The other notion of civic involvement in our community goes like this:

(1) Create an organization having a name that makes it sound like the organization represents a large group of people or an entity such as a park. Examples include "Friends of Quander Brook" and "Friends of Westgrove Park." Don't incorporate the entity and hold all meetings in secret.

(2) Wait until the last minute and then surface to assert your views (Friends of Westgrove Park), acting as if you represent the greater community when, in fact, you only represent a handful of citizens.

(3) At public hearings, demand the longer speaker time reserved for official organizations representing large groups even though the designated speaker only represents themselves or a handful of people.

(4) If an organization has actually been incorporated, discourage participation at meetings by non-members by refusing to let them speak. If the leaders of the organization disagree with the bylaws, don't amend them, just ignore them.

(5) Remain unconcerned that community representatives to the organization typically represent their own personal views and not the views of the communities they have been appointed to serve. Do nothing to establish accountability.

(6) Arrange secret meetings with politicians and government officials to privately lobby them to support your position without notifying those having opposing views.

The portion of the vision described in paragraphs (4) and (5) above is a good description of the way the MVCCA now operates and paragraphs (1), (2), (3) and (6) the way certain civic activists typically operate in the civic arena. The MVCCA typically ignores bylaw provisions its current leaders don't like including, among others, (1) the provision requiring that notice be given to its members prior to election of committee chairs, and (2) the conflict of interest provision of Article VI, paragraph 6, that precludes committee chairs from also being candidates for or serving in policy determining positions in the county.

Martin Tillett of the unincorporated "Friends of Quander Brook" and Glenda Booth and Mary Jo Detwiler of the unincorporated "Friends of Westgrove Park" privately lobbied several members of the Park Authority Board seeking to derail the proposed off-leash dog area (OLDA) at Westgrove Park. This tactic was rewarded when the Park Authority Board unanimously voted to support the OLDA. I wonder if these community activists have learned a lesson from this episode.

Presumably, caring members of our community prefer my notion of civic involvement over that which is described above. The key to ensuring that the first version prevails lies in the office of Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland. If he refuses to lend credence to organizations and individuals who operate in the manner described above, the latter version will wither up and die on the vine.

I urge Supervisor Hyland to more closely scrutinize the messenger when considering the message. Organizations that are unincorporated, meet in secret, and don't involve members of the public in their deliberations should be accorded absolutely zero credibility. Umbrella organizations such as the MVCCA that don't abide by their own bylaws , don't require accountability to member associations, and limit non-member input into their deliberations should have their influence limited accordingly. Unless Supervisor Hyland takes these steps, the loudest, most persistent, most extreme voices, not the most reasonable, representative voices, will continue to have influence out of proportion to the way it should be.

Enjoy the accompanying photo of the freshwater marsh on the Potomac River at Mason Neck.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon