Power to the Citizens

Power to the Citizens

Part One: Mount Vernon Community Citizens Association

Behind every great community is a group of hard working, dedicated citizens who vow to continue to make their community even greater. The Mount Vernon Community Citizens Association (MVCCA) is no exception.

Elections were held last November for the MVCCA. The new co-chairs are Errol Bergsagel, Al Bornmann and Mack B. Rhoades, Jr., PhD. Chris Granger continues to serve as secretary and Phyllis Evans has taken over as treasurer. Dave Bolte will continue as editor of "The Record."

The Mount Vernon Council of Citizens' Associations, Inc., commonly referred to as MVCCA, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of citizens' associations in the Mount Vernon Magisterial District. Included in the organization are citizens' associations, civic associations, community associations, property owners' association, homeowners' association, and condominium unit owners' association.

Every citizens' association in the Mount Vernon Magisterial District is eligible for membership provided the association is organized and operated for nonpartisan civic activity and no substantial part of its objective is the promotion of commercial enterprise. A member association must represent at least 10 housing units.

According to Bergsagel, there are about 90 groups that are eligible to join; approximately 73 of them are members. The presidents of the association or other authorized representatives of the member associations constitute the MVCCA General Council. They represent the group and has one vote each on resolutions. The General Council elects the MVCCA officers and must approve the co-chairs' appointments of committee chairs. Leadership and administration is vested in three co-chairs.

BERGSAGEL, WHO'S SERVING his second term as co-chair, likes the idea of having co-chairs.

"It's a good system, everything has to be agreed to by all three [co-chairs]."

Each association is also asked to identify one person for each of the eight standing committees, which are: Budget and Finance, Consumer Affairs, Education, Environment and Recreation, Health and Human Services, Planning and Zoning, Public Safety and Transportation.

The Council takes positions on issues of concern to its members, which it presents to Mount Vernon's elected representatives and government entities including the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, School Board, and Planning Commission as well as the Virginia General Assembly and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Positions on issues and other matters of interest to member associations are proposed by the committees, usually in the form of a resolution, reviewed by the Board of Directors, and submitted to the General Council for approval. The General Council usually meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month (except August), in the auditorium of Walt Whitman Middle School. Committees usually meet during the first week of the month. All meetings are open to the public. The proceedings of the General Council and committees, as well as the schedule of upcoming meetings, are published in the Mount Vernon Council's "Record," which is available by subscription and in the Sherwood Regional Library.

The bylaws state: "The purpose of the Mount Vernon Council is to represent and promote the interests of its member associations and to further the common good and general welfare of the residents of the Mount Vernon Magisterial District."

CO-CHAIR MACK RHOADES, JR., served as the treasurer last year. As he takes over the helm, he reflected on what he hopes to accomplish during the year.

"I think that the Council is dealing with more quality of life issues and that will increase substantially in the next year. The Council really came together and has spoken with a unified voice on Mount Vernon Hospital. That issue is ongoing and the Council will be working with Inova and Supervisor [Gerald] Hyland over the coming year.

"I have heard that there will be many land use issues that will come before the Council during 2004. Development is no longer just a planning and zoning issue. It cuts across several committee areas of the Council. I am happy to say that our Planning and Zoning, Environment and Recreation, and Transportation Committee chairs have agreed to work together on issues that come before them that impact these areas. Increased development affects quality of life for our residents," said Rhoades.

"I do not want to see Mount Vernon or Fairfax County for that matter, become like the City of Alexandria which has been, and continues to build on every open space. They continue to build in areas where the roads cannot handle the increased traffic, and where there is no space for road expansion. As President of Huntington, I have found them to be less than cooperative neighbors.

"With the forthcoming search for a new school superintendent, I feel strongly that the candidates should include those with inner city experience and/or experience with the demographics that we have in the Mount Vernon schools. It would be good if she/he had a record of accomplishment in similar issues that confront us in our schools.

"A hands-on kind of person. I am looking forward to working with Dan Storck [School Board representative from Mount Vernon] and our Education Committee in that process. Dan knows the needs of our kids and I think he will continue the good work of Isis Castro."

Rhoades added, "I am also happy that the Council and the South County Federation [formerly Lorton Federation] have agreed to meet and workout details for a working relationship. The Federation's President-elect Tina Pettis, came to our last Council meeting and she met with me and other Council members. She and I will be meeting again and I am excited about forging a new friendship with Tina and the Federation.

"I think it served me well by being treasurer for the Council this last year. I was able to work with Pat [Rea], Errol and Queenie [Cox] and learned a lot. I learned a lot from Jack Knowles and we all continue to miss him. Since the Council has three co-chairs, I am excited to be working with Errol and Al over the next year. The thing I really admired about the co-chairs that I observed over the past year is that there were very few disagreements, and when there were, everyone had the opportunity to voice their opinion, and everyone was included in the decision process. The three of us have unique experiences and abilities and I think we will work well together. I know that Al, Errol, and I are committed to the best interests of Mount Vernon and all our residents."

THIS IS AL BORNMANN'S first term as co-chair. He explained that each co-chair is responsible for serving as a liaison for three of the subcommittees. His jobs are working with the budget and safety committees; he is also the liaison for the annual gala which is scheduled for April 24.

"I'm looking forward to it [serving on the board]. My goal is to get more people to attend and more associations represented," said Bornmann.

Another one of his goals is to have harmony among the neighborhoods and pull the community, not just individual interests, together. In particular, he wants to work with the South County Federation. While some of the associations still belong to MVCCA, they also belong to this new group which was created recently when members felt like they weren't being represented adequately by the MVCCA. One of the things that Bornmann is working on is trying to bring the two groups back together.

Bornmann likes the influence that MVCCA wields, and said, "Gerry Hyland and the county listen to what we say. The safety stuff is much better because of things we've recommended, like safety bumps. We play an active role in what's going on with the county budget. It's a way to give people a voice, in a smaller group."

Pat Rea, former co-chair, agreed and said, "We can bring a lot of information to the table; we have such an outstanding network through the committees. We work closely with [Gerry] Hyland and he respects what MVCCA does. We have the institutional memory. We try to take position on issues, having the insight and the representation of the associations. I don't know of any other group that has the clout that do—we have the ear of politicians and businesses."

Rea said that officials don't always take heed of what the council recommends. One example of that is when the consumer affairs committee recommended that Virginia delay their attempt to deregulate the power industry; that recommendation was ignored and Virginia is going ahead with the process.

Rea believes that the same three issues are always at the forefront: public safety, education and transportation. These are followed closely by budget and finance concerns.

"The property tax issues are important every year," Rea said.

Bergsagel agrees that the above issues are key and elaborated on the transportation issues, saying that it includes the Route 1 Corridor Transportation issues, including pedestrian safety, interchanges and community business centers (CBC). He said that the status of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital is a key issue as well. Bergsagel believes that the council plays an important role in shaping the future and because of his association with the council has been invited to work with the transportation committee on the Kings Crossing Plan. "I get to speak as somebody representing over 70 associations," said Bergsagel.

PHYLLIS EVANS GOT involved with the association a few years ago when she was trying to sell her house to a developer.

"I was going to all these planning and commission meetings—there was a lot I needed to know," she said. Before long she became vice-president of the Huntington Association and then joined MVCCA; now she's the treasurer.

Evans said, "I didn't know about MVCCA until a few years ago. People want to know about things, but don't know what to do. We need to get more people involved. The people who do this are wonderful, they're there for the betterment of the whole community, not just private interests. They may not always agree, but it's nice that people can work together."

Rea said that all meetings are open to the public, but that participation of visitors is up to the presider. Some of this is due to time constraints; the monthly meetings are packed full of reports by board members and committee chairs. One can learn quite a lot just from sitting in on the meetings. Topics can vary from the closing of Inova Mount Vernon Hospital to airport noise to the Lorton Art Foundation to funding for education. Each of the eight committees has a chair who calls individual meetings with his or her committee members. They then report their findings in the Record and give a short presentation at the monthly meetings.

While the other magisterial districts also have councils, the MVCCA, which was created in 1967, is the oldest. Rea said that he believes that it is also the most active. There is also a Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations which comprises members from all the magisterial districts.

Hyland, who works closely with them, said, "MVCCA, in my opinion, is one of the finest and most effective citizens‚ associations‚ organizations in Fairfax County. They have that reputation because they are involved, organized and have a process that works. They have been able to make a difference in what government does by what positions they take."

For more information on the MVCCA, visit their website at www.mvcca.org. The General Council usually meets on the fourth Wednesday [of every month except August] at Walt Whitman Middle School. The next meeting will be Wednesday, March 24.