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

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.

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