The Herndon Town Council appears to be getting closer to finalizing revisions of the code of ethics — a move that some councilmembers say will ensure ethical behavior of future councils and erase a perception that the council skirts rules.
The councilmembers discussed the ordinance that would revamp their current code of ethics at last night’s Town Council work session. “I like the changes that you made,” Councilmember Signe Friedrichs told the town attorney. “They made it more easy to understand where things are.”
The ordinance would add this preamble:
WHEREAS, the proper operation of local government requires that public officials be independent, impartial and accountable to the citizens, that governmental decisions and policy be made through proper processes, that public office not be used for personal gain, and that the public have confidence in the integrity of its government and public officials; and
WHEREAS, as public officials we are charged with upholding the trust of the citizens and with obeying the law and respecting established policies and procedures; and
WHEREAS, as public officials we have taken the oath of office and have pledged that we will support and maintain the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia and further that we will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of our office.
NOW THEREFORE, in recognition of our obligations as citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia and as public officials and citizens of the Town of Herndon, we do hereby adopt the following Code of Ethics to guide the Town’s council and council appointed board and commission members.
The rest of the ordinance also adds four more adjectives to describe how members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members should act, including: “faithfully and impartially perform their duties,” “demonstrate… independence” and “treat the public, town staff and each other in a respectful… manner.”
The councilmembers discussed how the new wording balances a need for more specific language with the concern that trying to list every single unethical behavior could end up missing some things.
The ordinance also would add numbered subheads and references to applicable sections of the Town of Herndon’s code and charter and the Code of Virginia. (The code of ethics is currently located in Article I of the second chapter under the Herndon Town Code.)
In addition to the code of ethics, Vice Mayor Sheila Olem said that she is looking forward to seeing social media guidelines.
“I think we have spent a ton of time on this, and we have a nice document here that should be — I feel like after all these discussions — pretty close, if not ready, for prime time,” Mayor Lisa Merkel said.
Image via Town of Herndon
Updated at 9:15 a.m. on March 18 — A previous version of this story incorrectly said “Vienna” instead of “Herndon” officials. This has now been corrected.
Some Herndon Town Council members are pushing for more robust ethics guidelines, but there’s disagreement about how best to go about doing that.
While councilmembers have agreed that revising the code of ethics is a positive step toward ensuring ethical behavior of future councils and erasing a perception that the council skirts rules, they have different ideas on what should get changed or added.
At a March 5 meeting, Councilmember Pradip Dhakal suggested borrowing from other codes of conduct, and analyzing omissions in the current code, may solve current gaps. (Councilmembers said they have been looking at the ethics codes from the Town of Amherst and Williamsburg as examples to emulate.)
Breadth and specificity dominated the March 5 debate, with some councilmembers raising concerns that trying to list every single unethical behavior could end up missing some things and creating a policy that no one would read.
For the sake of appearances, having a longer ethics code might raise some eyebrows if it’s overly detailed, one councilmember said.
“I’d be like what kind of crap is going on if they need this level of detail?” said the councilmember, who could not be positively identified on an audio recording of the meeting.
While some of the councilmembers expressed support for the current policy’s simplicity, others argued that a more in-depth code will clear up any confusion.
“We are coming from different backgrounds and sometimes common sense is uncommon,” Dhakal said. “My common sense may not be yours.”
Other possibilities floated at the March 5 meeting included defining “ethical behavior” and adding some definitions and rules that are in the state code. Creating guidelines for social media and online conduct also came up as a possible addition to the code of ethics or as a separate set of guidelines.
Vice Mayor Sheila Olem and councilmembers Cesar del Aguila and Signe Friedrichs have led the effort to revise the code.
Unethical, sketchy, and uncomfortable behavior among Herndon officials are some of the main reasons behind the push to strengthen the code. The councilmembers shared stories of unnamed former town officials who publicly berated staff, grabbed a staffer in a sexual manner, and solicited jobs from other elected officials in the performance of their official duties.
The code of ethics is currently located in Article I of the second chapter under the Herndon Town Code.
Reston Now saved you the trouble of hunting it down:
Sec. 2-5. – Code of ethics for the members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members.
(a) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members shall perform their duties to the very best of their abilities and demonstrate integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior in the conduct of all town business.
(b) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members shall treat the public, town staff and each other in a courteous manner and shall at all times refrain from abusive conduct, threatening or intimidating language or gestures, personal charges, or verbal or written attacks concerning the character or motives of other members of the town council, town boards and commissions, town staff, or the public.
(c) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members shall bring any concerns about the performance of a council appointee to the entire council. Concerns about the performance of a town employee shall be discussed privately with the town manager.
(d) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members should direct significant requests for information or discussions concerning town business to the town manager, who directs the day-to-day operations of the town and its employees.
(e) Members of the town council and council appointed board and commission members shall fully comply with the provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Code of Virginia, §§ 2.2-3700, et seq. and the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act, Code of Virginia, §§ 2.2-3100–2.2-3131, as applicable.
“One of our citizens came to a public hearing and said, ‘Pass it now!'” Mayor Lisa Merkel said at the end of the March 5 discussion. “I don’t think we need to rush into it, but [we’re] making movement in the right direction and making sure it reflects what we all really want to see in there.”
The Town of Herndon is still working on the code. At the town’s public session on Tuesday (March 12), del Aguila said that the code of ethics “is certainly coming to fruition.”
Image via Town of Herndon
One month after Wooboi Chicken’s opening, Chef Minwoo says that the Herndon eatery still has lines out of the door in the late morning and even one diner who came down from New Jersey for a taste of the Nashville Hot Chicken.
After pop-up locations around Maryland and Virginia last summer, Wooboi Chicken officially opened a brick-and-mortar spot in early February at 139 Spring Street, Suite 1.
The chicken is free-range, does not contain antibiotics and is fried in peanut oil, according to its website. For customers with peanut allergies, Wooboi Chicken has a separate fryer that uses canola oil instead.
The concept is based on Nashville Hot Chicken, which has its roots in a woman’s attempt to get back at her cheating man by serving him a super spicy chicken.
Minwoo told Reston Now that he has thrown in his own twists, including D.C. mumbo sauce made from pineapples, distilled wine, vinegar, tomato paste; Japanese-influenced brine; and a unique breading that Minoo calls a “fusion of fine dining and generic KFC and Popeyes.”
The chicken eatery offers six different levels of heat depending on how hot customers like their chicken — the code red and code blue options are the hottest and require an extra warning: a “waiver” on a chalkboard-painted wall where diners have signed their names.
Minwoo estimates that about 10 percent of the customers try either the red or the blue option, and about 5 percent of those “brave people” successfully finish their food. (If you’re not a spice person, don’t go above a level two, Minwoo says.)
This Reston Now reporter chickened out and tried one of the milder items from the secret menu instead — the Merkaroni Salad. (Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel took to Twitter to share her excitement about having a secret menu item named after herself.)
Other secret menu items to ask for include The Kracken, which is a double chicken sandwich inspired by Paul from Weird Brothers Coffee, and the Choi Fries, which are fries with D.C. mumbo sauce, chicken, cheddar cheese and mustard.
The secret menu isn’t the only surprise. The recipes change a little bit every day, Minwoo adds.
“I’m just going to try to make the best chicken sandwich I can.”
Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel severed ties with the Fairfax County Democratic Committee this week in response to “Trump-like” campaign signs that asserted candidates were “pretending to be Democrats.”
Merkel, a Democrat who has been served as the mayor since 2012, resigned from the committee a day after the election.
“I cannot in good faith be a part of a committee that condones such negative campaigning and untrue messaging about its own members, especially at the polls and with my constituents. I consider myself a Democrat, particularly in the Trump era, but I will no longer be associated with the Fairfax County Democratic Committee,” Merkel wrote in a statement to Reston Now.
She said the signs were divisive in a written statement to the county committee and the Dranesville District Democratic Committee:
I must admit that I was most disappointed to arrive at the polls in Herndon yesterday to see the attached very large committee-approved signs asserting that there were candidates “pretending to be Democrats.” This is appalling behavior, and I expected better of my party. Many of the candidates running for town council were still dues-paying members of FCDC and the Dranesville committee on Election Day. I wonder what our Congressman and Senator would think of seeing their signs seemingly associated with this kind of untrue, Trump-like “Fake News” scare tactic? My guess is they would not appreciate it, particularly given that I was pleased to receive the personal endorsement of both Gerry Connolly and Tim Kaine, along with every other Virginia Democratic elected official that serves the Town of Herndon. I think that speaks to years of relationships building and working together on behalf of the residents of Herndon.
Additionally, I’m not sure if you are aware but Herndon Voices, a PAC owned by one of your endorsed candidates, distributed materials at the polls endorsing known Republicans along with another non-FCDC endorsed candidate. Does this set well with the committee and the required-for-endorsement pledge to only support the endorsed candidates?
In a statement to Reston Now, Dan Lagana, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, said the signs were not authorized by the committee
“The signs were not authorized nor produced by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. I wish Mayor Merkel the very best and want her to know that the door is always open. However, I strongly urge both the Mayor and Herndon Town Councilmembers-elect to set aside personal differences and work collaboratively on behalf of the residents of the Town of Herndon,” Lagana wrote.
Photo via Lisa Merkel
(Editor’s note: This story was updated Thursday at 7:30 a.m. to reflect official results).
Incumbent Grace Wolf Cunningham, a four-term councilwoman, lost her seat on the Herndon Town Council following a narrow and highly charged election.
Cunningham was replaced by newcomers Cesar Del Aguila and Pradip Dhakal. Incumbents Jennifer Baker, Sheila Olem, Bill McKenna and Signe Friedrichs were also elected to the council, maintaining much of the composition of the board. After official results were certified, Dhakal came in fifth place, moving McKenna to the sixth spot and booting Joe Plummer, another candidate who was previously projected to win, off the council.
Ten candidates ran for six open seats and margins between candidates remained characteristically narrow, as in previous years. Although Olem, Aguila and Friedrichs were separated by relatively comfortable margins, votes separating other candidates were minimal. Plummer lost to McKenna by 22 votes.
At around 11:30 p.m. on election night, it appeared the newcomer would secure the final seat on the board and that McKenna, a one-term councilman, was off.
Internal conflict that boiled over in the public arena was common in this year’s election. Olem, Friedrichs and Del Aguila — who ran a unified campaign — filed a lawsuit against Cunningham alleging she engaging in malicious prosecution over when the four-term councilwoman filed campaign law violations against the trio. The violations were squarely dismissed by the Virginia State Board of Elections.
The lawsuit is pending a decision following the election. The judge in the case rejected Cunningham’s attempt to dismiss the case.
Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel was re-elected as mayor, continuing a position she has held since 2012. The election was not contested. New council members will assume office on Jan. 1.
In Focus: Fairfax County
In other local and county election news, Fairfax County voters approved a $182 million bond to fund public safety improvements for a number of facilities, including fire stations, police training buildings and the renovation of civil and criminal justice facilities.
The measure was approved with just under 70 percent of total votes. As of 9:45 a.m., one precinct has not reported results, but the absence of that data will not alter results.
Meanwhile, voter turnout was high this year in Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Office of Elections estimated a voter turnout of nearly 70 percent, including absentee ballots. That number is up from nearly 46 percent in 2014.
This story has been updated.
Town of Herndon residents will be asked to select candidates for the Herndon Town Council on the ballot tomorrow. But language on the ballot states that voters are only required to select up to six candidates, leaving voters with the option to select candidates they feel particularly passionate about without filling out all available slots.
The option, which has garnered questions from voters, prompted Town of Herndon Mayor Lisa Merkel to address the issue earlier today. Merkel, who is running unopposed, is backing only four candidates: Jennifer Baker, Bill McKenna, Grace Wolf Cunningham and Joseph Plummer.
There are several ways to look at that. Voting for just the candidates you believe in may make sense in this kind of election when the top six vote getters are the winners. Recent elections have been very close. (Even the Virginia House of Delegates was essentially decided by one vote in one house district!) At times in the past Council seats have been decided by as few as 4 votes. What if you voted for the four or five candidates you really believe in, but then felt like you had to use up your last vote or two, and cast votes for candidates that you weren’t 100% behind? And then one of the “second choices” manages to beat one of your top choices by a vote or two? In essence you contributed to your favorite actually losing the seat. Sounds crazy, but it could happen. Food for thought, I guess.
Town of Herndon residents, take the following poll to indicate how you plan to handle the issue on Election Day.
Candidates for the Herndon Town Council are gearing up for election day on Nov. 6. Over the last month, fundraising totals for Grace Wolf Cunningham, a current councilwoman running for reelection, surpassed her opponents who are also vying for seats on the Council.
Cunningham reeled in nearly $7,000, moving her ahead of funds raised by other candidates — even after factoring in a $3,000 loan she took from herself. Ten candidates are vying for six town council seats: Cunningham, Jennifer Baker, Cesar Del Aguila, Pradip Dhakal, Signe Friedrichs, W.J. Sean Kenis Jr., Bill McKenna, Sheila Olem, Joe Plummer and Roland Taylor. Baker, Cunningham, Friedrichs, McKenna and Olem are incumbents.
Mayor Lisa Merkel is running unopposed and reeled in $4,374 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 25, including donations from Cunningham, and State House Rep. Jennifer Boysko, Fairfax County Board of Director John Foust. She had roughly $2,345 cash on hand.
Most other Council candidates brought in roughly $1,000 in contributions over the past month. Baker raised around $2,519 and was left with $1,542. Dhakal received more than $4,000 over the last reporting period through 51 contributions, largely from the Indian community.
Del Aguila raised nearly $900 and was left with $677 in his campaign coffers, a number similar to Kenis Jr. who raised nearly $2,000 but was left with around $692. Friedrichs received nearly $610 and was had roughly $1,200 in his coffers. McKenna received around $1,528 and was left with a little over $1,000. Olem held on to most contributions, with around $1,015 raised and $3,682 in the bank. Plummer raised $1,161 and had just $390 remaining.
Data for Taylor was not available because he is a self-funded candidate and is only required to file campaign finance reports at the conclusion of his campaign.
Donations across campaigns were common. For example, Merkel donated to the several council candidate committees, including that of Cunningham, McKenna, and Plummer.
Alliances have also emerged during a recent civil suit filed by Olem, Del Aguila and Friedrichs against Cunningham alleging she engaged in the malicious prosecution against them. A judge is likely to make a decision on the civil suit following the election.
Cunningham’s legal representative, State Sen. Chap Peterson, called the lawsuit a “distraction.”
“My client, the Honorable Grace Wolf Cunningham looks forward to Election Day and continuing to represent her constituents and achieving results. Once Election Day is over we will deal with whatever legal issues remain,” Peterson wrote in a statement.
On Nov. 6, Town of Herndon voters will cast their ballots for the Herndon Mayoral and Herndon Town Council candidates.
A few days prior to the vote, town residents can chat with candidates on Oct. 22 from 6-8 p.m. in the lobby of the Herndon Municipal Center (777 Lynn Street).
Each candidate will have a display table on-site and will be available to answer questions.
Lisa Merkel, the town’s current mayor, is running for reelection. No other candidates are running.
Five incumbents are running for six seats on the Town Council for one-year terms. Those candidates are Jennifer Baker, Grace Cunningham, Signe Friedrichs, William McKenna and Sheila Olem.
In the race, five newcomers are hoping to challenge incumbents for their seats: Cesar Del Aguila, Pradip Dhakal, W.J. Kenis, Jr., Joseph Plummer and Roland Taylor.
The event is sponsored by the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Photo via Facebook
Plans for the redevelopment of downtown Herndon were officially withdrawn in late July following the filing of three appeals from property owners next to the site of the redevelopment effort.
The appellants are challenging the June 18 decision of the Heritage Preservation Review Board to approve the redevelopment plan, which is presented through a public-private partnership between the developer, Comstock, and the town, which owns the property.
The appeals allege the HPRB approved the project prematurely and failed to apply the town’s requirements for historical preservation, including whether or not the proposed development, which would require demolition of some buildings, was compatible with buildings in the heritage preservation district. Of particular concern is the demolition of the old Stohlman Subaru building on Elden Street, the preservations status and significance of which was misrepresented to the public and the board, according to the appeals.
One appeal charges that the town exercised “undue influence” on the HPRB and attempted to limit its power by clarifying town officials’ expectations of how the board would handle the redevelopment proposal. The appeal also states the town officials’ presentation of the application to the HPRB was biased.
Discussions are underway between town officials and the developer to determine the next steps. “We continue to work with the town and trust that things will stay on track,” a spokesperson for Comstock told Reston Now.
In a statement, Lisa Merkel, the mayor of the Town of Herndon, said she was disappointed the project was being stalled despite years of planning, outreach and public comment, especially since the demolition of the old Stohlman Subaru building was evident in proposals since the original request for proposals.
“I hope this delay doesn’t cost Herndonians the opportunity to have the vibrant, arts-focused, smalltown downtown so many have dreamed of and worked to make happen for decades. I am hopeful, but worried,” Merkel wrote.
Going forward, the town’s zoning administrator must schedule a hearing at the next town council meeting. During the meeting, appellants will discuss their appeals before the council. The town council will decide whether or not it will reverse the HPRB’s decision on the development.
Other concerns raised in the appeals include the impact of the development on traffic, overflow parking needs for residents of nearby apartments, and the high-density nature of the development.
The filed appeals are below:
The Herndon Town Council passed a $60.2 million budget for next year, a nearly 18 percent increase over last year.
The budget package, which was approved Tuesday night, holds the line on taxes. The general fund budget increased moderately by 1.7 percent to $35.2 million.
A significant portion of the spending boost is tied to the development of downtown Herndon and vehicle and pedestrian access improvements.
The budget includes $2.7 million for improvements on Van Buren Street and Herndon Parkway, $730,000 for improvements at the intersection of Herndon Parkway and Spring Street and $900,000 for improvements at the intersection of Elden Street and Monroe Street. An additional $500,000 is included for downtown parking and an arts facility.
Local officials are considering adding a second story to the Herndon Community Center to create more space for fitness activities and storage. The project also includes plans to upgrade locker rooms and a reconfigured entrance to address issues with HVAC system in the current lobby.
Funding for a 4,000-square-foot nature center at Runnymede Park is also included in the budget.
The complete budget will be available online by July. 1
Plans are underway to redevelop aging office buildings and mixed-used projects in Herndon as the opening of the nearby Metro station inches closer in 2020.
But as the oncoming train sweeps in more development and corridor activity, local officials and business leaders are grappling with one key question: How will the Herndon Metro stop distinguish itself from others on the Silver Line?
“We cannot have every stop look the same,” said John Boylan, president and CEO of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Some are placing their hopes on the place-making character of the Town of Herndon’s downtown, a historic center that is one mile from the Metro station and the only incorporated town on the Silver Line. The town is working with Comstock Partners to redevelop 4.7 acres of land into a mixed use development with 281 apartments, a central community plaza, an arts center and retail. Comstock plans to break ground in late 2018. Construction will take at least two years.
A 761-space garage will be delivered first and will be free. Maggie Parker, Comstock’s vice president of communication, said the company is excited to work on Herndon’s “jewel.”
“People are hungry for community and that’s what the Herndon project offers and that’s what the Herndon Metro Station offers,” Parker said.
Mixed-used projects in Herndon’s 38-acre transit-oriented area near the Metro station are taking off. By 2050, an additional 2.1 million square feet of office space is planned as part of Herndon’s Metro Station Area Plan.
Just last month, Kiddar Capital announced it acquired 575 Herndon Parkway, a 4.8-acre site at the door of Herndon Metro station platform. The company is holding off on releasing plans for redevelopment for at least three years.
Other mixed-use projects are in the pipeline. The first and furthest development from the Metro Station — Corporate Oaks One (625 Herndon Parkway) — includes 64 stacked condominiums selling for between $500,000 and $600,000.
Penzance Properties plans to build a mixed-use development at 555 parkway, which calls for three or four 225 to 275-foot towers and ground floor retail.
Other projects in Herndon include Tishman’s Woodland Park East Development, which will include 1.6 million square feet of office and residential on roughly 32 acres. A mix of 678 townhouses, stacked condos, and apartments is planned, along with two office towers, 81 affordable housing units and six acres of open space.
“Herndon is strategically positioned for growth,” said Rodney Lusk, director of national marketing for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.
Waterview at Woodland Park includes 295 multi-family units, 50 stacked townhouses and 32 townhouses. Prices start in the upper $600s for the community, which will open in May.
Arrowbrook Centre will see 2.3 million square feet of development on 54 acres. Houston Office Partners also plans to convert two office buildings into two multi-family residential projects with 866 units. Innovation Center South, which calls for 1.6 million square feet of development, including 1 million square feet of residential and 2,070 parking spaces, is currently under construction.
Lisa Merkel, mayor of the Town of Herndon, said the Herndon area will face a new challenge of transitioning people from cars to mass transit in a community that mostly has single-family homes.
“We don’t want to be a bedroom community,” said Merkel. “We are a small town with a worldview.”
The seven-member Herndon Town Council unanimously approved a comprehensive agreement with Comstock Partners that lays out responsibilities of both parties. Comstock plans to bring 281 residential apartments, 17,600 square feet of retail space, an arts plaza and walkways, an 18,000-square-foot arts center and a 761-space parking garage to the center.
The public-private redevelopment deal states the town will pitch in $3.6 million to help with the redevelopment effort, including $500,000 for environmental remediation, $500,000 for transitional public parking, $250,000 for the relocation of the arts center, $100,000 for culvert repairs and up to $100,000 for any off-site easements. The town will also contribute land purchased for $5.8 million
In return, the developer will provide 339 public parking spaces in the garage, the arts center, an arts work and recreation proffer and $505,000 in proffer funds for town recreational services. The total value of the contributions is roughly $12 million, according to the town.
Construction, which is set to begin in early 2019, is expected to be complete by early 2021. With the green light from the council, the developer must begin designing the project. Once the design is complete, Comstock will submit a site plan to the town for approval and seek design approval from the town’s Heritage Preservation Committee — a process that could take one year.
The site on which the development would take place is north of Elden Street, east of Center Street, west of Station Street and south of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. The space in question includes municipal parking lots and the home of ArtSpace, as well as the former Stohlman Subaru building on Elden Street.
As the development moves forward, the town plans to work with Comstock on a transitional parking plan. ArtSpace will be relocated off-site during construction of the project. The future of the Herndon Festival is unclear as the festival’s committee will evaluate options for relocation. During construction, parking will either continue to be located on-site or be transitioned to other locations in downtown Herndon. The town will work with Comstock on the transitional parking plan.
In a release, Mayor Lisa Merkel applauded the council’s decision as a major step forward in the redevelopment effort.
“After decades of discussion, vision and planning, the town is thrilled to be moving forward on a project that will revitalize our downtown and solidify Herndon’s position as a 21st century town where history and heritage are integrated into a thoroughly contemporary setting. We are grateful to the citizens, business owners and others with a stake in Herndon’s future who have dedicated so much time and energy to get us to this point, and we look forward to working with Comstock in bringing the town’s vision to reality.”
County officials project the purchase of the property will bring in roughly $300,000 per year from taxes and fees for licenses. The site is currently exempt from property taxes.
For more information about the plans, visit the town’s website.
Image courtesy of Anne Curtis