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Possible changes to McLean Community Center board elections raise concerns for some

The McLean Community Center is co-located with McLean Central Park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The McLean Community Center wants to update its policies, and its counterpart in Reston has emerged as a possible model.

The MCC governing board has started exploring a possible revision of the memorandum of understanding that dictates its relationship with the Fairfax County government.

Many of the changes floated at the board’s March 23 meeting are straightforward tweaks, such as using gender-neutral pronouns, allowing more flexibility for virtual meetings, and updating the name of the tax district that funds the community center from “Small District 1” to “Small District 1A.”

However, suggestions that MCC replace its board elections with a preference poll — the process used by Reston Community Center — and review its public comments protocols are more concerning, McLean Citizens Association President Scott Spitzer says.

The association argued in a letter signed by Spitzer and approved by its governance committee that MCC would risk ceding authority to the county by revising the MOU, which delineates the governing board’s responsibilities for handling programming, finances, capital projects, public meetings and other duties.

“The MOU works. They ought not to open up a discussion with the [Fairfax County] Board of Supervisors to revise it at this time,” Spitzer told FFXnow last week, proposing that the community center instead make any necessary updates through its internal policies.

The MCC board raised the idea of revisiting the MOU in September but didn’t vote to look at it until Feb. 23. Aside from an addendum made in 2007, the agreement hasn’t changed since it was originally signed in 1984, according to Board Chair Barbara Zamora-Appel.

Board members Shivani Saboo, who serves as treasurer, and Suzanne LeMenestrel volunteered to lead the review.

Zamora-Appel did not return a request for comment from FFXnow, but according to a statement shared by MCC, she emphasized at the beginning of the March 23 meeting that the proposed draft was based on individual board members’ suggestions, not from the board as a whole.

“We are very early in any discussion of potential changes, and we will not move forward any proposed changes unless and until we have had sufficient input, discussion, Board decisions, pros and cons, and discussions with Fairfax County officials,” Zamora-Appel said.

MCC’s 11-member board holds annual elections, with three adult seats and two student seats going on the ballot each year. The highest vote-getters are then formally appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

Proposed MOU revisions include staggering election cycles to every other year or every three years to reduce turnover and considering a preference poll, which guides the county board’s appointments but is not binding.

“We think that’s a mistake,” Spitzer said of the idea of a preference poll. “It would be a dramatic and unreasonable limit on the voting rights of McLean residents.”

Some MCC board members also proposed adapting public comment protocols to align with the Board of Supervisors, which limits speakers to three minutes at a time and just one appearance every six months.

In a breakdown of the proposed changes, the board members say public comment periods need to be more structured and “promote respectful dialogue,” but other members “feel it would be unfair to limit how many times within a 6 month period a resident can speak at public comment.”

Spitzer says adopting the county’s policy wouldn’t address concerns about disrespectful speakers.

“While a policy to place time limits for speakers at public meetings is reasonable, the proposal to impose a drastic limitation of the number of times someone can speak would be unduly restrictive in the context of our Community Center,” he said in MCA’s letter.

The MCC board appointed a subcommittee at the March 23 meeting to continue looking at the MOU.

“I truly appreciate the interest that our community members have shown in this process,” Zamora-Appel said at the meeting. “It underscores how important MCC is to the members of our community, and the importance of our work to diligently research and review any steps we may or may not propose.”

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