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Op-Ed: Who is Responsible for the Tetra Mistake?

by RestonNow.com June 6, 2016 at 2:45 pm 57 Comments

Lake House May 2016This is a commentary by Reston resident Ed Abbott. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now. If something is on your mind, Reston Now will print well-organized letters to the editor. Send them to [email protected].

Many years ago, I served in Admiral Rickover’s nuclear navy. He drilled the idea of responsibility into the heads of all the sailors and officers in his program. He said, “Responsibility is a unique concept. … You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished.”

“You may delegate it, but it is still with you. … If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.”

Let’s apply that same concept of responsibility for Reston Association’s Tetra project to statements made by several Board members during May 26, 2016 Board meeting.

As you may recall, that was the meeting where the Board approved an additional $430,000 for the renovations for the “Lake House” building (formerly the Tetra building).

The original estimate in the pro forma was $259,000. The total now for the renovation is almost triple the original estimate.

I will start with RA CEO Cate Fulkerson. In her presentation, she addressed the failure of the pro forma cost estimate to accurately predict the actual costs.

Ms. Fulkerson said, “I own that mistake with my staff.” (Emphasis added.) She admits that she was responsible for the estimate but goes on to implicate her staff. She is responsible for the work of her staff and therefore responsible for whatever mistakes they made. She cannot diminish her responsibility by blaming her staff.

Just as Ms. Fulkerson is responsible for her staff, the Board of Directors is responsible for Ms. Fulkerson. She reports to the Board. The same concept of responsibility applies to the Board. Let’s look at what some of them said.

North Point Director Dannielle LaRosa said, “I think we can all agree that this [the financial estimate error] was a huge mistake.”

Thinking a mistake was made is not the same as taking personal responsibility for it.

Furthermore, she implicates the rests of Board without taking into account her culpability in this “huge mistake.” She simply diverts her personal responsibility to the other Board members.

South Lakes Director Julie Bitzer said, “I wish we all had crystal balls and knew more than we know when we started off.” She went on to say she believes in the good intentions of people and considers her glass half full. Nothing she said indicates in any way she is taking her responsibility seriously.

At-Large Director Jeff Thomas said, “Projects like this have overruns.”

Projects do over run but not all projects. Blaming a cost over run on over runs on other unnamed projects is irrational. Instead of owning up to his responsibility as a Board member, he passes it on to “projects like this.”

At-Large Director Eve Thompson said, among other things, “The appearance of misleading is misleading.” I am not sure what that means in the context of her statements during the meeting or in relation to the Tetra mistake. I will leave that to others. Her words at the meeting clearly show that she did not own up to her responsibility for the mistake on Tetra.

At-Large Director Michael Sanio said, ” We will look back and this facility will be a gem for the community.” Perhaps, but that is irrelevant. He is responsible for the mistakes made on Tetra but never admits to those mistakes.

Finally, we come to our responsibility as members of this association. We have failed. Many have complained to me about why RA allowed the cost overruns on Tetra to occur. We are to blame. We have not taken our responsibility as RA members seriously. We are Reston Association. If we elect members who don’t protect our interest, then we have only ourselves to blame.

The Admiral would not be pleased.

We must decide, now, who is to blame for the continuing Tetra fiasco, hold them responsible for their incompetence and examine what that means.

  • Mortal Sin

    Normally I get an estimate from different contractors to evaluate what needs to be done, how much it costs and what items are covered under warranty. If it’s a big ticket item I ask for my wife’s help. Issue here is that RA appears to not follow this convention. So we can only blame Satan.

    • Mike M

      Ah! But Mortal, you were using your OWN money!

    • JoeInReston

      That is not how its done. The proper way is to get a verbal agreement and hope that things will proceed as verbally discussed.

  • Trump

    Current RA is a crooked as Hillary Clinton.

    • fatwolf

      What, you couldn’t find a way to blame Obama?

  • Greg

    We voted no.

  • Mike M

    Agreed. The majority of the Reston community will vote for a meals tax and they would vote to buy the API building were it put to a referendum. They are compelled to spend other peoples and to incur obligations that exceed their means. And they will ALWAYS pull the lever next to that D!

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Mr. Abbott. I beg to differ about the Reston residents not accepting responsibility. In fact, Reston’s residents are being held responsible. The cost of this mess is being entirely borne by us.

    • Greg

      Fact.

  • thebratwurstking

    This gem Michael Sanio refers too, looks more like a blood diamond. And we voted no as well.

  • June Smith

    When I read things like this, I’m glad I bought in Deepwood – outside the long arm of the RA and it’s wasteful spending.

    • M. FitzGerald

      The wasteful spending has been wide-spread for years. Objections are always overruled.

  • VotedNoVotedD

    I really believe we were simply misled. The expected cost-overruns were known before the purchase and the numbers were cooked to get the membership to vote YES. It’s the responsibility of the membership to get rid of the current board and sue them for the dollar losses that have been swindled from us. Saying “I am responsible and I am sorry” just isn’t enough, the shysters need to be held accountable for the losses and pay with their personal assets.

    • John Higgins

      I once owned a sports car I couldn’t afford, didn’t need and should not have kept. But once I owned it, I convinced myself I was happy with the purchase. That’s where the RA board is now. Permit my friendly disagreement as to how we got here. Before the referendum, the board obtained an evaluation of the building from a reputable, independent engineering firm. The inspection was thorough, although somewhat limited because no one could tell the firm exactly how the building would be used, Therefore, they estimated the amount of work to be done based on its “current use”. Their estimates were very much in line with the numbers the board used in marketing the referendum.

      In its haste to meet an artificial deadline imposed by the seller, the board was not diligent in considering the possibility of hidden defects and not having a usage plan that might have pointed to considerably higher renovation costs. And as icing on this cake, we are looking at $88,000 of consultant fees not even dreamed of pre-referendum. I agree, regrets without remedial action don’t cut it.

      • Mike M

        So, . . . what happened to your ride?

        • John Higgins

          For several years the upkeep did not follow my pro forma maintenance plan. Clearly a foolish investment. Hmmm, sounds like Lake House. Unlike the House, I couldn’t get my neighbors to pay for it, so I dumped it.

    • Ming the Merciless

      We were not simply misled. We were deliberately misled. The proponents of the purchase soft-pedaled the downsides, failed to present the pros and cons honestly, failed to do a thorough financial study and to present the results honestly to everyone, overhyped the “scary” possibilities of voting no, pushed everyone’s emotional buttons about “opengreenspace”, and railroaded the referendum through without adequate discussion.

      There is simply no credible argument that the purchase advocates had “good intentions”. The responsible members of the Board MUST GO.

  • freestylergbb

    Thank you, Ed Abbott, for laying out this fiasco in such a respectful, revealing, rational way. Yet, RA board mbrs cling to the false righteousness of their decision. And we’re paying an assessment next year? Pathetic. Yes, I voted “no,” despite rabid pro-Tetra people trying to convince me otherwise.

  • Rational Reston

    The cost is 266% of what was estimated. That’s not a mistake, that is gross negligence at best. Deceitful at worst.

    Never vote for an RA incumbant, or a candidate who sounds like one.

  • Greendayer

    Adm Rickover was a successful leader. The Reston Board and Executive Management – not so much.
    These losers need to be voted out for their white elephant.

  • RoadApples

    Curious?
    Would the pro LakeHouse purchase proponents please respond on this website with their comments ;given these financial developments?

    • 30yearsinreston

      They have ridden off with their saddlebags full of loot

  • Eric

    We are, thus far, over $3 million into a hole that should have cost $1.2 million, and we are still digging. Nothing about this endeavor–from the very start–seems to be in the interests of the community at large. Our homeowners association failed to explain how this purchase aligned with their role as an HOA, or how we would pay for it, or what we would do with it once we owned it. And yet we still dig.

    This is unacceptable.

    We have leadership that has demonstrated they cannot read real estate appraisals and cannot engage in the simplest of real estate transactions, like, say, asking your renter to sign a contract. We have a CEO who cannot execute projects of this magnitude. Time to find leadership that can do these things.

    The RA board members who voted Yes to this have to go. Our CEO has to go. At a minimum, this is extreme negligence. This is failure to be effective stewards of our resources. Feeling duped simply means you’re not up to the task of holding our CEO accountable. As we move forward, hoping for the best is not a strategy. We have to remove these people now, before they continue to make further mistakes with our money.

    Time for them to go. Not at the next election, but now. Time to stop all work on the Tetra property until we understand how deep this hole will be, and until we come up with a plan for what, exactly, we want to do with this property to benefit all of Reston. All options should be on the table. Time to figure out how to pay for this mess and how we will pay for the cleanup. Time for effective stewardship.

  • Overrunhell

    I think Ed Abbott and one of the frequent commenters here, “Mike M,” have said it best. The community doesn’t care, believes everything in Reston is just fine. Mike M has made a point that has a lot of relevancy, this community, by far, is a liberal, Democratic community that is accustomed to letting it’s leaders make decisions for them.

    The commenters here are expressing good points, providing factual information and informed opinions. Unfortunately, I count ten, maybe twelve of the same folks here. That’s it. So all the talk of these wonderful proposals — is howling at the moon in my opinion. Hell, even the former RA treasurer provides a lot of valuable data here, but I see no action from him.

    The attitudes and the voting behavior have to change dramatically. Otherwise, you’re going to see the same people, over and over again, choosing your leaders, choosing Best of Reston results, what the county can do next, who benefits, and how much you’re going to pay for it.

    • NameWithheldUponRequest

      Yet when a potential candidate wants to target those in the membership who do actually vote by getting a list of voters, everyone raises a fuss about privacy issues, go figure. Blaming this on liberal D’s and how there is no choice is a complete cop-out akin to “the sky is falling, the sky is falling”; D or R has no relevance in our HOA leadership, come up with reasonable candidates with reasonable ideas for change and they will get elected.

      • Overrunhell

        And what, pray tell, would you do with such a list? Would those members who have voted agree to have their names in your hands? Would you send the spam emails, and junk mail to these people? Knock on their doors? What would your success look like? How would you get there?

        I’ve seen the petitions in the past, but it always ends up being people naively getting their existing choir to sign them. R or D, Mike M has a point.

        • MountainsFromMoleHills

          If I were running, I would do whatever it took to get my message to them. Probably do a door-to-door campaign, junk mail, and email. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to target the very small voting population than the membership at large.

          But I am not running, and it doesn’t even matter what I would do with the information, I deserve it.

          People just love to cry about things and call it a crisis if they have to make an extra click to send an email from their inbox to their trash folder.

          Or, you could vote for the incumbents, or not vote at all, and then complain a whole lot about how there are no alternatives.

        • 30yearsinreston

          Its not a petition
          Canvassing for a vote is a fundamental aspect of democracy
          Easy access to voters lists is key

      • Mike M

        I’m sorry, but I maintain that blaming this on Lib Ds is exactly correct. This goes on because there IS NO OPPOSITION! There is no opposition because voters is Reston zombie into the polls and pull the lever next to the D. They vote for RA people who spout unsustainable nonsense about activism in favor of principle and without any concern for fiscal sensitivity. My Reston neighbor are largely jackasses. An now some of them who vote for the D are angry at the D behavior?

        • Overrunhell

          Spot on… “there IS NO OPPOSITION!” The community is content in its ways.

    • John Higgins

      I plead innocent to the charge of inaction, but confess to the greater crime: surrender. The Tetra issue was one of two that convinced me that after some 17 years I had nothing more to offer the RA. It is painful to be aboard a runaway train and even more so to be seen as helping to stoke the fire. So I gave up. You will see me on these pages because I value rational debate based on facts. That was missing in many RA board deliberations, and is generally absent here. I suppose all that is left to do is to howl.

      • RunAwayRunAway

        An unfortunate outcome. All that is left to do is cut my individual losses and sell/move before it gets worse. I’ll never buy into an HOA community again. Reminds me of the rabbit…

        • Overrunhell

          And what, pray tell, would you do with such a list? Would those members who have voted agree to have their names in your hands? Would you send the spam emails, and junk mail to these people? Knock on their doors? What would your success look like? How would you get there?

          I’ve seen the petitions in the past, but it always ends up being people naively getting their existing choir to sign them. R or D, Mike M has a point.

  • 30yearsinreston

    The inevitability of this fiasco was obvious to those who have been here for some time and dealt with RA
    From the ‘deadlines’, cooked appraisals, inept negotiation to the scare tactics conflationing fears of Golf course development we were bound to get ripped off
    Time to.dump.the ‘CEO’, the Board and 50%:of the inflated staff numbers .

  • Overrunhell

    Wonderful expression of your opinion. Whether one agrees with you or not, OpEds, snide to informative comments by a handful of people on Reston Now, are at best entertaining to those that don’t care to listen. Just saying.

  • IVotedYes

    I voted Yes for Tetra and still believe that in the long run I’ll be glad that I did. I understand the anger and disappointment; but what I do not understand is the implications of deliberate dishonestly, malfeasance or anything else that would claim that our volunteer neighbors acted with intent to do harm. To what end? Why would the Board deliberately mislead the community? Why would the RA staff deliberately mislead the Board? None of your accusations make any logical sense at all.

    Unless someone can draw some clear connections from the decision to the enrichment of ???, anyone? I’ll have to classify this as a huge screw-up. Should someone be fired? I have no idea but nothing that I’ve read hear makes leads me to that conclusion.

    • JoeInReston

      Its my suspicion that they purposefully mislead on the costs, not to harm the community, but to make the project more sell-able in the referendum.

      • IVotedYes

        Because…

        • JoeInReston

          Because they feared the developer boogeyman would plow the surrounding open space.

          • 30yearsinreston

            Because a crony pushed the levers for his benefit and Reston were left holding the bag

        • james dean

          the referendum barely passed…if the actual, true costs had been included in the referendum materials RA members would have voted this down…but many people, like Mr. Maynard & others dug into the materials that RA did release to demonstrate that this purchase was always a boondoggle…to compound this issue, much of the cost overrun info was available before the RA board elections this year, but it was not made available to well after the election….also, while I hold no ill will towards past RA Presidents & or board members…one such past Pres lives directly across from the property….RA leadership & board members did not act in a manner that would avoid conflicts of interest & or act in the best interest of RA members….RA leadership & board need to be much more honest, open, transparent & timely in sharing info w/RA members

          • IVotedYes

            So you’re inferring that someone benefited from the passing of this Referendum and you’re stating categorically that the cost overruns were hidden to insure a particular vote out come? For what reason? Power? Undying thanks of the community?

          • james dean

            I’m James Dean….& u r? The previous owner certainly benefitted …matter of fact received more than market value for the property….the previous Ra Pres who lives across from the property seems to have benefitted… & u honestly don’t think some Ra board members would have been thrown out of office if a +$430,000.00 + cost overrun would have been common knowledge for Ra members?

          • Overrunhell

            While I thought the focus here was on the cost overruns, you want to diminish the conversation with the argument – the owner got too much money for the property and a former RA president benefited from the sale.

            To be fair, the price was published and shared, including being repeated here with Reston Now. So the only question is whether one found the assessed price too high or not. I thought it was too high, but I was informed Also, what fact do you have that a former board member benefited?

            I suggest these types of superfluous, spurious arguments be taken to the Enquirer, and focus on the conversation and facts at hand. Otherwise, the community will see this dialogue as nothing more than trolls having nothing else to do.

          • james dean

            Thanks… I point out that Ra leadership & board misinformed Ra members from the very beginning & have continued to do so… That’s relevant….a former board member lives across from the property & was very involved in the transaction… Including advocating for it on this & other sites… That former member was very concerned about who might purchase the property & how it might get use… Part of the misinformation circulated by Ra leadership & board was that the property could be redeveloped for various uses like restaurant etc… Which was not true since the property has approx 15 + easements that prevent various redevelopment projects like a restaurant….this was pointed out by various Ra members but not included in Ra referendum materials

          • 30yearsinreston

            Free views and to protect their property values

          • 30yearsinreston

            ‘One past president lives directly across from the property ‘ Bingo!

    • Greg

      The fact that there was no articulated community wide and beneficial need to the purchase the property and the fact that there were no other interested bidders for it and the fact that it was purchased far above market value and that fact that it is sited on a environmentally sensitive and protected plot are not logical reasons?

      The facts that the RA already has many underused assets, that it it is not properly maintaining and updating, and is operating pools for fewer hours are not logical reasons?

      The fact that this effort has cost far than we were told and that more than $400,000, with little or no community input, has had to be transferred to support still not fully articulated expenses is not logical?

      The fact that the “CEO” is highly paid, with assessment dollars, and has overseen this boondoggle and has stated she owns this mess is not logical?

      And all of these, and the many others set forth elsewhere, are not cogent and logical reasons to fire the CEO?

      To what standards of logic do you measure these sorts of things?

    • Mike M

      Thanks for speaking up and admitting your part. Answer to your good question: The thing about L-words is they do things for “principle” unconstrained by hard realities. They often intentionally mislead because they, like religious fanatics, feel that they are on the wiser path of righteousness. Often NO ONE gains when they take action. Always many pay.

  • What I took out of this

    “Admiral Rickover’s Nuclear Navy” sounds like the name of a whimsical off-Broadway musical.

  • Mad Restonian

    What burns me up is the posturing of Fulkerson. Why is this woman always blaming her staff? When she is asked a question, she immediately looks to her staff to give her the answer. Does she actually think or do anything without her staff propping her up?

    Whose job was it to secure the rent back?? Seriously, who specifically dropped the ball on the rent back “handshake”?

    • Greg

      Among many reasons why she should be fired. Incompetent, overpaid and reckless with our assessment dollars. I’d add bad manager, but her actions and words speak for themselves. Would you want to work for her?

    • John Higgins

      Fact Check: Misconceptions do not become true by repetition. The lease with Tetra Partners was for six months with two six-month renewal options at the discretion of Tetra. One might argue that RA should not have included any income beyond six months in their projections. But these were estimates, based on the best information on hand at the time. Among the many things to dislike about the whole affair, I’m inclined to give them a pass on this issue.

      • Greg

        Why give them a pass? That’s a lot of money that was not sorted out before the deal was done. Details matter, details were overlooked, the deal was rushed (with no other Tetra property offers at all) and now we are suffering the results. Those acts and failures to act come very close to passing the breach of fiduciary duty bar as does owning an error. Owners face the consequences of their acts and failures to act.

  • james dean

    Terry Maynard has posted a very thorough examination of tetra/ lake house expenditures & projections at reston2020.blogspot.com

    • Overrunhell

      What did he say?

  • Mike M

    Feh! And if they circle the wagons . . . ?
    One thing they will do that matters is zombie into the polls and pull the lever next to the D, and vote for RA candidates who want to by new stuff.

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