Reston The Reston Association voted to implement all recommendations the Lake
House probe suggested in an effort to put the controversy behind it.
The RA’s Board of Directors held a special meeting to discuss the report on Monday, March 20.
“This did appear to be a highly-unusual transaction and a one-off transaction, the first potentially of its kind for the association; and as a result of it, there were not past processes or procedures that the association staff could necessarily fall back on,” Deirdre Flaherty, a partner of the StoneTurn Group, said during the meeting. Her firm was hired to conduct the investigation and write the report.
To the surprise of many in the community, the report found no conflicts of interest associated with the Lake House throughout the association’s voter referendum, property acquisition or renovation.
“We found no conflict of interest, based on your policies,” Flaherty said. “There is nothing in your policy that would say that anything that has been raised as a concern by the community is actually a conflict of interest.”
Instead, the lack of written policies and procedures was blamed for the mismanagement of the Lake House project, which went over budget and yielded revenue shortfalls ever since it was purchased in July 2015 for $2.6 million.
THE REPORT notes that the RA came to this realization and attempted to remediate this problem prior to the investigation, which was conducted in February.
This remediation was the hiring of Garrett Skinner as director of a new Capital Improvement Planning and Projects Department. He began work on Monday, Jan. 9. The new department, which includes three current RA employees, took over responsibility for the oversight of the association’s capital projects.
“While there was remediation already undertaken … there is still more work to do there, primarily due to the recent hires and just the lack of resource available to get those procedures into place,” Flaherty said.
The report also found that the gathering of community input was insincere.
“The engagement of the community was occurring at a place and time after the initial assessment and budget had already been prepared,” Flaherty said. “Any time that you are seeking input on the scope of a particular project after you’ve prepared a budget, by default you’re going to be creating a disconnect between the budget and the actual work that the community group is looking to have done.”
Transparency was also a concern, as the Board of Directors used closed meetings in executive session when they could have conducted public meetings, according to the report.
Though the report cleared the RA of any intentional wrongdoing, 14 members of the public showed up at the meeting to address the board.
Some could not fathom that the Lake House project mismanagement was a mistake, but remain convinced that it was deliberate.
“We as members want to trust you,” Jill Gallagher, an RA member, said during the meeting. “We as members want you to make decisions in our favor and throughout this process, it doesn’t seem that that happened … it wasn’t one mistake, it was time after time after time that decisions were made that were not in the members’ favor.”
Gallagher told the board that it could regain its members’ trust by figuring out how to make up the money that it lost.
Others, including the Reston 20/20 Committee, demanded that the board form a working group to further investigate the situation.
“I am still scratching my head on the basic question of why Tetra [the Lake House] was ever purchased,” Tammi Petrine, co-chair of the Reston 20/20 Committee, said during the meeting.
She also asked the board why it did not negotiate on the price for the purchase of the property, which the report verifies.
Others wanted to put the controversy to rest and move on.
“There was a referendum and we all voted on it,” Michael Levrini, an RA member, said during the meeting. “You can’t blame the fact that this association didn’t listen to the community.”
THE RA BOARD of Directors voted on Thursday, March 23, to create a plan of action to implement the recommendations of the StoneTurn Group’s report. The board instructed RA CEO Cate Fulkerson and her staff to draft and develop the implementation plan for the board to consider in May, after its spring elections.
Some of the report’s recommendations include:
Policies should be established, documented and then reviewed and updated on an annual basis.
For every established policy, internal written processes should be established that identifies employees who are responsible for the processes and verifications that they have been done.
Establish a comprehensive code of conduct for both the association board of directors and staff.
Consider adopting a policy that will provide greater transparency to the considerations undertaken in executive session.
Establish a process whereby a project’s budget threshold is calculated and included in the budgeting documents.
Clarify the existing policy to provide guidance for situations where a project expands or where an estimate is found to be insufficient.
Prepare a long-term capital improvement plan and update it on an annual basis.