Reston Association Election: Meet Dannielle LaRosa

Dannielle LaRosa/Credit: RAVoting in the 2015 Reston Association Board of Directors elections begins Monday at 5 p.m. We will be running candidate profiles Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The profiles are in a Q-and-A format so each candidate has an opportunity to answer the same questions in their own words.

Today’s profiles are of North Point Candidates.

Dannielle LaRosa is seeking the North Point Director’s seat, which has one year remaining. LaRosa was appointed to the seat last summer, when Tim Cohn resigned for personal reasons. LaRosa, who has lived in Reston for 24 years, works in the financial industry and lives in North Reston with her husband and four children. 

Reston Now: What makes you want to serve — or continue to serve — on the RA Board?

DL: I care deeply about Reston, I care about my neighbors and I am completely invested in our community. Residents since 1991, my husband and I have four children who participate in Reston’s community and attend our public schools. I have been an active volunteer for over 15 years, serving in numerous leadership positions to include PTA President, Treasurer, Girl Scout Leader, Youth in Motion Coach for Reston Runners, Religious Education Teacher plus many neighborhood activities.

With my extensive financial background, I welcome the chance to focus my energies on evaluating the financial side of RA’s operations and the Board’s decisions. I am cognizant of how much being on the Board these past six months has provided me with an even bigger view of our community, where it is headed and how, as neighbors, we can help each other and help shape our community.

RN: What is the biggest issue facing RA right now and do you have an idea to improve it?

DL: The biggest issue for RA, in my opinion, is how do we effectively manage development while maintaining Reston’s unique character and community. To do this, we need effective relationships with county and community organizations as well as with incoming developers. More importantly, we need numerous avenues for two-way communication with our members. Members must know that their opinions are needed, are valued and will make a difference.

RN: How can RA members better understand what the board does and how can they be better involved in improving our community?

DL: At a high level, the Board is responsible to the members to ensure that RA meets its goals. The Board sets the policies and strategies needed to attain those goals and maintains relationships with other community and government organizations.

On a daily basis, my job has been to listen and take action on our members’ needs, concerns and ideas. A Director needs to get out in the community and dedicate the time needed to the members. This is where I feel that I excel. I have the range of experiences, from moving here as a young professional to raising a family, to living in three different homes in Reston, that provide a background and understanding of our members’ experiences. Feet on the street and face-to-face discussions are critically important to determining how to best serve Reston.

Reston does not lack in opportunities for involvement. You can find an activity or organization to be involved with no matter how much time you have available. At the RA level, you can attend a Board meeting or watch it at home on YouTube. You can also participate in one of the many RA committees, attend your cluster meeting or, most importantly in my opinion, contact your District Board representative.

In addition to RA, there are numerous community, school, sport and religious organizations that would love your contributions. If you’re not sure where to start, attend one of the four district meetings that RA will host this March. These meetings will provide a great overview of what is happening in Reston and will give members a chance to talk with RA’s CEO, its Board President and representatives from Member services, Covenants Administration and Parks & Recreation.

While there are many opportunities for members to be involved, the onus is always on the Board and on RA to continually improve the dialogue with its members.

RN: Some of the criticism of RA recently is wasteful spending, lack of transparency and rising assessments. What can be done to improve or at least improve perceptions of all of these things?

DL: I understand. Each organization, large or small, corporate to non-profit, is subject to criticism that expenses are spent frivolously and that decisions are made behind closed doors. I also share the frustration with a rising assessment. The more comments received on these issues the better. A constant dialogue between all shareholders will only improve the processes, procedures and outcomes.

I’d like to address these concerns individually.

Wasteful spending: This is one area where I am focusing my time and attention. As one of the team members involved in developing RA’s Five Year Strategic Plan, I am working to ensure that future Board decisions will incorporate a review of the financial and non-financial impacts.

As a member of RA’s Fiscal Committee, I have championed a review of RA programs in terms of the financial and member benefits. Sometimes a program may not be profitable, but the member impact is extremely beneficial and the decision to proceed is a good one. In addition to program review, I have worked this past year to review RAs financial systems, policies and expenses.

The most important component to any spending decision, however, is to define what the members want. The members should drive spending decisions. This is where the need for constant, two-way community engagement is critical.

To improve perceptions of wasteful spending, RA needs to increase the number of opportunities for member input, driving the discussion to the community, not to a boardroom. I encourage all members to be involved in RA’s budgeting process, which will occur over the next few months. The easiest way to be heard is to attend one of the District Meetings to be held in March or contact your District Board member.

Transparency: There is too much at stake in terms of dollars and community welfare for there to be a perception of secrecy. To address this, RA needs to communicate, involve and reach out to its members. Constantly. The community has voiced concerns over transparency and I believe that RA has responded well: Board meetings are announced in advance; they are made public; they are streamed, live in most cases, on YouTube; and members are encouraged to attend.

However, the Board can always do better and cannot rest on past efforts. I believe that the RA should host District meetings twice a year and I believe that it should be required for District Board representatives to hold regularly scheduled meetings in their districts. A constant dialogue on this issue will always be needed and is welcomed.

Rising Assessments: Most residents move here for the natural resources and amenities, but not many of us look forward to paying the annual assessment. And the steep increase we saw a few years ago was alarming.

I believe that we should first step back and recognize that RA behaves very much like a township, one that needs to address its 50-year old infrastructure while also managing its new growth. When we evaluate the resources that RA is required to maintain, it is huge: 1,350 acres of common area, 60 miles of paved pathways, 15 pools, four large dams, four lakes, three ponds, a six acre maintenance facility, etc., in addition to providing the amenities that our members have come to expect and enjoy. RA has done this with roughly the same number of full-time employees (80-90) for decades.

I tend to believe that RA’s assessment is lower than what we would pay if those services were provided by other governmental organizations. In addition, and unlike other governmental organizations, the money that Restonians pay into RA stays in Reston for our benefit.

How can we make sure that the assessment is at the proper level and that RA is not writing blank checks to itself? First, we need to adequately fund the reserves so that we can preserve, protect and enhance our facilities and resources. As part of the Fiscal Committee, I have reviewed, and picked apart, RA’s recent Reserve Study and have found that the reserves, and the current policy of funding the reserves, are in good shape. Second, we need for our members to become involved in the budget process.

There are always areas to be improved and we need your help to identify those areas. Let RA know what level of services, amenities and programs you want and don’t want. The level of the assessment will, in part, be driven by your contributions to the budgeting process.

RN: 2015 and beyond is an important time for Reston’s growth as several large residential developments are in the works, and most of the residents will be RA members. What can the board do in the next few years to adequately prepare to serve thousands more people?

DL: The Board needs to continually collaborate with the county and work to maintain this relationship. RA needs to be treated as an equal with our community partners, it needs to be listened to and our members need to be well represented. RA has been actively involved in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Master Plan, driving RA’s core Essential Elements of Reston through the county documents. This collaboration must continue.

A critical component of success depends on this collaboration: we need Fairfax County to invest dollars according to where those dollars came from. I’d like to see Reston’s tax dollars spent on Reston – on our roads, facilities and other county services – and that Reston has a say in terms of what is coming, how it looks and how it is maintained.

I also believe that future Boards should not be afraid to ask developers coming to Reston to mitigate the impact of the future growth. I would assume that this would entail improved access to Metro, access to village centers, help with new paths, lighting and ball fields.

Lastly, one of the most critical things for any Board to do is to keep the members involved. Member involvement will help guide Reston as we experience an influx of new residents. We see new units coming in to RA soon, which will translate to new revenue. It is critical to have member input so that RA can prioritize the right programming, facilities and resources for our members.

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