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2017 Reston Association Board Election: Meet Mike Collins

by RestonNow.com — March 16, 2017 at 11:30 am 8 Comments

Mike Collins/RAVoting in the 2017 Reston Association Board of Directors election will run through April 3. We will be posting profiles on each of the candidates. Featured here is Mike Collins, who is facing five other candidates in the race for an At-Large seat. His opponents are Roberto Anguizola (profile), Eric Carr (profile), Charles Dorfeuille (profile), Ven Iyer (profile) and HeidiAnne Werner (profile). The six squared off in a candidate forum last week.

The profiles are in a Q-and-A format. Each candidate had an opportunity to answer the same questions in their own words.

How long have you lived in Reston? What brought you here?

My wife, Sarah, and our two young sons decamped from the West Coast to live closer to family and make Reston our home in 2008. I first learned about Reston while studying City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. Textbooks usually focus on Reston’s innovative architecture, layout and amenities, but they miss the genius of Bob Simon’s plan. His whole point was to bring people together to form communities and to create space for engaging nature. That’s what keeps us here.

What inspired you to run for the board?

This is actually my second time seeking a board spot. I represented the North Point District from 2010 to 2013. Although I absolutely loved serving our community this way, I did not seek re-election due to a job opportunity that did not allow for both.  

I want to return to the board because I know that the quality of life we enjoy here does not happen by accident. It takes a lot of work. Not only am I willing and able to do it, I actually enjoy it! I chose to run this year in particular because five or more directors will leave the board in the next two years and I believe my prior experience on and off the board will be particularly valuable in grappling with a strained budget and the challenges of development.

What are three of the biggest concerns you have for Reston?

For Reston in general, our primary challenge is integrating new development in ways that do not overwhelm us. RA must have a very strong voice in trying to mitigate their impact on traffic, aesthetics and other quality of life issues. That’s why, as a Director, I strongly encouraged RA to hire land use counsel who can advise the Board and help advocate our community’s interests. I will also support a Design Review Board that takes a firm stance against projects that are out of character with our neighborhoods.

Second is the challenge of integrating new residents into our community. Residents of most new projects near Metro will not automatically become members of RA. That does not mean we can’t offer them that opportunity and some developers have already joined voluntarily. This can help build the sense of community that Bob Simon envisioned and help RA’s budget because new members will pay assessments without adding much cost.

The third challenge also relates to the RA budget. Recent overspending has severely constrained RA’s ability to maintain services and amenities, could preclude new programs and projects, and created upward pressure on assessments. No one wants to pay higher assessments, but I am particularly concerned on the impact on the nearly 5,000 (25 percent) households in Reston with annual incomes under $50,000.

What do you hope to accomplish by being on the board?

I hope to help take Reston Association in a new direction, where people see a greater value for their assessment dollars, have more trust in the board decisions, and see an improved, more cohesive Reston. Specifically, I will focus on:

  1. Improving Communication — I truly believe directors must conduct direct outreach to their constituents. Personal relationships allow directors to get input beyond three minutes at a board meeting and provide them with the opportunity to explain their positions beyond press releases. I was the first RA Board member to create a newsletter for his constituents. I also attended numerous cluster meetings and convened three town halls. I got yelled at alot, but enjoyed every minute.
  2. Reforming the RA budget process — Too often, directors simply accept staff’s budget proposals without looking behind the numbers. Worse, the Board does very little to make sure that staff sticks to the budget. Directors must be willing to delve deep into the details to assure accountability. Given RA’s history of the recent Lake House project and the reconstruction of the Dogwood pool, I will not support new projects until RA can ensure delivery on-time and on-budget.  
  3. Improving our pathways — Reston’s paths were mostly designed for recreation, but they could be reoriented so we can walk or bike to places we need to go. This would not necessarily require the addition of entirely new paths. A few tweaks here and there could enhance connectivity and safety.

How will your personal or professional experience help you in your role with RA?

Professionally,  I was Congressional staffer for six years, including three as Outreach Director for Congressman Gerry Connolly.  I have 10 years experience as a lawyer with experience in litigation, contracts, and homeowners associations.  I have served on the board of a chapter of Habitat for Humanity and currently serve on the board of the Fellowship Square Foundation, which provides housing for 460 very low-income seniors in Reston.

Personally, my family and I have been involved in the best of what Reston offers. My sons go to FCPS schools, are involved in its Boy Scout troops, and have spent many fun summers at various RA camps. We set a summer goal — and met it — a few years back of visiting all 15 RA pools. We’ve jumped in Lake Anne at Freezin’ for Reason and sweated out many a July morning as part of the RSTA’s Lake Newport Lightning. We are living the Reston experience, and know Reston families’ concerns and priorities firsthand.

Learn more about me at www.mikelikesreston.com.

PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED CANDIDATE PROFILES:

  • JoeInReston

    “No one wants to pay higher assessments, but I am particularly concerned on the impact on the nearly 5,000 (25 percent) households in Reston with annual incomes under $50,000.”

    Hi Mike,

    Can you elaborate on how you would like to address the higher assessments on less affluent households. Is this nod towards lowering overall assessment costs by reducing RA spending/scope? Or is this a nod towards having tiered progressive assessments?

    • Mike Collins

      Thanks for the question Joe.

      #1 has to be keeping assessments as low as we can while maintaining the facilities and services Restonians want. Avoiding huge one-off expenses like buying and renovating a certain “house” by a certain lake would have been a good start. I’m also in favor of taking a hard look at the roughly $3 million we have in unbudgeted reserves. By unbudgeted, I mean, these funds exceed the amounts called for in the last reserve study and exceed the amounts even RA says it needs in case of some catastrophe. That said, there is a long backlog of repair projects too, so not all that money is truly surplus. Seems to me that at least some of that money could be used to offset upward pressure on assessments. The Board did that for 2017 and I’d consider doing it again.

      Beyond one-time savings, I’m open to cutting programs or assets that really aren’t necessary or valued by members, BUT it is hard to find recurring savings that would actually lower assessments substantially. To reduce the assessment by $50 per unit per year, you’d have to find more than $1 million in annual savings somehow. Even somehow dumping the Lake House loan would only save you $8/year.

      To your second point, I’m open to new ideas and don’t have a preferred solution right now. I will note that we are the only association of our size nearby that charges a flat rate – a rate that is low compared to similar communities. Maybe our community will decide we like the current system and we can address the equity issue in some other way. I’m told that was Bob’s preference. In any case, we haven’t revised our governing docs in more than 10 years so I think it’s time we had a public discussion on whether they have kept up with the times and Reston’s values.

  • Donald

    Mr. Collins, I suspect I will be lambasted for asking this once again, I appreciate your patience if you are willing to answer. (I’m asking all the candidates.)

    Reston National Golf Course is under constant threat of being redeveloped. Reston Association, Rescue Reston and the County continue to be vigilant, spending precious time and dollars, to defend the open space. Hidden Creek CC, could conceivably go the same route as RNGC.

    Reston Association has committed to purchasing (via referendum) the RNGC as a last resort to preserve the property.

    What would you do, if either of these items came to you while serving on the board?

    Thank you,
    Donald

    • JoeInReston

      “Reston Association has committed to purchasing (via referendum) the RNGC as a last resort to preserve the property”

      They have?

    • Mike Collins

      Donald, When I was on the Board, I strongly advocated for hiring land use counsel and litigating over the legal status of RNGC because sometimes statements are not enough. I don’t recall RA making a commitment to buy a golf course, but that might have happened after I left the Board. Before the Lake House sucked all the air (and money) out the room, I would have said I am very intrigued by the idea. Now, I’m not so sure. Thanks for the question.

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