Today’s Q-and-A is with Sherri Hebert, who is running unopposed for the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks seat.
Reston Now: What makes you want to serve on the RA Board?
Sherri Hebert: The simple answer is the old cliché — “I want to make a difference” — meaning I want to look back in 20 years and say “I am proud to have been a part of making Reston an even better place to live, work, and play.”
I want to preserve the very things that make Reston great — its village centers, its open space and recreational facilities, and its walkable and bike-able neighborhoods–and help make them even better in the future.
I also want more community involvement in RA and the Board’s activities. As a district representative, my responsibility would include informing residents of issues facing the Board and listen to and bring issues from them to the Board’s attention.
Having served on my cluster board for over five years, including more than two years as president, I now want to serve Reston on a larger scale. I would be proud to represent the residents of the Tall Oaks/Lake Anne District in making Reston a better place to live, work, play, and get involved.
RN: What is the biggest issue facing RA right now and do you have an idea to improve it?
SH: The biggest issue facing Reston is growth and redevelopment. Reston Association, in partnership with Fairfax County, needs to hold developers to high-quality design standards ensuring our open space is not depleted, safe multimodal transportation alternatives are not jeopardized, and the village center concept is not lost.
This is immediately true for the residents of the Tall Oaks/Lake Anne District, whom I would represent. With plans to redevelop the Tall Oaks Village Center pending and the County’s plan to redevelop Lake Anne Village Center having fallen through, it is especially important that the RA Board use its authority and persuasiveness to help ensure their preservation and improvement as true Village Centers. This includes robust retail and plazas that are neighborhood gathering places accompanied by well-planned residential development.
More broadly, Reston’s increasing population without first addressing the infrastructure needs (roads, schools, etc.) is problematic. The Reston Association needs to leverage its size and voting power to engage our county representatives in meaningful dialogue and constructive action. Reston’s way of life is unique and valuable, and needs protection — and the RA Board should lead that effort.
RN: How can RA members better understand what the board does and how can they be better involved in improving our community?
SH: The RA board needs to find better ways to both listen to the community and provide feedback on its deliberations. Unfortunately, official RA communications, such as the weekly newsletter e-mail, tend to read more like official policy statements than a dialogue. That said, RA President Ellen Graves has made an important step in improving this in just the last couple of months by opening up RA Board meetings to community inputs during the course of its discussions of key issues, such as the Tall Oaks’ redevelopment discussion last week.
In addition to improving the board’s two-way communications, as the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks district representative on the Reston Association board, I would provide useful and succinct information to district members on a regular basis. I will also make myself available to meet with cluster boards or residents to discuss issues and gather information to bring back to the board on either a neighborhood or individual basis.
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?
SH: As a resident, I have the same concerns. The first one is transparency. In contrast to recent experience, it should be a rare occasion that an RA board meeting is closed to the public for an executive session. Sharing information, open dialogue, and constructive debate are good elements in decision making and Restonians should be able to take part.
Increasing assessments more than the rate of inflation should be a last resort to meeting operational expenses, and cost cutting should be examined as an alternative to greater increases. Before major purchases are made, a critical analysis of the purchase and options in achieving RA strategic goals should be conducted. In the process, the RA Board must understand and weigh the long- term funding needs of any major purchase and the impact on member assessments and share their findings with the community and gather feedback before approving a referendum.
As the COO of a company, when making budgetary decisions, I ask myself, “If this were my money, would I spend it in this manner?” “Is this a one-time expense or does it have a life cycle?” “If this decision would end up on the front page of the Washington Post, would I be proud of it?” Albeit simple questions, they make spending other peoples’ money personal, and RA money is personal — it comes from you and me.
RN: This 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? Will having more members stress RA services?
SH: Most importantly, the RA Board should work with the county and developers who will be building these additional homes to provide the facilities and services (or the funds to provide them) these new residents will need in a way that meets RA expectations. Unfortunately, the county’s comprehensive plan does not guarantee this outcome, for example, calling for only three county ballfields for the tens of thousands of new residents along the Dulles Corridor, creating a huge potential spillover into the very limited county park space in the RA portion of Reston.
This is also an area for close RA cooperation on county initiatives. One major mitigating step in meeting Reston’s growing service and facility needs will be the County’s construction of a regional recreation center in Town Center North as promised by Supervisor Hudgins last year. We need that facility sooner rather than later, including the bond referendum that is required to enable its construction.
Existing RA facilities and services will be stressed nonetheless. Three initiatives need to be started to offset the effects of the added use of RA facilities and services:
First, RA needs to conduct a forward-looking assessment of community facility and service needs in anticipation of Reston’s growth, including a pro forma plan for its implementation as growth occurs. Some of this assessment must be conducted with the county looking out over a two or three decade timeframe. We need to ensure we are spending vital RA resources on the services the members’ desire.
Second, RA needs to continue move aggressively to incorporate new residents of the Dulles Corridor area into Reston Association. Their added annual assessment fees would go a long way to defray the cost of new facilities and services needed to meet new demand.
Third, RA must develop and implement a well thought-out aggressive preventative maintenance and repair program for its current facilities and services to make sure they can keep up with growing demand.
Photo: Sherri Hebert/Credit: RA