61°Partly Cloudy

RA Board Votes to Keep Member Ballot Info Secret

by Karen Goff December 18, 2015 at 11:30 am 18 Comments

RA Board meetingReston Association’s Board of Directors voted Thursday to pass a motion that will keep all voting records confidential.

The board says RA will continue to publish aggregated voter turnout reports, including turnout percentage by voting district and property type, however it said it was “in the best interest of members to not release information about who voted in any RA election or referendum.”

RA says “protecting the privacy of members and fortifying the integrity of the election process were the deciding factors in the board’s decision.”

The motion passed 6-2 with one abstention (South Lakes Director Julie Bitzer). At-Large Director Ray Wedell and Hunters Woods/Dogwood voted against the proposal and were quite vocal at the meeting.

“RA should pride itself on openness, honesty, and fairness,” said Wedell. “It has been anything but in this case.”

The rule is effective immediately. It is departure from the rules of national, state and county elections, where voter participation records are made available. Elections Committee Chair Ed Robichaud said those elections are different because votes are by registered voters. In RA elections, votes are by properties.

“Protecting the privacy of our members is a responsibility we take seriously,” said Ellen Graves, RA’s board president. “By ensuring residents that their voting records will remain confidential, we hope more members will participate in the election process, which is crucial to shaping Reston’s future.”

Fewer than 15 percent of households typically vote in the RA Board elections each spring, RA records show. There was about double that in last spring’s member referendum on whether to purchase the former Reston Visitor’s Center.

The motion came about after a Reston resident, Irwin Flashman, has spent more than a year asking RA for voting records concerning board elections and last spring’s member referendum on the Tetra building.

RA had given Flashman voting records, which included which households voted but not how they voted, in the past. RA said then it was obligated to release the information under its bylaws and Virginia law.

Flashman said at the time he wanted the records so he could analyze and try to boost the number of locals who cast their ballots.

“This is an overall part of the lack of transparency that seems to be a part of the RA board,” he told Reston Now last week. He also outlined his thoughts in a Reston Now op-ed and spoke at last night’s meeting.

“This is a poorly thought-out attempt to cloak something in secrecy that should be open to the membership,” he said.

Several Reston Association members addressed the board during the member comment section of Thursday’s board meeting.

“The resolution is a really, really bad idea,” said Lake Anne resident John Lovaas, who formerly served on the RA Board. “It’s an anti-democratic idea. It [access to voter records] has been the practice of the RA board forever, as far as I know. Members had access to records of residences that voted. It is disturbing. Your press release said that [releasing records] is threatening the confidentiality of ballot. That is just plain false.”

Meanwhile, Flashman said he has filed a complaint with the state ombudsman about RA’s actions.

  • Greg

    I agree with the two dissenting directors and Mr. Lovaas. This was a bad decision, mocks open government and the property owners’ act. It should be revisited, and reversed, soon.

  • Greg

    Also, who was the abstaining director? (some typos here too: The motion passed 6-2 with one abstention. At-Large Director Ray Wedell and and Hunters Woods/Dogwood (Director?) voted against the proposal and were quite vocal at the meeting.

    • Karen Goff

      Julie Bitzer abstained, it has been added to article.

    • Nunya

      Julie Bitzer abstained. I might be paraphrasing a lot, but my impression was that she would have liked more information and direction from the VA Ombudsman and thought the vote was pre-mature. The board meeting is available on YouTube.
      I really don’t like that the by-laws are changed so frivolously without member input.

      • guest

        It wasn’t a by-law change which I believe can only happen by referendum. It was a resolution which is easily changed.

  • Terry Maynard

    As I just wrote my district RA Board rep, Julie Bitze:

    “I am disappointed that the Board approved the voting record confidentiality policy without waiting a month to hear from the state Ombudsman as to whether such a policy is even legal. I do appreciate that you abstained.”

    “I do wonder if the Board will rescind its policy if the Ombudsman says voting records must be made available upon request. Will it honor the Ombudsman’s decision? Or is this an issue residents must go to court to challenge the RA Board policy (which would be defended using resident assessment fees at hourly attorney fee rates) to
    obtain something they have a legal right to acquire upon request?”

    • James Colbertson

      Mr. Maynard, I respect your opinion, but I do believe there are many members, including me, that would prefer not to have one of our neighbors know whether or not we voted on a particular matter. I hope you are able to respect that.

      As you know, it takes two seconds, with a good search engine, to associate a name with a street address. In my opinion, this is a violation of privacy. As a corporation, Reston Association better be demonstrating proper risk and compliance measures when it comes to protecting it’s members’ (aka customers’) personal identification information. Federal and Virginia statutes are rather explicit on this matter.

      Lastly, and very important. If Mr. Flashman is so determined to make sure everyone is involved in the election process, [“to increase interest, turnout, etc.”] he needs to know certified Candidates ARE ALREADY [AND HAVE BEEN] provided with an electronic copy of the Association’s membership list which includes the Member’s name and Reston Association property address as of the Record Eligibility Date as defined in Elections Resolution 4.
      Candidates have a host of resources available to them, to make the best of their candidacy, and evangelizing their agenda, slate, platform, etc.

      • Terry Maynard

        James–I appreciate your concerns (and those of others here), but I would hope you (and the RA Board) would respect the state law guiding the release of voting information as well.

        Based on RA’s previous LEGAL determination that it MUST release this information to conform with the Virginia Property Owners Association Act as reported here, I think the Board of Directors could have at least waited a month to make this policy decision based on the opinion of the state Ombudsman re Mr. Flashman’s request. Until the Ombudsman says “No, you don’t have to release this information,” I believe that RA is LEGALLY OBLIGATED to release the voting data whether you, I, or anyone else thinks it’s the right thing to do.

        And, frankly, what really worries me is that the Board will strive to continue its legally unfounded policy even if the Ombudsman says it can’t keep the records confidential. It could very easily lead to legal action to change the RA policy that we all will have to pay for. Why not wait a month to make the decision based on official state legal guidance?

        Trust me, there are plenty of Virginia laws I don’t agree with, but I generally obey them (highway speed limits occasionally notwithstanding). If someone wants to have Ken Plum or Janet Howell try to change the POAA, then that’s the course that should be pursued. RA shouldn’t try to place itself above the state’s laws–nor should we expect it to.

        • James Colbertson

          Good points Terry, I’m willing to wait a month. But, I believe the Ombudsman will find for Reston.

          This is a corporation, hence is subject to privacy laws. When I chose to vote in the State and National elections I had to register with my name, address, etc.

          When I vote on a referendum in Reston I vote as a member registered by my property, not my name. Anyone can send that vote in (online, or mail), as it is only tied to the property. There is a huge difference between a corporate vote determination versus and a general election with registered voters.

          Regardless, I will fight this matter if the vote-list is provided. It becomes a slippery slope when the ingredients are provided for special interests, under the auspices of “open community,” to target my neighbors and me based upon our private BUSINESS dealings with the corporation called Reston Association.

          • Terry Maynard

            I’m glad your willing to wait a month. The Board didn’t have that patience. As my earliest comment suggested, I think the Board’s rush to judgment is an effort to prevent effective campaigns against members running for re-election beginning just after the New Year. Otherwise, they could and probably would have waited for the Ombudsman’s opinion I suspect.

            One Board member was unseated last year and none of them wants to be next this election.

          • James Colbertson

            Well, you seem to know more than I do. Who was unseated?

            It seems to me if I were running for the board, I would leverage the ENTIRE member list provided to me from the Association as a candidate and run a productive campaign with friends and neighbors, to gather as many votes as possible.

            Voters determine the winner, not any board.

            In my opinion, targeted lists only benefit special interests who want a specific outcome. It’s not to hard to see the obvious, certain outspoken individuals in this community want to drive specific agendas. Now these individuals want to rig the tables.

            This community does not need professional politicians representing them.

        • Ming the Merciless

          No change in the law is needed. All the RA needs to do is stop compiling lists of “who voted”. That way, when someone asks to see them, they can honestly say, “we don’t have them”. No law or regulation obligates the RA to make such a list. Why do they even want such a list? What good does it do them?

          • Guest

            Hmmmm . . . maybe it’s because RA would like to have some evidence that the person they declare the election winner actually received some votes!

          • Ming the Merciless

            Hmmmm, they don’t need to maintain a list of “who voted” to do that, pinhead. They have the actual ballots! Which are confidential!

          • John Higgins

            “There is always a well-known solution to every problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.” H.L.Mencken

            With several thousand ballots received, in multiple categories, some counting twice as much as others, some coming by mail and some electronically, the “pinhead” turns out to be right. The counting agent certainly is using a data base to record eligible voters, ballots received, and the content of those ballots. That is a “record”. It exists and there can be no vote without it.

            This entire discussion with point and counter-point is interesting in many ways, but likely to have been unnecessary. There are but three possible outcomes: the law requiring all records to be available means all records and such a list must be released; the law specifically exempts voting records from release; the law permits RA to choose which records may be exempt from release.

            The first outcome seems most likely, for we can read it in black and white. The second outcome is plausible, but no one has pointed to it. (That would have rendered RA’s resolution redundant.) The third possibility isn’t found in black-letter law, but there might be case law to support it. RA’s able counsel suggests that is the case; it would be valuable to see the citation.

            There is a nifty Latin expression (which I forgot many years ago) that guides interpretation of statutes and legal documents: when one thing is mentioned specifically, all other things are excluded. “Merchants may sell fruit; apples must be fresh.” One cannot sue the merchant for selling unfresh lemons.

            The RA deed says, “Members may examine the books and records of the Association…individual referendum ballots and ballots for the election of Directors may be withheld…” Use if the word “individual” brings the above interpretive principle into play.

            I really couldn’t care less whether or not Mr. Flashman or anyone else receives a list of voters. Unless, that is, he is treated unfairly (he has not been) or the decision violates the rights we all have as members. I’m not yet convinced the latter is not the case.

  • mike

    Reston Association has a long history of voting against the interests of its community. This move to secrecy is un-American and simply reinforces Reston’s other commonly known name: The Socialist People’s Republic of Reston.

    Reston is not an incorporated town, may appear nothing other than a larger homeowner’s association, but it has a long history of ignoring the wishes of the homeowners who live there. In a White Paper published in May 1989, “Residential Community Associations: Private Governments in the Intergovernmental System”
    Reston was mentioned numerous times including “Reston is the functional equivalent of a municipality and is likely to be subject to the same constitutional restrictions of a municipality. Thus its departure from open voting records would must likely not survive a legal challenge.

    Reston Association Board members have a long history of raising dues (i.e. taxes) without regard to the voters who reside within this unincorporated town. Witness the unending increases in Association dues which most homeowners receive little of value in return. Not trash removal, not a mayor, nothing. Just local busybodies telling them what color they are allowed to paint their front door.

    Annual dues over the years:
    2016: $657
    2015: $647
    2014: $610 (est)
    2013: $595 (est)
    2012: $565
    2011: $540 (est)
    2010: $515 (Oh, the CEO of RA was paid $172 not including benefits. To do what??)
    2009: $483
    2007: $480 (est)
    2008: $475
    2007: $460 (est)
    2006: $450 (est)
    2005: $440 (est)
    2004: $430
    1999: $370
    1989: $355
    1992: $300 (pool access now included whether or not you go)
    1991: $240 (and if you wanted to go to the pools you could purchase a pool pass).

    In 1991 the RA board voted to abolish user fees for pools and tennis courts and instead raise everyone’s annual assessment AGAINST the nonbinding referendum. RA has proven itself to be non-democratic.

    William Nicoson once wrote if you do not like the above you have a choice, move out of Reston. I did and thank God I did. I have saved thousands of dollars

    Oh, are these dues/assessments (a/k/a taxes) deductible from your federal taxes like state and local taxes. Nope. see:
    Is the annual assessment tax deductible?
    The Reston Association is classified as a 501(c)(4), social welfare organization under the internal Revenue Service Code. As such, the annual assessment is not tax deductible.

    Here’s a fun one. No taxation without representation. Which judge ruled on this “no-brainer”?

    “Court Dismisses RA Governance by Referendum”, June 1999
    The Fairfax County Circuit Court has upheld the capacity of Reston
    Association to perform long term
    planning without a referendum of Reston residents. That sounds like a
    no-brainer, but a former director of RA took it to court seeking to
    overturn a 4-year plan designed to improve
    RA’s nature center because it hadn’t been approved by referendum. As it
    happened, it hadn’t even been approved by RA’s Board of Directors. The
    judge dismissed the case out of hand, refusing the plaintiff both
    summary judgment and a trial.

    If you choose to buy a home in Reston, don’t forget to budget for this as well:

    Sawyers Cluster Dues
    To maintain the recreational facilities and common areas of Reston as a whole, residents of Reston pay annual dues to the Reston Association. However, the Reston Association is not responsible for the common areas within a grouping of townhomes. These groupings, known as Clusters, are responsible for their own upkeep, and charge separate dues. Sawyers Cluster dues are therefore separate from, and must be paid in addition to, the Reston Association Dues
    Dues for the Sawyers Cluster Association are $225 per quarter. Quarterly billings are sent out in January, April, July, and October. There is a 5% late fee if dues are not paid within 30 days of notification. Please notify the Sawyers Cluster Financial Administrator for dues status prior to settlement.

    Please note that according to the Virginia Property Owner’s Association Act, failure to pay any of the assessments or mandatory fees may result in collection by an attorney or a lien being placed on the property.

    • James Colbertson

      Who was on the board at that time [late 80’s through late 90’s?

  • Rational Reston

    Bottom line: RA does NOT care about the people and property owners of Reston, RA only cares about RA and is the worst thing about Reston.


Subscribe to our mailing list