Reston, VA

Julie Bitzer/Credit: David Madison for RAVoting in the 2015 Reston Association Board of Directors elections is now open. 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 South Lakes District candidates.

Julie Bitzer is one of three candidates for the South Lakes seat. She is a 34-year resident of Reston who has served in leadership roles for a variety of Reston organizations.

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

JB: After 34+ years of Reston living, it’s time for me to give back to this extraordinary community I call home. With Metro/Silver Line’s opening, we’re face-to-face with growth and change from commercial development and the influx of people joining our community, whether to live, to work or just to visit. We can and must channel this growth, making change work for us, to preserve and enhance that which defines our community — Reston’s founding vision of ‘Live-Work-Play.”

Living on the Reston National golf course, as a Reston Runner, a bicyclist, a golfer, a dog owner — I experience every day the joy of our open space and trail system, and its contribution to our quality of life.

I want more from my RA, and so do my fellow Restonians. In our conversations, we’ve shared our priorities and concerns. We want protection of our quality of life, and conservation of our natural open space. We want a governance that is open, transparent and most importantly, fiscally responsible to our interests.

Money doesn’t grow on the trees of Reston. I want to serve my community — to be part of the solution. I bring experience through 37+ years of Information Technology career, graduate level education with MBA and landscape design, coupled with serving a multitude of organizations, including treasurer/board member of a Reston cluster association.

But most importantly, I bring skills optimized in working as a team, listening, collaborating, and achieving results.

In answering the RA call to “get involved”, I will bring fresh perspectives and a challenging, questioning set of eyes & ears to my RA Board position.

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

JB: It is an issue of trust and having the support of the members. Many perceive “RA” in the broadest sense as closed, unresponsive, and difficult to work with.

Members question how their assessments are being spent, and the value they receive back. Is RA working for my best interests?

How to improve? Perception is reality. Bottomline, RA’s direction and actions must be openly visible and communicated. RA’s framework and process by which decisions are justified, and actions are taken should be clearly understood by its members. Much more must be done proactively by the RA Board, its Committees, and the Operations staff to reach back to its members — to continuously interact, inform, and include the community in its governance and provision of services.

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

JB: As the steward of our community, the heavy-lifting of our two-way relationship is on RA; however, members must participate and be informed. Here’s how.

Ideally, attend RA Board and committee meetings. All are open, the schedule is on the website (www.reston.org). Not everyone can take the time to do that, so here are a few suggestions for staying in touch with what the Board is doing:

• glance through each month’s Board meeting agenda, and then read any related material on an item of interest to you.

• follow up later to read the minutes. YouTube videos of each meeting can be watched live or later.

• skim each month’s CEO report.

• read the last few pages of the RA Magazine, available quarterly in the mail or on the web – it lists board actions from the last quarter (a requirement of the association to notify all members);

• read the RA weekly newsletter, subscribe for an electronic copy.

• take the RA challenge to “get involved” – standing and advisory committees have open positions now.

As a District Board member, I will participate and represent member interests on the Board, as well as serving on a standing committee. I will be available, accessible and in active communication with my fellow South Lakes members, continuing my social media outreach. I will welcome invitations by my district to meet over coffee, attend gatherings or cluster meetings to keep our dialogue  flowing and ensure my responsiveness to you.

In campaigning, I’ve received suggestions ranging from fall leaf pick-up and recycling, to converting receipt of Reston magazine to electronic subscription.

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?

JB: First, these are real issues, not just perceptions. We address these issues through using our voice, and our votes.

RA Directors must be held accountable for their decisions and actions. In representing my District in a fiscally responsible manner, I will be forthright and open in my actions.

The upcoming District/community outreach meetings are a definite step in the right direction of resolving transparency issues, and allowing sufficient time for community input based on facts. In March, RA is hosting a series of District/community evening meetings where member input is sought on its strategic five-year plan, its two-year budget, its performance in delivering services and programs, and to review a Lake Newport proposed land/building acquisition to add to our overall open space and program facilities. Members will also be able to vote in the Board Elections.

Budgets reflect our priorities, the choices that must be made, and how foreseeable change is to be dealt with. Members can comment on the next budget cycle via a downloadable form. Zero-based budgeting should be fully embraced — where line item expenditures are examined and justified to demand and use, and measured against the established investment framework. RA’s continued progress on tying the strategic plan to the budget is to be commended.

RN2015 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?

JB: I met recently with some of my South Lakes members and we talked about “inclusion” — what was RA doing to “include” members in its governance process, and how to actively seek involvement and participation by a far greater number of our diverse community.

With the influx of “new” members to our community, we must welcome and encourage them to embrace our core Reston values, and our commitment to a quality of life that sustains “Live-Work-Play.”

The forecasted growth will place additional demand for and use of our assets and programs. Critical will be the sustainability, preservation, and maintenance of our trails, recreational facilities, and our parks. Additionally, we must not forget the high priority of conserving our wooded area and natural resources.

While not all inclusive,  our Community Engagement and Parks & Recreation Committees must consider demographic projections of the future population base as our long-term strategy and budget plans are made. Our Transportation, Pedestrian and Bicycling Committees will need to accelerate their analysis,recommendations and implementation of local multi-modal transit options.

Village Centers must become even more relevant as gathering places as they step up to providing localized accessible services and amenities. Covenants, Environmental and Design Review Committees will need to address our changing world in structure, design, energy options, and environmental impacts.

Finally, we must explore all options to manage rising costs and asset usage, including a stronger partnership with Fairfax County, RCC, and our corporate neighbors. Other outside sources of funds could be considered.

Photo: Julie Bitzer/Credit: David Madison for RA

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