News and notes from Reston (tm).

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Democracy in action

The four candidates for the RA board squared off for the first time earlier this week, and the heated debate was blistering, full of catchy jibes like "Change you can Xerox" and "Yes we can."

Actually, not so much. Instead, folks talked about newcomer nights and indoor tennis facilities.

Four candidates are running for two seats; Cheryl Beamer is running for reelection against John Bowman for the Hunters Woods/Dogwood position and Richard Chew is running against Barbara Zicari for the At-Large seat being vacated by Bill Keefe.
So who's for hope, and who's for change? We're not sure, but there was some interesting discussion about transparency.
Two questions asked at Monday night’s forum for Reston Association (RA) Board candidates related to the board’s work behind closed doors.
Forum moderator Robert Goudie, member of the forum organizer Alliance of Reston Clusters and Homeowners (ARCH), asked when the candidates felt it was appropriate for the board to hold executive sessions.

"It sends the wrong message to the members," said Richard Chew, candidate for an At-large representative. Chew’s opponent Barbara Zicari said she did not think the executive sessions are held with ill intent. All board members are dedicated volunteers and if she is elected she would be "most interested in being honest with people I am representing."

John Bowman, challenger for the Hunters Woods/Dogwood seat, said a specific reason should be given when an executive session is called. He said he understood that certain issues need discussions behind closed doors, but that the directors should also go on record with their opinions about what was discussed when they reassemble for the vote, which has to be conducted in an open session. "We just need to be careful how we send the message," said Bowman.

"The RA shoots itself in the foot when it appears to be hiding something and it isn’t," said Cheryl Beamer, the Hunters Woods/Dogwood incumbent. For example, she said, she could not understand why discussions about RA headquarters do not take place in the open session.
There was also some talk about something having to do with the Nature Center and staffing and... oh, where are the sound bite-worthy jibes?
While the general perception was that RA is performing its job well, the forum suggested communication with members could be improved. Bowman said there is a perception in the community that there is a need for more open governance from RA.

"A casual [RA] member who wants to learn more about how we arrived at a decision will find a daunting challenge" in an attempt to find supporting documents and history of an issue or a decision, said Bowman. He called the lack of readily available supporting documents for members who are not actively involved in the decision-making process "passive disenfranchisement." He said the Association should be proactive in communicating its decisions and intentions to the members.

Robin Smyers, the RA vice president, asked the candidates how they would seek to improve RA’s communications. Bowman said he is a big believer in technology, which could help members find relevant artifact documents for decisions that took place two years ago, or even a month ago.
Is he talking about the Internets? That's pretty cutting edge, especially with the Sprints and the AOLs and whatnot all fleeing. Who's going to help set up that series of tubes for us simple folks so we can read 20-page impact studies from the comfort of our mauve-colored homes?

Anyhoo, two more forums will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at 7 p.m. at RA headquarters at Isaac Newton Square and on Wednesday, March 19 at 7 p.m. at the Reston Community Center at Hunters Woods.

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