Reston Now: What makes you want to serve on the RA Board?
John Bowman: I view the opportunity to participate on the RA Board of Directors as a naturalprogression from my previous community service efforts.
I have been a Reston resident since 1985 and have followed a typical member behavior of progressing from: 1) not really being aware of issues that impact the RA community due to career and family focus; 2) to having awareness only to the amount of increases in the RA assessment; and 3) finally to having a sense of community responsibility the desire to give back.
My desire to give back to the community was aroused first by land use issues impacting south Reston and grew as I immersed myself into the county and state processes by which land use is controlled. I found that the average RA member who might have interest in an issue is ill-equipped to meaningfully influence land use outcomes.
Initially we: 1) lack subject matter and procedural knowledge; and 2) become aware of an issue too late in the process. I have joked that most members only become aware of issues that might impact them when the bulldozer shows up
This understanding led me to participate in the South Reston Park & Ride Neighbors, the Reston Citizens Association, the Fairfax County Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force, and, most importantly, the RA Transportation Advisory Committee — which is now the Multimodal Transportation Advisory Committee.
My primary focus has been: 1) to be an early warning system to my RA friends and neighbors for issues on which they may choose to engage; and 2) to influence the RA Board to more effectively advocate for member interests beyond the boundaries of Reston.
RN: What is the biggest issue facing RA right now and do you have an idea to improve it?
JB: Providing member services within reasonable cost/benefit parameters. Reston is fundamentally fully developed. Opportunities for growth will be directly aligned with redevelopment. While growing Reston Association’s membership by the addition of new/redeveloped properties is a worthy endeavor, it is not a given.
RA needs to ensure that the services provided to members actually align with both: 1) member preferences; and 2) member willingness to fund such services. I do not believe all services are static, but need annual reevaluation for relevance in order minimize assessment increases, i.e., RA must live within its means and not assume that assessment increases are the “go to” solution for all new member service ideas.
RN: How can RA members better understand what the board does and how can they be better involved in improving our community?
JB: Community engagement is, and always will be, a challenge for the RA. As noted earlier, RA members tend to be fully engaged in their career growth and family development. As such, the most effective way for the typical RA member to understand the Board activities is to communicate with their RA Board representatives and follow the RA website.
I believe it is the responsibility of RA Board members: 1) to initiate outreach to RA members; and 2) to provide efficient and useful responses to member concerns/requests.
When I ran for RA Board of Directors in 2008, I challenged the Association to improve its website in order to provide members a truly reliable information source. While no website is perfect, I am happy to say there has been significant improvement.
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: As I stated earlier, most RA members’ perception of the Association is a direct reaction to both: 1) the amount of the assessment; and 2) the size of the most recent assessment increase. While the RA BOD is empowered to raise the annual assessment within the cap defined in the governing documents, this should not be the default solution to unconstrained expenses and costs.
There are many ideas for RA services that, from an academic perspective, have merit, but may not align with how members would desire the BoD to use the assessment revenue. Two examples are the Tetra purchase and the Lake Anne land swap.
Entering into land transactions, e.g. Tetra, that lack overwhelming member support — it received a bare minimum majority approval — due to questionable values and that create long term financial obligations for the members needs to be scrutinized more closely than seems to have been done in the past. It was clear at the time that the Board was rushing into a purchase many members felt was terribly overpriced. In addition, the Board had not adequately considered how it could be used (i.e., the need of a special committee to come up with practical plans after the purchase).
Likewise, land swaps, such as the now-defunct Lake Anne land exchange between RA and the developer, do not seem to have balanced preserving RA’s natural areas with reasonable value received. We need to ensure that value received on behalf of RA Members is commensurate to value given away.
I will advocate for more careful analysis before major commitments — avoiding rushed purchases that lack critical examination and fully known costs.
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?
JB: The challenge for RA with future development is more comprehensive than just the new members. As new and redevelopment projects come to fruition in the greater Reston area – not just the RA properties, there will be significant strain on all elements of the public infrastructure and services.
Most of these elements – e.g. transportation, water, sewer, etc., are outside the direct control of RA. Therefore, the RA Board must ensure positive relationships exist with the owners of public infrastructure and services to influence positive outcomes to continue the “Reston” quality of life we cherish. These relationships will be not only with governmental agencies (i.e. Fairfax County, State of VA, etc.), but also our fellow community groups (e.g. Reston Town Center Association, Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, etc.)
More specific to services that RA can control, significant numbers of new RA members will definitely stress RA services. The maintenance and repair of our existing facilities is a critical concern that needs a well-defined plan that gains support of the RA membership. This plan should exercise discipline to fund and limit use of the maintenance and repair fund to maintaining existing facilities.
Funding maintenance and repair requirements based upon new member assessments feels too Ponzi-like, requiring never ending addition of new members for ongoing funding. Additionally, future RA members whose membership results from their residence in new and redevelopment projects may be unwilling to accept full assessment rates, as their development most likely, in order to be attractive in the greater real estate market, will need to provide many of the same recreational services.
Photo of John Bowman courtesy of RA