News and notes from Reston (tm).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Brown's Chapel Rec Center: For the Record

Reston Association President Robin Smyers has responded to recent blog posts and comments about the $65 million rec center proposed for Brown's Chapel Park. Below is her unedited response:

Dear Restonian,

Most often, we at the Reston Association avoid providing a platform for negativity. Further, since the Restonian is a blog and not written by an experienced journalist, the blog is by design, opinion and not fact.

However, we feel compelled to address the errors in your recent posting, Brown's Chapel Rec Center: A (Sort of) Shocking Revelation.

Let us state the facts.

1. No decision has been made with regard to the building of an indoor recreational facility in the Reston community.

2. There is no plan to put anything at Brown’s Chapel. That just one of many, many ideas put forth in discussions. Over the years, Reston Association has also discussed covering tennis courts, had one of our larger pools enclosed for a number of years. Anyone who attends any of the four community listening and informational sessions will see all the ideas be strongly encouraged to share their ideas.

3. We want to hear from the entire community – not just the small, vocal faction that boasts it says no to just about every forward thinking idea.

4. There will be four district meetings during June and July for the express purpose of gathering information from the community. Those meetings will be announced as soon as all the locations are confirmed.

5. The questions asked at those meetings will focus on what the community, as a whole, thinks of the idea of an indoor facility and what services and resources are needed.

6. Reston Association is in no way trying to circumvent any process that leads to garnering public opinion. This includes, but is not limited to holding a referendum.

7. In fact, RA’s General Counsel has been investigating whether a referendum would be required and as of Monday’s meeting, he had not released an official ruling. If one is required and IF we get to the point of moving ahead with an indoor recreational facility, the Reston Association would certainly welcome additional community input.

8. Anyone who looks at the promotion for the May 18, 2009 meeting will realize it was a regularly scheduled meeting of the RCC Finance Committee, with an opportunity for public input and not a “community input” meeting.

9. Monday’s meeting was held in a small room and many, many people stood outside in the hallway. Reston Association CEO Milton Matthews was among the many, many people who stood outside in the hallway. By his own words, Mr. Matthews engaged in several conversations covering many topics. “I never mentioned that I did not want to go inside the room, nor did I state that RA was looking for ways to avoid a referendum,” Matthews said.

10. Last time we checked, laser tag was an amusement and is therefore not one of the needs expressed in the many surveys of the Reston community by the county.

11. By examining the language of the Restonian, one quickly realizes there are only suppositions, opinions and hearsay presented as facts. There are many references to “someone” and “someone was told by an eye witness.” But those are not facts. Facts rely on data and first-hand accounts that are attributable to a person with a name. Facts are what we have presented here.

12. You are invited to the RA Web site and to sign up for enotices, where you can have a real voice and learn the real facts. Attend the meetings where you can engage in respectful, civil dialogue.


Robin Smyers, President
Reston Association
www.reston.org
Yes, this is a "web log" of opinion. And for the record, #10 was a joke. So, too, were previous comments about competitive hang gliding, roller derbies, and combat-style chess/knitting arenas being among the features being considered. We somehow doubt anyone took those comments seriously.

We, too, are big fans of "civility," and we're actually encouraged by Smyers' attempts to explain the RA's side of the story. But even "experienced journalists" have expressed concern about the way this process has been handled to date. So along with civility, we'd encourage transparency from all parties involved.

K? We now return you to your regularly scheduled jokes about earth-toned 60s architecture and DRB violations.

24 comments:

  1. I attended the May 18th meeting. People were angry. There was a bit of exasperation by some speakers. No one screamed. I would not categorize it as uncivil. I didn't hear any name-calling or otherwise insulting behavior. People are guaranteed free speech in this country.

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  2. "3. We want to hear from the entire community – not just the small, vocal faction that boasts it says no to just about every forward thinking idea. "

    Robyn, has it occured to you that perhaps you ARE hearing from the entire community, and there just aren't that many people who want this rec center?

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  3. I do think we should be braver about posting openly rather than anonymously...respectful dissent allows a dialogue rather than bushwack.

    That said, it is the lack of transparency and openness that makes people jump on the rumor mill.

    I kinda like that the Restonian isn't a 'professional journalist'. It's a rather fresh breath of air.

    How long before the Post picks THIS up? Dissent in the burbs? Wow...

    Good Job, Restonian

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  4. why do we need an indoor facility? we have the community center AND the Y. RA, IMO, needs to spend it money repairing and updating the facilities it already has, not creating more.

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  5. Once again Robin puts on display for all to see her arrogance and derision for anyone who dares to disagree with her or even post an excerpt from someone who disagrees with her. Talk about a lack of respect!

    Let's review her points:

    1. No decision has been made?! Really? Then why is there only ONE plan view of one site for this $65M facility. How detailed were plans that resulted in that plan view and how much was spent on them? Where are the plan views of this facility at other sites in Reston if Browns Chapel hasn't been singled out? Why spend $90k on a marketing study if no decisions have been made?

    2. If other sites are really under consideration for this facility, where are the drawings of those sites? Release those drawings, Robin, if they exist.

    3.Again with the derisive disrespectful dismissal of those who disagree with you, Robin. When is 250 people a small group? You describe them as many, many people in point 9.

    In the RA poll, 68% of respondents said there were enough recreational facilities already.

    In actuality, the small group is the cabal of wired insiders who have tried to ram this proposal through without a referendum.

    Robin wants to hear from everyone except from folks involved in baseball, that's why no one connected with baseball was on the task force that came up with this idea.

    Robin wants to hear from you so long as you agree with her.

    4. It's already 5/22. If Robin really wanted community input, instead of the appearance of community input, why is she holding meetings in the summer when folks are on vacation and enjoying the sun-lit summer evenings?

    If adequate notice of these meetings are to be given, shouldn't the time and place already be announce instead of being kept secret so that the supporters of this facility can organize.

    6. RA is not trying to circumvent any process; except the required referendum to give away its open space. What has the RA atty said about that, or are you keeping that a secret too, as you did with this proposal for months.

    7. You welcome input but won't commit to a referendum.

    8. The difference between "public input" and "community input" is what exactly, Robin?

    9.& 11 As anyone could see, Restonian was quoting the Save Browns Chapel website. Pick nits with them but they were reporting their first hand experience.

    Denigrating Restonian as not a real journalist is respectful and civil, right, Robin. You owe him and us an apology.

    12. Do sign up for Robin's propaganda and for Save Browns Chapel site for the other side of the story and come here to Restonian for the snarky humor.

    Lighten up Robin try some civil and respectful recognition that RA has had a series mishaps under your watch (Snake Den, office bldg, rec center) that have seriously damaged your credibility and RAs.

    More dismissive condescension from you toward dissenters will only sow discord in Reston.

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  6. So I will be open Robin, my name is Kevin Murphy. So this someone has a name, as do the others that were there and voiced their opinion. I stood outside the meeting door beside Milton Matthews for much of the meeting. He did say that he did not want to enter the room to hear what was being said. The conversations he engaged in were when someone approached him, he made no effort to initiate them. I was also part of the conversation where he stated that RA legal counsel was researching whether they could avoid a referendum - not something that you do if no decision is made or if you are open to holding one. He went further and described the approach of leasing the land to the county for a very long period as one way it could be achieved. Please get YOUR facts straight or if they are straight be prepared to share them openly.

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  7. Robin, the attached is an extract from RCC board minutes. It is freely available on their web site. I am sure that the 'site engineer' and those discussing the permits required need to be urgently informed of the lack of decision. They appear to be doing needless work assuming that the Brown's Chapel site has been chosen. But seriously when will you stop twisting the facts.

    Update on Task Force activities and timeline issues: Carol Ann reported that the RCC/RA Task
    Force received information from Urban Planning. She stated that there are several permits that need to be obtained. She described the conversation with RA Board Chair, Milton Matthews and Larry Butler, as being productive and involving a variety of options RCC representatives, herself, Bil l Bouie and Leila Gordon, would like the site engineer to pursue to revise the way the building and parking are located on the Brown’s Chapel RA property. The suggestions were made to eliminate all of the current Brown’s Chapel property elements (ball fields, picnic pavilion, and outdoor basketball and volleyball courts) to accommodate the size building desired on that property without going onto the adjacent property. The site engineer was also asked to put half of the planned parking underground, as thi s was estimated in the current draft of the B/D study. The expectation is that the firm will prepare a revised assessment by late March for the group to review and bring back to the respective Boards.

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  8. And Robin on April 6 your task force put out a schedule including the following:

    "May 18 RA/RCC Task Force: invite neighbors from property adjacent to Browns Chapel to discuss planning and input processes for the facility"

    So Robin "there is no plan to put anything at Brown's Chapel. That is just one of many, many ideas", your words. Yet your task force planned to meet with the neighbors there and not the other many, many places. Of course as soon as the campaign and disapproval surfaced you cancelled the meeting at the last moment.

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  9. If you build it, they will come.

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  10. The "problem" with social networking and blogging is also it's main appeal: freedom of speech. Don't be afraid of dissenting opinions. (That is what differentiates the U.S. from restrictive societies where opinions and snarky comments result in execution.) Instead, be glad that "so few" (250 attendees at the recent public input forum) or "so many" (that same 250) care enough to chime in, and that blogs like Restonian can operate to educate and entertain, depending on how and how much you read into the content.

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  11. Would Ms. Smyers be willing to promise *in writing* that there will be a referendum on this issue, and that RA is not planning to circumvent that process?

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  12. Thank you Restonian for telling it to us straight! Hell, I'm going to click on one of ads, so Google can give you some bucks.

    Keep up the good work!

    Adam

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  13. an unhappy camperMay 24, 2009 at 11:28 AM

    One of the biggest issues to come out of the meeting is Bill Bouie's role on the Joint Task Force for Indoor Recreation. Bill is also the Chairman of the Fairfax County Park Authority and Cathy Hudgins appointee. As a member of the joint task force he is proposing to fund the rec center with SD5 taxes rather than have Fairfax County pay for it and he is proposing to donate RA land to Fairfax County. This is clearly a conflict of interest. We should all email Cathy Hudgins about this at hntrmill@fairfaxcounty

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  14. an unhappy camperMay 24, 2009 at 11:30 AM

    Oops! Please email Supervisor Hudgins at:

    hntrmill@fairfaxcounty.gov

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  15. (Due to site size limitations, this post is being split into several pieces.)


    Robin,

    I have spoken to you both directly and in front of the RA and RCC boards. I have also spoken to Leila and Milton. I focus on facts and try to minimize emotion and suspicion. I must take total exception to some of your and Milton's comments, specifically:

    1. "Monday’s meeting was held in a small room and many, many people stood outside in the hallway. Reston Association CEO Milton Matthews was among the many, many people who stood outside in the hallway. By his own words, Mr. Matthews engaged in several conversations covering many topics. “I never mentioned that I did not want to go inside the room, nor did I state that RA was looking for ways to avoid a referendum,” Matthews said."

    I saw Milton leaning against the wall in the hallway and in NO way was he engaging anyone. I approached Milton and said to him, "Hi, quite a turn out! Milton, when I spoke to you last time I advised you that this issue would be a hot subject. Can you hear them in there? They are angry and feel betrayed. Milton responded to me, "I cannot hear anything. I am in the hallway and I do not intend to go into the room." I looked at him in such a way [as in you got to be kidding!] he obviously became more uncomfortable. Tell me this: How could the CEO of the RA not want to be in the room and hear what was being said by the people who live in this community of ours?? Milton, you cannot hide from what you said. I heard it clearly.

    2. "In fact, RA’s General Counsel has been investigating whether a referendum would be required and as of Monday’s meeting, he had not released an official ruling. If one is required and IF we get to the point of moving ahead with an indoor recreational facility, the Reston Association would certainly welcome additional community input."

    WHY on earth would you NOT want to have a referendum to hear the voice of all Reston and instead utilize some sort of legal loophole? Are you concerned about having the voice of the membership heard? I would be, if I were in your shoes right now! You are in a very indefensible position and this type of maneuver is just making things worse.

    3. "We want to hear from the entire community – not just the small, vocal faction that boasts it says no to just about every forward thinking idea."

    You ARE hearing from the community and your statement is insulting at best. Speaking of insulting your little quips about who is opposing this whole concept is "you and your neighbors" is so out of touch. This opposition movement is Reston-wide. Robin, maybe you need to rethink your being on the RA board. You personally have alienated more folks than both RCC and RA combined.

    4. "Reston Association is in no way trying to circumvent any process that leads to garnering public opinion. This includes, but is not limited to holding a referendum."

    If this is true why the closed session meetings with your legal counsel to look at not having to do a referendum?? You can no longer deny this as you have confirmed it now in your own blog info (item #7) and one of the other RA board members has confirmed it as well.

    5. "By examining the language of the Restonian, one quickly realizes there are only suppositions, opinions and hearsay presented as facts. There are many references to “someone” and “someone was told by an eye witness.” But those are not facts. Facts rely on data and first-hand accounts that are attributable to a person with a name. Facts are what we have presented here."

    Again, let’s alienate more folks. Most of the facts that support the opposition to the this project are coming from RCC and RA. Your own "studies" provide a wealth of info with which to criticize this project. Also, there are RA & RCC board members who are not in alignment with your positions on this matter. Please stop the arrogant and condescending comments. Again, you are only making matters worse.

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  16. 6. "No decision has been made with regard to the building of an indoor recreational facility in the Reston community."

    Oh please! There is no formal RCC/RA board vote to finalize a decision but the center has already been named (Robert E. Simon Center) by RCC/RA, you spent $92,000 on a flawed "needs study" (Why flawed?? Well for starters your focus groups/stakeholders used in the study were 100% tennis/swimming/athletic groups with NOT ONE HOMEOWNER or HOA or CA representative) to justify the rec center and you all have already been discussing specific fees for the facility use. You have a personal agenda and you intend to keep it.

    And to Leila Gordon...to quote you

    "The data assertion regarding use of a proposed indoor recreation
    facility is based on an error in the draft report from the consultant
    presented for discussion in December that inadvertently reversed the
    ratio of Reston/non-Reston use in one section of it. Had readers
    followed the report draft all the way through to the possible
    financial pro-formas they would have seen the cost and recovery data
    that is based on 70+% use by Reston, with the remainder of revenue
    derived from non-Reston users. This will be discussed in the
    presentation on June 1."

    I assure you we (including several attorneys) looked over the draft "needs" document. Now you are saying you all released a draft that is flawed and you spent $92,000 of our money on a document containing errors. Oh, please! The study in question did not support this project (financials in particular and the majority of the users not being from Reston) so now it was 'flawed information' and it will be changed. You must really be out of touch with your community and certainly someone in RCC should be held accountable for allowing a $92,000 study to be released with errors (not tiny, little typos but BIG errors!)

    "The larger room, our Jo Ann Rose Gallery, was committed to the
    monthly meeting of the Sierra Club. We tried to reach them to discuss switching rooms so more people could be comfortably accommodated, and we were unfortunately unsuccessful."

    There were 20 chairs set up in the room and an hour and a half prior to the Sierra Club meeting you saw that the small room could not hold the crowds gathering. YOU did have a choice! You had a responsibility to the community to move the meeting to the larger room. And just to let you know the Fire Marshall rating for the small room capacity (as posted on the wall) is 49 and yet you/RCC allowed over 200 people to cram into the room is clear violation of the Fire Marshall standards. I assume you realize the legal ramifications that you personally and the RCC as an organization posed yourselves to.

    I will continue to respond to blogs/posts/etc. like yours, Robin and Leila,. that continue to obfuscate the issues and mislead the Reston Association membership.

    Michael

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  17. Wouldn't the logical thing to do at this point be to simply recall Ms. Smyers from RA? If she's behind this project and is attempting (as is quite clear) to get this done without a referendum, why not just recall her?

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  18. My understanding is that it is in the works along with looking at other RCC/RA board members as well as RCC/RA senior managers. It's obvious there is a disconnect with the Reston membership, whom they were selected to support.

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  19. Peasant From Less Sought After S. RestonMay 26, 2009 at 8:33 PM

    Leaving aside for the moment the pros and cons of the proposed recreation center, I feel compelled to respond to Ms. Smyers' comment about "Restonian being a blog not written by an experienced journalist", with the direct if unstated implication that it therefore lacks credibility.

    I am a professional journalist both by educational background and by a career of several years as a print reporter, so I feel qualified to make some points to Ms. Smyers.

    First, blogs such as this one have become an accepted form of public expression and information in the last few years. By its nature, a blog will usually mix fact and opinion. This is not a radical new development; as far back as the 1960s, the so-called "New Journalism" exemplified by The Village Voice in New York did this to critical acclaim.

    Second, I see in Restonian a direct parallel to what the Washington Post runs several days a week with its page two "Washington Sketch" by Dana Milbank. This feature is probably the best political reporting to be found in the Post. Milbank will pick one political development to write about, even if it is also being covered in the 'regular' news section. 95 percent of the time, his writing is more informative than the 'regular' account, since he goes into the atmospherics and, yes, injects his observations, asides, and satirical comments. That is EXACTLY what Restonian does.

    Third, and last, Restonian is very often a far better source of news about Reston than what appears in our two community newspapers. I know these papers have limited budgets and editorial staff, but still...more actual reporting and less reprinting of news releases by them would be welcome. Think back to any recent local controversy -- streambed restoration, RA headquarters referendum, restriping of Lawyers Road, now Browns Chapel -- and ask yourself how well and how consistently any of these issues was covered by the community newspapers.

    So, whether the RA likes it or not, Restonian is a welcome voice and a valuable source of news here. Judging by the innuendo Ms. Smyers has directed against this blog, I'd say Restonian is indeed living up to the old journalistic creed: "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." And I hope it continues to do so for a long time to come.

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  20. The Restonian has been a wonderful addition to our community discourse especially since we are deprived of adequate news coverage by the Post and due to patchy distribution of the Connection and Herndon Observer.

    Reston has a new blog. Check it out

    www.GoReston.com

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  21. Ugh... Peasant -- as a fellow journalist I'm afraid I don't entirely agree with you on this:
    "Third, and last, Restonian is very often a far better source of news about Reston than what appears in our two community newspapers."

    The Restonian often just aggregates what the other local papers print and then injects opinion and silliness. Which I love -- but I wouldn't say it's a better news source. It's like a fun version of an RSS feed combining all the local news sources. Restonian isn't doing the actual legwork to get the news in the first place, just working off of stories from the papers. If you wanted to get more coverage and to avoid missing all the local news, just do a Google alert and anything Reston related could be e-mailed to you daily.

    Looking at the industry lately, I can definitely feel for the local papers trying to keep up. I know they aren't doing so hot, but I think some of them should be commended for their efforts. I think the Connection reporter assigned to Reston is covering about 8 other towns/areas. It seems the Observer has one reporter covering both Reston and Herndon now. (I think I saw recently the paper's entire staff includes like six or seven people. The staff listing is in the paper somewhere.)

    Yes, things will slip through the local papers, but they still seem to be trying to push through the economic hardships of the industry. Do they continue to try to provide news and information to the community as best they can? Or give up and fold so the Restonian has one less source to aggregate his news from?

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  22. Peasant From Less Sought After S. RestonMay 28, 2009 at 9:17 AM

    Fellow journalist who posted above as Anonymous:

    I respect the thoughtful points you raise, which are all valid. It is sad that, in as wealthy a community as Fairfax, the local papers are struggling, which in turn impacts the amount of hard news they can cover. Whatever the failings of the local papers, I doubt anyone wants to see them go out of business.

    I also realize that Restonian aggregrates news from other sources, but I assume that's because its esteemed editor has a real job as well as a family to keep him busy. Given that, I think this blog does a hell of a job covering and commenting on local issues by using a variety of sources -- yes, the local papers, but also the RA and Fairfax County Websites as well as some original contributions.

    Anyway, here's to the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate for protecting freedom of expression!

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  23. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  24. As a new resident to Reston, I feel that the RA is a little ridiculous. My parents live in a community with no RA, and their neighborhood is much better looking and kept up. I'm not sure why a small volunteer group thinks that they know what is best for everyone else. Sounds like 'little man' syndrome at its best!

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