Upon our return Friday from a short visit with friends in St. Pete Beach, Fla., the first news I heard was not more quackery or the latest mad musings from the White House. Instead, we were greeted with a video of community volunteers Moira Callaghan and Jill Gallagher presenting their investigation of Reston Association’s controversial Tetra/Lake House purchase and costly rehabilitation to the RA Board meeting of Jan. 25.
Callaghan and Gallagher spent hundreds of hours of their own time delving deeper into the internal RA processes which led to the Tetra deal because they, like myself and others, were not satisfied with the limited review done by the Stoneturn consultants contracted by the former RA Board in 2016.
After the presentation, RA President Sherri Hebert said, “It blew me away!” Indeed, it was devastating – painting a picture of staggering incompetence intertwined with apparent deception by omission or commission. It is hard to fully capture it in a short column. To fully appreciate the extent of the failures, you have to hear them for yourself. Easy enough to do. Go to RA website and search for the video of the Jan. 25 meeting. Then sit back and try to stay calm.
The Callaghan and Gallagher presentation traces RA actions from first off-the-record conversations with the Tetra owner to property valuation, referendum, sale and the subsequent “deferred maintenance” and remodeling of the Tetra-now-Lake House structure. Their research covered available public records, including all Reston Association and Fairfax County records. And, they were careful to note that RA staff had been cooperative and responsive to all their requests for records, but in many cases records were woefully inadequate. That is, important, essential documents did not exist, such as contracts or records of executive sessions.
Here are a few examples of the systemic failures and other issues reported:
- staff failed to make the Board aware of negotiations for possible purchase and it appears that Board members (2014-2016) for the most part showed a startling lack of curiosity, failed to ask obvious questions;
- the Tetra appraisal was overestimated, apparently based on a false assumption about use as a restaurant which had been previously denied by the County;
- important facts were either left out of the referendum document or misstated;
- the CFO, who was left out of key steps in negotiation and appraisal, and contract lawyer warned that property was greatly overpriced, but they were ignored;
- the CFO warned projected income for RA use of the property was wildly overstated;
- contracts for work on deferred maintenance and remodeling were not completed and in some cases not signed until work had been underway for months, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars;
- possible conflict of interest in contractor selection;
- the CFO was left out of contracts’ clearance process;
- several contracts signed for construction management, some for the same work;
- several jobs done apparently with no contracts at all;
Now, the ball is in the RA Board’s hands for action. The first action the Board should take is to profoundly thank Ms. Callaghan and Ms. Gallagher for a tremendous effort and for clarifying a muddled record and providing a guide for procedural improvements sorely needed to protect membership interests.
Second, while this Board (with the exception of Ms. Bitzer and the soon-to-depart Mr. Sanio) was not present when the failures occurred and has already begun reforms, this Board must continue reforms using the report as a guide.
Lastly, the Board must review the actions of staff as documented in the Callaghan/Gallagher report and determine if their failures warrant administrative actions.