This is an op-ed submitted by Mediaworld Ventures LLC. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.
To our fellow Reston Association members,
We are the Reston residents who came together under Mediaworld Ventures LLC and were selected to conduct an independent review of Reston Association’s acquisition of the Lake House, and subsequent renovation budget overrun. We were selected over many applicants for our professional expertise, our commitment to service and our cost of $1. Our sole intent was to serve our membership and help Reston Association improve its processes.
From September until December, we were involved in detailed negotiations with Reston Association and its attorney over a consulting agreement that established the terms of the independent review. Our team worked countless hours reviewing and amending the 17-page agreement to ensure the review’s integrity and members’ interests were protected. The conditions presented to us were extremely restrictive and we felt they would hinder our ability to conduct a truly independent review. Further, the agreement did not guarantee a public release of the final report by the Reston Association, which our team felt was critical to “ensuring the concerns of the community were addressed” — a condition in the RFP, set by Reston Association, which we agreed to meet.
When we reached an impasse with the Reston Association attorney we requested a meeting with the Board. At a public meeting on Dec. 7, we highlighted four major issues that we felt would hinder our ability to fulfill our obligation. We believed the Board understood our concerns regarding the restrictive terms and tone of the agreement, and we hoped it would result in a more reasonable agreement, especially after we learned that the Board signed a simpler, four-page contract with another consulting firm. Although the revised agreement we received in return resolved some of our concerns, it contained additional terms and conditions leaving a number of issues unresolved. In spite of the Association’s offer to pay for liability insurance, we felt that there was still an unacceptable level of risk remaining in the last proposed revised draft. Given the almost three months of contending with some of the same issues we had raised earlier, we felt the likelihood that further negotiations would be productive were minimal and that it would be best to terminate the negotiations.
We are very disappointed that we could not come to terms with Reston Association on this work. A more detailed review of the contract negotiation can be found at http://reston2020.blogspot.com/2017/01/review-of-mediaworld-contract.html.
Sridhar Ganesan, President, Mediaworld Ventures LLC
For some, this was just a three-day weekend.
But for 100 Reston volunteers of all ages, Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend provided an opportunity to give back to their community. Reston Association and Reston Community Center partnered with Southgate Community Center, Cornerstones and The Closet on several community service projects Saturday.
Among the projects completed by volunteers were an outdoor cleanup; the sorting of donated toys and preparation of bagged lunches for the residents of the Embry Rucker Community Shelter; and the organization of the Southgate Community Center library and kitchen.
“Volunteers demonstrated that we each have the power to make our community a stronger and more vibrant place to live, work, play and get involved,” said Ha Brock, Reston Association’s volunteer supervisor. “Many thanks to everyone that participated in the National Day of Service.”
Brock says it’s not too late to volunteer.
“If you would like to continue to get involved, Reston Association offers a variety of opportunities in our community,” she said.
More information about Reston Association’s volunteer program is available at their website.
Snow Removal Efforts Highlighted in Video — In its latest “Reston Today” dispatch, Reston Association shined a spotlight on the work done by its maintenance crews to clean up snowfall. [Reston Association/YouTube]
NAACP President Stresses Value of Equality — The current political climate of the nation is a reminder that “all man are created equal” is still to many just words on paper, says new Fairfax County NAACP President Kofi Annan. [Fairfax County Times]
County Firefighters Offer Tips for Winter Months — More than 900 people in the United States die in home fires each winter, according to information shared by Fairfax County Fire and Rescue. With that in mind, officials are providing information regarding how to keep your home safe during this season. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue]
More than a dozen new recycling bins are being installed around Reston in the attempt to reduce trash in the community.
Reston Association says it has purchased 13 custom-made recycling bins, designed to fit the “Restonesque” style approved by the Design Review Board.
According to information provided by Reston Association:
RA staff will install the bins in high-use areas throughout the community, including sports fields and recreational facilities. RA is working on additional strategies to reduce trash and increase recycling.
Mike Leone, RA’s communications director, said local businesses sponsor the cost of the bins.
“We are always seeking individual and business donors to fund the purchase of new recycle bins,” Leone said. “The Friends of Reston, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit volunteer organization of Reston Association, works with our staff doing the fundraising for the purchase of more bins.”
The “Adopt a Bin” program is an attempt to drum up support for the recycling effort in the community. Donations can be made in any amount. For a $1,000 donation, an individual or company can have their name or company logo placed on a plaque on the bin.
RA crews service the bins and deliver their contents to the Fairfax County collection site.
Reston residents applying for pool and tennis passes for the coming season are being asked to include photographs — even for children as young as 1.
The new rule for 2017 is meant to increase security, but one resident who contacted Reston Now wonders if it might have the opposite effect.
“Requiring photo[s] of children seems like quite a liability to me,” the resident, a father of two young children, said in communication with Member Services that he shared. “If someone hacks [RA’s] systems they have pictures of all of our children and now knows where they live so they can choose which one to kidnap.”
Photos will only appear in RA’s database, not on the physical card, explained Laura Kowalski, RA’s deputy director of recreation.
“I do understand the concern about the kids, but [photos are] not being shared,” she said, adding that she is confident about the security of the system.
Kowalski said photos were printed on passes “many years ago,” but that practice was phased out. In recent years, a few residents have raised concerns about having their addresses printed on them. She said questions about security were taken into account before the new system was settled upon.
“When we researched and finally landed on the new registration system with Vermont Systems… we listened to what members’ concerns were about security, as well as how we could mitigate sharing of passes,” Kowalski said.
In 2014, passes being sold on Craigslist to non-residents drew RA’s attention. Passes are not transferable, according to Reston Association rules. Kowalski said she has encountered situations in the past where she knew passes were being misused.
“I’ve been in a pool helping someone by popping in that day, and saying [to a patron] ‘Hi, how are you?'” Kowalski said. “They show me the pass and I think, ‘Huh. I know this person, and you’re not that person.'”
Mike Leone, RA’s communications director, said the new system — including the photo registration — is designed to stop such transfers.
“Under the old system, pass swapping was a concern and RA had no way to prevent it,” he said. “So the new system provides a better, more secure system ensuring only those with a pass can get into the pool facility.”
RA’s new WebTrac online registration system is being used to sell and register pool and tennis passes. Swiping devices are being installed in all 15 RA pool facilities to handle the new system.
Residents will show their pass upon entering a facility. It will be scanned, and the pass holder’s picture will then be displayed to the staff member on duty. If it doesn’t match, entrance will be denied.
“The new system provides greater accountability, reporting data and enhanced member satisfaction and convenience,” said Mike Leone, RA communications director. “Once they have the new pass card, they won’t have to wait in long lines here at RA to obtain their annual passes, which has been the case every year in the past as pool season approaches.”
The concerned resident, though, said he has a simpler solution to the problem.
“Just require that adults bring [photo] ID,” he said. “The TSA doesn’t even require ID for children under 18 and they’re trying to stop terrorism.”
Two years ago this month, under the leadership of former RA Board President Ken Kneuven, Reston’s homeowner association announced its deal with a local developer to purchase his property, the Tetra office building, for over twice its county-appraised value of $1.2 million. Thus began a long slide of Reston Association into bad governance and mismanagement.
How did this happen? We don’t know for sure, but we understand Kneuven and another former RA Board President, Rick Beyer, who lives on the shore of Lake Newport opposite the Tetra property, have been friends for some time. Beyer, who was active in supporting the RA Tetra purchase, and other Lake Newport homeowners were no doubt concerned that something untoward would happen to their view and, as a result, also their property values. It is not clear whether Beyer asked a favor from Kneuven in eliminating this risk by having RA pursue the purchase of the Tetra property, but what is clear is that after Kneuven left his RA post, he ended up working as a senior consultant in the company managed by Beyer.
As for the rest of us, RA and its Board justified paying $2.65 million in part by pointing out that a proposal had been drawn up to build a costly restaurant there twice the size of the Tetra building. RA didn’t bother to note, however, that the restaurant was never approved, nor would it have been given environmental restrictions and 14 easements on the property. Moreover, RA’s appraiser put the property’s “as is” value at just $1.1 million using the Income Approach, even lower than the county’s valuation. In fact, the Tetra property had been on and off the market with little interest for most of a decade.
Nonetheless, to sell the deal in a community referendum, RA “projected” that renovations, inside and out, would cost RA members just $259,000. To date, interior repairs alone have cost Restonians $692,000 — not counting $925,000 in seller contributions and a Comstock proffer to RA which could have been used for much better purposes — and an RA consultant projects proposed exterior improvements will cost $1.2 million.
On the other side of the ledger, RA projected rental income from a rent back agreement with the Tetra owners of more than $140,000 through 2016. Unfortunately, the sloppily written agreement allowed Tetra’s former owners to walk away at the end of 2015, resulting in an immediate $100,000 loss in RA revenues. RA scrambled to make up the shortfall, but — as of November — expected year-end cash flow losses reached $902,000, some $515,000 more than RA projected for 2016 during the Tetra referendum.
If publicly known at the time, these massive misstatements, mistakes, expenses and overruns would have doomed the purchase’s narrow community approval.
Indeed, the massive renovation cost overruns were not revealed until May 2016, although RA financial data indicated RA and presumably some Board members knew there would be huge overruns as early as February. Thus, RA members were denied that important information as they cast their ballots for RA Board members in February, including the re-election runs of two Board members who strongly supported the Tetra initiative, Eve Thompson and Danielle LaRosa. Of course, they won re-election in the absence of public knowledge of the huge cost overrun.
When the cost overruns were disclosed, even the complicit RA Board found this revealed reality a bit much. Under significant community pressure, it agreed last summer to contract for an independent review of the purchase and renovation.
After choosing to sign a pro bono $1 review contract with Mediaworld LLC, using a team of Reston volunteers expert in financial matters, a few members of the Board sabotaged its own by insisting on excessive RA control and contractor liability in multiple, lengthy contract drafts. A special Board meeting with the Mediaworld volunteers in December couldn’t salvage the negotiations — another obstructionist draft resulted — and the volunteers withdrew last week, explaining the multitude of reasons why.
The increasingly urgent question is: What are some members of RA’s Board and senior staff trying to conceal about the Tetra acquisition and renovation — and why? Did they engage in illegal, unethical or just plain stupid behavior? Unless there is a criminal investigation, the chances are dwindling Restonians will ever know who, how, why and when all this financial mischief occurred as the Board and staff continue to hide the truth any way they can. The future of honest, open, prudent governance in Reston has never looked more uncertain.
The RA Board 2017 election a month away is an opportunity to reverse the Board’s recent gross misbehavior. There are four openings and, if filled with candidates who seek to reform the RA Board and the way it does business, the Board could actually represent the interests of the community rather than the guilty. Pay attention to what candidates file and what they say about the handling of Tetra, including the need for an audit, the development of an RA ethics policy with teeth and openness in RA decision making. It could be your last chance in years for meaningful change in how our community is governed.
Terry Maynard, Co-Chair
Reston 20/20 Committee
Garrett Skinner comes to Reston Association from Atkins, a global design, engineering and project management firm with offices in Maryland and Virginia, where he served as a senior project manager and office leader. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Urban Geography from the University of Maryland as well as certifications in floodplain management and project management.
RA voted to create the new Capital Improvement Planning and Projects department in order to keep a closer eye on community projects and ensure they are completed on time and within budget, particularly after many members criticized the handling of the recent Lake House project.
Skinner will join RA’s nine-member senior management team and oversee three employees in the department. The three employees are current RA employees who have been moved to positions in the new department.
Skinner said his goals for the coming years include collaborating with the RA’s CEO and CFO to “streamline proposal solicitation and contract review methods to establish a more efficient and effective procurement process.”
RA said Skinner will also work to identify more opportunities to use sustainable building materials during repair, maintenance and renovation projects, and planning stream restoration projects.
Skinner will also be tasked with helping to improve the quality and optimize the use of existing facilities for residents.
CEO Cate Fulkerson said she looks forward to Skinner starting work, and that she thinks he will bring much-needed expertise to RA.
“Garrett brings to the association the required project planning and management skills that have been lacking in an organization responsible for managing a portfolio of community assets worth over $45 million,” Fulkerson said in a Friday statement. “He understands the importance of community engagement and, more importantly, the need to present thorough, clear and concise information on project status and expenses.”
Skinner will begin work on Monday.
Photo of Garrett Skinner courtesy of Reston Association
(Updated 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to include statement from the Reston Association Board of Directors)
It appears the work between Reston Association and a local company to conduct an independent review of the Lake House renovations will not come to fruition.
In an email sent Monday morning to the Reston Association Board of Directors, among others, Mediaworld Ventures LLC President Sridhar Ganesan said he was cutting ties with the project:
Good Morning. It has been about 10 days since we sent the last letter to you and have had no response. Please consider this email as termination of our contract discussions. Wish you all a Happy New Year.
The “last letter” referenced by Ganesan in his email is one in which he claimed RA had been “granted… certain powers” that would “jeopardize the independence of the review.”
Ganesan also serves as president of the Reston Citizens Association. His group had proposed to conduct the audit for $1, with a team of four community-based reviewers.
The Lake House, located off Baron Cameron Avenue between Lake Newport Tennis and Brown’s Chapel Park, housed the Reston Visitors Center for about 20 years before it was acquired in 2003 by Tetra Partners (now Lauer Commercial) and used as offices.
Reston Association passed its referendum to buy the building in May 2015, authorizing a purchase cost of $2.6 million. That number in itself came under scrutiny after it was discovered that Fairfax County tax estimates valued the property at only about half that price. It is now being leased for special day and evening events.
Needed renovations were budgeted to cost about $259,000; however, that number quickly ballooned to $655,000. The money was recouped by RA in the form of various employment restructuring, among other measures.
When it was estimated a full professional review of the overrun could cost into six figures, the locally based Mediaworld came into the picture. However, Mediaworld and RA could not agree on many of the particulars of the arrangement, culminating in this week’s official falling-out.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a statement to Reston Now from RA Board of Directors President Ellen Graves expressed the board’s disappointment in Mediaworld’s “unilateral decision to terminate its proposal.”
“RA was and continues to be willing to work with Mediaworld in good faith toward a mutually acceptable agreement,” Graves said. “In fact, the association’s legal counsel offered repeatedly during the course of negotiations to sit down in person with representatives of Mediaworld in an attempt to resolve the details of the remaining open issues.”
Graves said that Mediaworld “apparently could not find the time to meet to resolve the remaining issues, including many standard terms found in community association contracts designed for an association’s protection and which are generally accepted by most companies performing similar services for community associations.”
In the statement, Graves said the board “remains undeterred in its efforts to have this important project completed,” adding that a meeting would take place later this month to determine the best course of action moving forward.
Top 5 Restaurants, Per OpenTable — According to OpenTable customer reviews, the top 5 restaurants in Reston are PassionFish, Big Bowl, Vinifera Wine Bar & Bistro, Il Fornaio and Neyla Mediterranean Bistro. [Patch]
Tetra Misses Revenue Forecast — Local advocacy group Reston 20/20 faults the Reston Association for “horrible” revenue forecasting for the RA’s Tetra/Lake House. Programming revenue for Tetra is expected to be $82,535 for 2016 compared to the $175,000 budgeted in May. Total costs, however, were below budget. [Reston 20/20]
Arlington to Reston Commute — Redditors are weighing in on the feasibility of an Arlington-to-Reston reverse commute. The emerging consensus: mornings aren’t too bad but evenings are rough. [Reddit]
Photo courtesy @MrErrett
At Reston Now, we’re taking a break, too. We won’t publish Monday in observance of Christmas Day, but we’ll return with more local news Tuesday.
According to locals officials, here’s what’s closed in Reston around the Christmas holiday:
If you’re going away for vacation this holiday season, the idea of making some extra cash by renting out your home for a few days through a site like Airbnb might seem appealing. But make sure you check with the local rules and regulations, first.
The law in Fairfax County states that only owners of single-family homes can apply for a special permit that would allow them to rent out their domiciles like a bed and breakfast. That means people who own “attached homes” — such as apartments, townhouses and condos — are prohibited from renting out rooms.
Per the staff of the Reston Association, RA members must follow the same rules of the county.
Naturally, the duality means some locals aren’t happy. A blogger at Restonian recently wrote:
Apparently ‘Live, Work, Play, Get Involved’ doesn’t apply to peasants who own townhouses and condos. But – have a single-family home the rest of us can’t afford? Feel free to charge for visits. While this is more the fault of the county than the RA, we wonder what’s next.
RA CEO Cate Fulkerson said the association felt the need to clarify the regulations for RA members’ homes after some people complained.
“Reston Association is obligated to uphold its restrictive covenants. When we learned of home-sharing concerns from some of our members, the first task we undertook was to determine whether the homeowners [were] in compliance with state and local ordinances,” Fulkerson said in an email. “If we find that no approvals of licenses have been obtained, then we set out to work with the owner, in accordance with the Association’s Governing Document, to come into compliance.”
How do you feel about the rules? Weigh in by taking our poll below or letting us know how you feel in the comments:
Fulkerson prefaced her annual report with a short message, remarking on what a busy time it is as winter approaches.
“There is much going in the organization at this time of year as we prepare our facilities for the cold winter months, respond to resident questions about the annual Assessment, and prepare for the 2017 program and services season,” she wrote.
Fulkerson then detailed a long list of achievements that she said took “a great deal of planning, collaboration and innovative thinking” on the part of directors, committees and staff to complete.
The report includes her reflections on the:
New capital projects management process. The managing of capital projects and funding has become a hot-button issue the past couple of years. Fulkerson praised the new process the RA board received in July. The plan consists of better ways to “plan, seek bids for, and track capital improvement projects undertaken annually,” including new processes for budget planning, expense tracking and forming detailed schedules, she said.
Roadways and lighting work. Fulkerson pointed out how crews worked over the spring and summer to service all 125 miles of curb throughout Reston, cleaning out the gutters and clearing curbs of debris. “With many years of unchecked growth, this edging work was done by hand,” she said, along with weeding and curb-side sweeping. In addition, a new Pedestrian Lighting Working Group was established this year to seek out bids to design a Comprehensive Lighting Plan that would prioritize safe lighting of all paths, walkways, transit areas and outdoor recreation areas throughout Reston.
Launch of the new RecTrac web system. The RA upgraded its online storefront from the long-standing Marketplace system to the new WebTrac system. All in one place, residents can register for programs, rent community buildings and pavilions, and purchase pool and tennis passes. Fulkerson said the new system is more user-friendly, and all staff have received extensive training on the new system. “[WebTrac] is one of the leading activity registration programs in the country, and will be a familiar interface for many of our members as several neighboring organizations in Fairfax and Loudoun County also use the system,” Fulkerson said. “[It] will provide easier navigation, a shorter registration process, and faster pass renewal process moving forward.”
Ethics. Fulkerson pointed out that a task force was formed this year to work with a consultant from Quantum Governance to develop a formal Code of Ethics for the association.
Opening of the Lake House. Though the purchase and renovation budget of the Lake House were mired in a certain amount of controversy, Fulkerson praised the opening of the RA’s newest facility. “In the fall, the Lake House Working Group, in collaboration with RA staff, hosted a very successful open house of the facility with over 650 in attendance during two day period,” she said.
Fulkerson’s entire report is available in the RA meeting report packet for tomorrow.
Photo via Reston Association
The Reston Association’s Board of Directors is slated to hold its latest meeting tomorrow evening, with discussion on parks and recreation and community engagement committee appointees.
Parks and Recreation Looks to Form Sports Council
The board is is expected to vote to adopt the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee’s 2017 goals and recommendations, which it presented in October.
Among them, PRAC has recommended the formation of a Sports Council consisting of representatives from several area sports organizations. The council would work to coordinate the use of Reston facilities and manage a community calendar of events, among other goals.
The council also would help keep RA staff informed of needed improvements and repairs for facilities and work with staff to ensure proper lighting for outdoor facilities and paths.
The committee’s recommendations are not expected to have any effect on the RA’s budget. But the board would consider any funding needs that may arise.
Community Engagement Advisory Committee Appointments to Get Vote
The board is expected to vote on the appointments of Colin Mills and Carol Nahorniak as the chair and vice-chair, respectively, for the board’s Community Engagement Advisory Committee for terms of one year.
Nahorniak is an incumbent member of the committee, and works at Myers Public Relations, which represents Reston Town Center.
Mills has served as the committee’s chair for the past two years, and has sat on other civic boards, including the Reston Citizen’s Association and the Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors.
The meeting is scheduled to begin at RA Headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Drive) at 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public. A portion of the meeting will allow for locals’ comments.
The positions that are opening up are for an at-large board director, the Hunters Woods/Dogwood District member and an apartment owners’ representative. All terms are for three years.
The terms expire in April for Hunters Woods/Dogwood District member Lucinda Shannon, at-large director Jeff Thomas and apartment owners’ representative Ellen Graves, who also serves as the board’s president.
Reston Association describes the duties and responsibilities of board members as:
- Determining the long-range mission and goals of the association;
- Establishing RA policies and procedures; and
- Monitoring finances, approving budgets, and setting the annual assessment rate.
In order to run for a seat on the board, a potential candidate must write a candidate statement and obtain signatures of support from at least 25 different households. If running for a representative of a certain district — such as the open Hunters Woods/Dogwood District — all 25 households must be located within that district.
A candidate for apartment owners representative does not need to be a member of the association and does not need signatures of support. The candidate only needs to write a candidate statement and fill out the required candidacy forms.
Potential candidates must reside within the boundaries of the Reston deed, and may not have any outstanding balances owed to the association.
An information session for interested candidates will be held at RA Headquarters (12001 Sunrise Valley Dr.) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017.
The deadline to submit completed candidacy forms is 5 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2017.
Visit the board’s election page for more information on running.
Voting via the Internet and ballots mailed to residents’ homes run from March 3 to April 3. Election results will be announced at the RA meeting on April 11.
A Winter Wonderland for Reston’s Young Ones — The Reston Association plans to welcome little ones to its annual Winter Wonderland celebration on Wednesday, Dec. 14, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Kids can enjoy holiday arts and crafts, games and a festive snack. Registration is $8 for RA members and $12 for non-members and must be made in advance. [Reston Association]
Reminder: GRACE to Unveil New Art Exhibition This Week — The Greater Reston Arts Center is slated to debut a new art show featuring the work of six visual artists this Friday. During the new art show, six artists will showcase work that explores “spirituality, modern life, and ecological concerns through a variety of delicate and precisely crafted cut paper.” [Reston Now]
Members of Congress Slammed Metro Board Friday — Members of the Metro Board appeared before Congress Friday and were not met with a warm welcome. In particular, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) called board member Corbett Price’s suggestion to cancel Virginia’s Silver Line extension “parochial theater,” and labeled some board members’ comments as “cheap and reckless.” [Washington Post]