Reston Association Board Elections: Meet Rachel Muir

Rachel Muir/Credit: Reston AssociationVoting for the 2014 Reston Association Board of Directors election is now open. There are nine candidates running for five seats. A candidates forum will be held Saturday, March 15 at Reston Association headquarters at 10 a.m.

Reston Association members will receive an election guide and ballot in the mail this week. 

Reston Now will have Q & As with each candidate running daily this week and next. In the spirit of fairness, each candidate was given the same questions.

Today’s Q & A is with Rachel Muir, who is running for the one-year At-Large seat (made available when Donna Rostant resigned last year).

Q: How long have you lived in Reston?

A: Our young family moved from Leesburg, VA to Post Mill Lane in North Reston on Feb. 27, 1988.  I first became involved in Reston’s community life, visiting Reston’s church communities, joining the Reston Master’s Swim Team in 1984-85 and becoming involved with the Reston Triathlon in 1986. A sudden move from Colorado to Virginia brought us to Leesburg but we soon relocated to Reston, a community we love and where we have happily lived the past 26 years. Over that time we have lived in both north Reston and south Reston and in a condo, two single family homes and a townhouse. We have enjoyed being in easy walking distance to schools and shopping areas and living adjacent to one of Reston’s treasures, the Walker Nature Center. These versatile lifestyle options make our community an attractive place to live.

Q: What inspired you to run for the board?

A: A belief in the importance of public service was handed down to me by my parents.  They both served in World War II and met here in the Washington area. Their continued service as outstanding public employees and community volunteers, have always inspired my actions.  Reston is a community of volunteers and our schools, arts, cultural activities, conservation of natural landscapes, and our remarkable sports programs all run on the powerful engine of volunteerism.  I have been part of many of these activities over the years.

I am inspired to run for the Board now because the decisions made over the next few years will shape the future of Reston for decades. It is a time of great opportunity and also a period of risk where the social, economic and environmental values that make Reston a sustainable and livable community can be diminished or lost.  My experience in environmental science and policy, urban studies and ecology are skills that are well suited to meet the challenges currently facing RA.

That experience includes serving the Science Advisor in the Executive Office of the President and advising the House of Representatives on amendments to the Clean Water Act. I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge of the natural resources of Reston with young people and adults and leaders in our community. I believe my communication skills and leadership abilities will be an asset to guide Reston toward the policies needed to protect our natural landscapes and continue to provide “near-by nature” for all Restonians, now and into the future.

Q: What are three of the biggest concerns you have for Reston?

A: My concerns for Reston fall into three fundamental categories: protecting and enhancing the social, economic and environmental resources that make our community special. These characteristics are like a three-legged stool on which the welfare of Reston sits; if any one of them weakens then the structure that keeps our community viable and vibrant can fall.

1)   Our social welfare as a community is based on a diversity of housing, availability of local employment and transportation for residents to reach their jobs. It also depends on social services and facilities providing opportunities for community events, continuing education, access to public spaces and recreational facilities. This is a shared responsibility that involves both private and public partners.  Reston is facing two important challenges.

We have current infrastructure that requires upgrading and restoration. At the same time we must prepare for the new housing, commercial spaces and transportation needs that the Metro and its associated growth will bring. We have to meet these challenges while ensuring that costs remain reasonable so housing expenses and potentially increased Reston fees do not push out current residents or discourage new ones.

Our most promising approach to protecting our social resources is twofold. First, work with the Master Plan process to assure resources are available to address these social concerns and secondly provide efficient stewardship of RA’s financial and other resources.

2)   The economic welfare of Reston is good by almost any measure; however for Reston to provide the best economic opportunities for individuals and businesses we need to be innovative in how we direct growth in our community.  If traffic and congestion choke our streets, overwhelm our commercial districts, and isolates our residential areas, we may not realize the economic prosperity forecast by the arrival of Metro.

I consider thoughtful and innovative approaches to transportation the linchpin for Reston to benefit fully from growth and change. Practically speaking, this means “multi-modal” transportation – emphasizing opportunities for residents to use buses, bikes and walking rather than just adding more cars to our roads.  RA has a critical role in transportation design and implementation, with our own resources, with the Master Planning process and with other government and private partners.

3)    Recent surveys of Reston residents strongly indicate that our natural spaces – our abundant forests, lakes, streams and recreational facilities — are most important resource to Restonians. It is the characteristic of Reston that truly sets it apart. Without a full understanding of the importance of natural landscapes to the health and welfare of our community, they resources might be overwhelmed and degraded by the influx of thousands of new residents, millions of square feet of new construction and new roads.

I am also concerned that as a community we may come to accept the idea that development is always a trade-off for environmental quality and quality of life. This is demonstrably not true — development can occur and environmental quality can be maintained and enhanced.  Cities and towns across the nation are leading the way in recognizing the importance of environmental services for their citizens. Public/private partnerships are investing billions in greening urban spaces. We must not retreat from Reston’s vision of natural spaces fully integrated with our urban spaces.

Q:What do you hope to accomplish by being on the board?

A: In brief, I hope to achieve what my running mates, Colin Mills and Lucinda Shannon and I, have articulated as our priorities. We will focus on collaboration with Fairfax County and other partners to promote RA’s role in the Master planning process in a way that will maintain and enhance the social, natural and economic resources that Reston residents already enjoy.

We will work to see the Master Plan implemented in a way that integrates new growth into Reston while embracing our sense of community and our dedication to environmental stewardship. We will focus on opportunities for “win-win” decisions that benefit current residents and our resources as well as new residents and commercial interests.

We will work with RA staff to strongly encourage that new residents become members of RA. An efficient and safe transportation system and protection of our open spaces will be topics I will focus on. I will work actively with the RA advisory committees to achieve these goals.

I hope to keep RA annual dues and other costs at current levels and look for efficiencies and better management of RA’s financial resources to achieve this goal. These are issues of special concern to our residents on fixed incomes and those with lower incomes. Their interests need to be fully represented on the RA Board.

Finally, I would like to enhance communication between the Reston Association and its members. I commend the communication efforts of Reston Association staff to educate our members about services and opportunities, for example, the RA Camps program. However, more information and transparency regarding how RA governs and sets policies is needed.  I will work with other Board members to encourage better communication and transparency.

Q: How will your personal or professional experience help you in your role with RA?

A: I have nearly 40 years of professional experience in the private and public sector, with small and large corporations and several federal government agencies. My educational background includes degrees in biology and history from Virginia Tech and an advanced degree from the School of Environmental and Public Affairs from Indiana University.

My areas of expertise include environmental science and policy and I have applied these as an environmental consultant. I have been in federal service for thirty one years with the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, where I have been stationed since 1992.

These career opportunities have provided me with management, budget and supervisory experience that I believe is a good fit for serving on the RA Board. However, I would count my experience as a Reston resident, as a parent raising two sons and navigating the demands of supporting the swim teams, soccer leagues, PTAs, cub scouts, church groups, high school sports and social activities, as equally important experience in representing the needs of Reston’s diverse community.

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