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Op-Ed: Conflict of Interests May Just Be Tip of the Iceberg

by RestonNow.com February 3, 2017 at 10:15 am 9 Comments

Ed Abbott addresses RA board - Jan. 26, 2017This is an op-ed submitted by Ed Abbott, co-coordinator of Reston Recall. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

Reston Association still lacks a Code of Ethics, but we know a conflict of interest when we see one.

Eve Thompson, Director At-Large, and her husband, Rick, own the Lake Anne Coffee House as well as their condo at Lake Anne. Her husband, Rick, heads the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association (LARCA), which represents the owners of commercial and private properties in Lake Anne.

One of many items on a very crowded agenda at the last board meeting was a discussion of improvements to the Lake Anne docks, above and beyond the necessary repairs that are already in the budget. Mr. Thompson explained the project to the board with a very nice slideshow. He showed the board the location of the new docks and what a nice improvement they would make to the ambience of Lake Anne.

Unfortunately, neither Mr. Thompson nor Ms. Thompson, nor anyone else for that matter, volunteered the information that the presenter was the spouse of Director Eve Thompson. Nor did the Board discuss the possible conflict of interest inherent in having the husband of a board member present before the board as president of a condominium association seeking to get the RA to spend RA members’ money on a new capital spending project that would primarily benefit the property owners and businesses of Lake Anne.

A motion was introduced to hold a public hearing related to the proposed capital improvements of the docks. When Eve Thompson started to speak in favor of the motion, Director Lucinda Shannon raised the issue of Ms. Thompson’s conflict of interest. Ms. Thompson retorted that her ownership of a condo and a coffee house at Lake Anne were not conflicts.

So what are the obligations of directors when it comes to conflicts of interest (COI)? First and foremost, the COI statement must be complete and accurate, signed under penalty of being removed from the board. What does Ms. Thompson disclose about her potential conflicts? Not a whole lot. Her ownership of the Lake Anne Coffee House isn’t included. Nor is her husband’s connection to the Lake Anne of Reston Condominium Association.

Just to be clear, the statement requires that “all assets… located in Reston or involved in Reston-based activities” be listed. Ms. Thompson’s statement was incomplete and inaccurate when she signed it in April 2015, and it is still incomplete and inaccurate.

Since most directors are property owners in Reston, potential conflicts of interest are inevitable when the board conducts business. The right way for the RA board to handle these issues would be for a director to disclose a potential conflict up front, before the discussion starts. The other members of the board and/or counsel can then decide if it is appropriate for the director to participate or if she should recuse herself.

The worst way for a board to conduct business is for the director to fail to disclose a potential conflict and then disagree about it when called on it by another director.

If the board is so lackadaisical in enforcing its own COI rules, what other conflicts and self-dealing has occurred or is occurring? The Tetra property purchase comes to mind. This may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We may never know unless we change the membership of the board.

  • Reston Resident 1729

    One Opinion countered with my opinion…Lake Anne Village center looks run down and needs to be improved regardless of who proposes it. Reston Association and cluster associations all utilize volunteers from all parts of RA to sacrifice time for their neighbors benefits. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST. If our village centers deteriorate without improving them then they will slowly lose interest with the community and be torn down by developers..cough…Tall Oaks…cough. Who better than Business owners that invest in our neighborhood with their livelihoods to be on the Board to help advise on decisions for our community. It’s no different than if another Director was commenting on a capitol improvement project that was near his or her house. Their district elected them to represent and fight for their best interests. The point of being a head of a cluster or condo association is to present projects to RA that need to be improved. You are basically asking for my representative to not comment/vote on improvements that my/his/her district wants because it is a conflict of interest. Seems a little limiting if our representatives can’t comment on issues that actually affect their community and must recuse themselves every time an item comes up. The meetings might drag on even longer than they already do.

    • cRAzy

      So, should Restonians pay for improvements in any and all village centers even though those are private properties?

      Also, there is a difference between representing your district and creating the appearance of advocating for one’s own business interests. In this case, Sherri Hebert is actually the Lake Anne/Tall Oaks RA rep and so far as I know she would have no COI in advocating for improvements to RA-owned assets at Lake Anne, if there are any.

      OTOH, as Mr. Abbott points out, Ms. Thompson and her husband own or have interest in several Lake Anne businesses. She should not be advocating for anything there, and she should disclose in full her business interests there that may cause a COI.

      Sorry, no RA Board member has the right to advance their personal interests at the expense of RA members–as Ms. Thompson routinely does.

    • Anonymous Poster

      I understand your concern about wanting to see something get done – I agree that it would be a shame to see Lake Anne go to shambles.

      That doesn’t excuse that Ms. Thompson has significant business interests in development of this area with her real estate business, coffee house business, and private residence. While I agree that perhaps that doesn’t mean Ms. Thompson should recuse herself completely from anything that affects Lake Anne – because of practicality concerns – that also doesn’t mean she should not disclose that she does have significant financial interests tied up in the matter.

      I don’t think nearly as many people would have an issue if she were forthright about this when the debate starts. In fact, let her present the matter! It would be similar to a developer presenting something that would benefit them, and sets a normal, correct tone for the matter. But hiding her significant interests really make the whole situation much worse.

      Be transparent! That’s all I want, transparency.

    • Greg

      Reston’s “village centers” are all private property. There is some minor part of Lake Anne that is RA property (including the lake) but the vast majority of it is private. The run-down look is the direct fault of the owners, one of whom is Eve Thompson — she’s failed in keeping her own property attractive and not run-down. She can’t be trusted on the RA board — now or ever. She should resign.

  • Nyla J.

    Ms.Thompson also happens to work for the same company as the seller of the Tetra property. Another potential conflict of interest. While the contract says no commissions were paid I find it a little curious.

  • Mike M

    My small hometown was run this way. I called it the “rule of the townies!” Tis a tad unseemly in such a large and wealthy jurisdiction.

  • JohnIZ

    Here are the Conflict of Interest disclosures from Reston.org for board members. Ms. Thompson fails to list her business interests at Lake Anne Village.

    https://www.reston.org/Portals/3/2013%20GENERAL/REVISED%20BoD%20Conflict%20of%20Interest%20Statements.pdf

    The level of detail from all board members is incredibly low and varies from one person to the next. Expectations and standards for disclosure need to be improved so RA members and other board members can make informed decisions. Otherwise the financial mismanagement will persist and our dues will keep increasing with less and less to show for it.

  • Reston Realist

    Eve Thompson has no business being on the RA board. In my view she is unqualified. She lacks the understanding of what her function of a director. Instead, she uses her position as a platform to increase her standing in the community and her personal wealth. Additionally, her temperament and lack of respect for the so called “Peanut Gallery” is troubling. She needs to move on and off the board.

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