What is going on at the Reston Association? There is a lot of confusion in the community as a result of the recent turmoil following changes at the top among both professional staff and the Board of Directors. From here, it appears that the organization is on the right track with a couple of moves and critically needed internal reforms during the presidency of Sherri Hebert. Further progress will hinge on filling key positions and on the performance of new people in the organization.
Here’s what I mean.
The first key personnel change was the removal of CEO Cate Fulkerson, who couldn’t recover from the disaster of the Tetra/Lake House acquisition and rehab and the deterioration of management and financial systems during that time.
Also, the Board moved forward to hire a broad-gauged in-house attorney (Anthony Champ) at a reasonable 6-figure salary, presumably to replace RA’s high priced band of external lawyers. In my view, RA has way overspent on outside legal services — to the tune of $700,000 - 800,000 range per year, and has little to show for it.
The Board must finish the job. It should unload the external attorneys who amount to glorified debt collectors and sketchy land-use legal services. Now that Sherri has stepped aside as President, new President David Bobzien, himself an attorney (former Fairfax County Attorney), needs to lead in wielding a scalpel, better an axe, in this area.
The just announced departure of Chief Financial Officer Robert Woods, a change set in motion before the CEO’s removal, is a blow. Woods is an experienced, skilled CFO and was a vital cog in the financial system reform.
Fortunately, Sridhar Ganesan, now Board Vice President, has similar strengths and can help fill in until a new CFO is brought aboard. It was Ganesan who engineered both RA’s historic assessment reduction and paying off of the Lake House debt.
The restructuring of a weak Fiscal Committee now led by Board member/ Treasurer Eric Carr further strengthens financial management. The relocation of Victoria White, the Hunters Woods Board rep, was also a blow to reforms. The Board needs to move quickly to fill that vacancy with a quality replacement.
Overall, the Board majority that emerged just over one year ago has made substantial progress in repairing the failed financial and administrative management of RA. Besides the progress in restoring financial controls and getting out from under the Tetra/Lake House debt overhang, the Hebert-led Board has moved to regularize RA’s contracting procedures. These procedures worked efficiently back when I served on the Board, but failed completely during the Tetra acquisition and rehab period. Hopefully, now we will see competitive bidding restored as the absolute norm it once was. The Board has also instituted a constructive Whistleblower policy, a step toward restored transparency.
Not everything is moving so smoothly however.
The long-delayed process of adopting straightforward ethics policies and procedures started under the prior Board is still hung up in the new Board. The lack of an effective conflict of interest reporting became a real problem in the last few years. The new Board majority vowed to complete and install a new straightforward policy with teeth. This still has not been completed. Progress in this area will be one more test to see if Mr. Bobzien can continue the forward movement begun a year ago.
The other keys to reforming and reinvigorating Reston Association besides the performance of a new President and replacement of Mr. Woods and Ms. White will be the performance of newly elected Board members Andy Sigle (1 year At-Large seat) and Ven Iyer (At-Large). Andy is an experienced candidate and has served one Board term previously while Ven is brand new and still learning the ropes.
All in all, I am optimistic the new RA team will be successful in restoring management and financial systems and improving efficiency and cost reductions! We will return to this subject in the months ahead.