An interview with the woman behind the School Board recall petitions - Park Authority releases draft pickleball recommendations
County recommends masks in public indoor settings - Truro featured in Washington Post real estate section
Welcome to Braddock Buzz, where there’s still time to nominate your favorite restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and breweries for our inaugural reader survey, Braddock’s Best. Thank you to the more than two dozen readers who’ve submitted nominations so far. The nomination period will close a week from today, Aug. 16.
A quick programming note: There will be no edition next week, as we’ll be traveling for work. We’ll be back in your inboxes Monday, Aug. 23.
Until then, keep the news, tips, and feedback coming to email@example.com
Gift Card Giveaway
It’s International Coworking Day! And in honor of the occasion, our sponsor WorkAway Solutions is giving away $5 Peet's Coffee gift cards to the first three readers who send the correct response to this trivia question:
What is the name of the San Francisco software engineer who's credited with starting the first coworking space?
To get your caffeine hookup, send answers to WorkAway owner Susan King Glosby at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you, as well, to sponsor Jennifer Mack of Jennifer Mack Properties, whose column today answers a reader question about the difference between homeowner associations and civic associations. Reach out to Jennifer with column ideas or real estate questions at email@example.com
Back in masks: Fairfax County is once again recommending face masks in public indoor settings—and is requiring them in county facilities—even for those who are fully vaccinated, as cases spike due to the highly contagious Delta variant. The decision came after the county reached a level of COVID-19 transmission that the CDC categorizes as “substantial,” with 192.1 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days.
“While this is a frustrating turn in events for everyone, we have the ability to make this better,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement, urging those who have not already done so to get vaccinated.
As of yesterday, 76.8% of those 18 and older who live in the Fairfax Health District had received at least one vaccine dose, or about 65% of the health district’s total population. Across Virginia, 97% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 in the past week were unvaccinated, and 98% of deaths were among the unvaccinated, according to the state’s health department.
You can schedule a vaccination here.
School Board recall petitions gaining steam
An interview with Dee O’Neal of the Open FCPS Coalition
If Dee O’Neal had her way, the entire Fairfax County School Board, save one member, would be out of a job.
A year ago, O’Neal was a single mom juggling parenting, private tutoring, and flexible contract work—with a political resume consisting of a single item: She’d once made calls on behalf of a Democratic School Board candidate. But in late 2020, her outrage over pandemic school closures boiled over, and she founded the Open FCPS Coalition, which is waging recall campaigns against three School Board members: the Dranesville District’s Elaine Tholen, Springfield’s Laura Jane Cohen, and At-Large Member Abrar Omeish.
Last month, the coalition hit a major milestone, surpassing the 3,600 signatures required for a recall filing against Tholen. The recall process in Virginia is murky, and there are few precedents, but at the very least Tholen has to defend her record before a Fairfax County circuit judge. At most, Tholen could face a trial and be removed from office, potentially triggering a special election in the Dranesville District. A hearing is scheduled for this Friday to determine next steps.
Meanwhile, in Springfield, the Open FCPS Coalition is “closing in” on the 4,000 signatures needed for a recall filing against Cohen and has set an informal deadline of Aug. 31, according to O’Neal. If successful, the coalition plans to target additional School Board members.
An interview with O’Neal is below, edited for length and clarity.
Q: Hi, Dee. So what’s the next step for the Tholen recall?
To be honest, we really don't know. This hasn’t been done before, so we're not exactly sure how it looks. If she were to be removed from office, we’re assuming a special election would be the next thing. There are a lot of gray areas, and some legislators are already talking about changing recall laws as a result of what we’re doing to make the process clearer.
Q: Has your group identified a candidate to run in a special election, should one be held?
We’re talking to different parents, and people have emailed us, but we're not waiting in the wings with a surprise person or anything.
Q: You’re also working on recalls for the Springfield District’s Cohen and for At-Large Member Omeish.
Yes, we are. In Springfield, there’s a lot of enthusiasm. We did a signing the other day in that district and in an hour and a half we got 47 signatures. If you know anything about this kind of thing, that's a lot. We have the same person who validated Tholen signatures validating the signatures for Cohen. We think we're less than 1,000 signatures away, and we’ve set a soft deadline of Aug. 31.
On Omeish, we’re pretty far behind, but a lot of people are really geared up to sign for her because of a lot of things that have happened in the last few months.
Q: Our newsletter covers the Braddock District, so we want to ask about our School Board member, Megan McLaughlin, who’s been the strongest voice on the board pushing for schools to reopen. What do you and your organization think of her?
She's the only champion we've had. There are things she's done that I don't agree with, but she's put her neck out. The consensus within our group is that Megan is the only one who’s spoken for the children. She’s the only authentic person who is there to do the will of the voters and act on behalf of families and children.
Q: Let’s back up a bit. Can you tell us about why you founded the Open FCPS Coalition?
You know, I'm just a regular parent. I'm a member of a couple open school groups, and I attended rallies in the fall and summer of last year. One day, I was just like, I’ve had it. This is morally wrong. I felt that it was deeper than just people being cautious. Other states were doing the right thing by their kids, and we were not. At first, I suggested we do a lawsuit, but it took us about 10 minutes to realize a lawsuit was going to cost too much money that we didn’t have. So we thought, why don’t we do recalls? Now, I’m thinking a lawsuit might have been easier.
Q: Had you been involved in political organizing previously?
Not really. I helped with one or two School Board campaigns—doing calls and stuff like that. Funnily enough, when I helped with the School Board in the past, it was for a Democrat. And now everyone's like, “You guys are going after the School Board because you hate Democrats.” I considered myself politically dialed in, but I guess I wasn't when it came to the School Board. I honestly did not have a clue when we decided to do a recall that the entire board was made up of Democrats.
Q: Do you feel any sympathy for the difficult choice that Superintendent Scott Brabrand and the School Board faced last fall, before we had vaccines?
No, I don’t. Miami-Dade is a larger school district, and they were in school five days a week. It's happened all over the country, in places bigger than we are, and they figured it out. FCPS parents voted in June and July of 2020, and 60% wanted to send their children back to school. An unending amount of federal cash came in because of COVID, and the governor gave us even more, and they didn't even attempt to make it happen. I just absolutely have no respect for what they did.
Q: Brabrand has promised five days of in-person learning this fall. How confident are you in that pledge, and do you see a need to continue advocating for open schools?
I’m confident in it, but only because of SB1303, which is the bill that passed the state legislature that requires in-person learning. In my opinion, they wouldn’t be opening if it wasn’t for that and for the recalls and pushback they’ve received.
What I’m worried about is how loosely they will interpret it. I feel like they'll push it as far as they can with early release days and partial days. That's one of the reasons we went for the recall—because we wanted to shake them up and let them know people are not going to stand for this foolishness.
Q: What do you see as the next step for your group beyond the three recalls?
If the Tholen recall is successful, we’re going to continue to recall people. The damage they've done—the number of children experiencing depression and anxiety and other psychological issues—we can’t forget this. We can't let go of what they did.
FCPS and Tholen respond
FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult, in a statement:
A petition drive to remove Board member Elaine Tholen, and a broadside attack on the Board and FCPS, is misguided and based on incorrect information. The decision to provide learning through a virtual format last year was a direct result of the circumstances and the health and medical advice available at the time. The School Board and FCPS leadership was responsible for ensuring the health and wellbeing of its 189,000 students during the unprecedented circumstances of a pandemic. FCPS moved to reopen its schools as quickly as circumstances allowed and did so ahead of many other school districts in the area. The decision to conduct classes online was a difficult decision, but it was the right one. Most school districts across the country followed the same path.
Tholen, in a statement provided to Tyson’s Reporter:
I look forward to continuing to earn my constituents’ trust and support as we prepare to welcome all students in person five days per week. As a former classroom educator and now a School Board member, I have always worked for my students’ well-being and to help them reach their utmost potential. I will continue to put our students’ best interests first.
WorkAway Solutions offers flexible coworking space in Ravensworth
Park Authority staff release draft pickleball recommendations: Park Authority staff have unveiled the draft recommendations of a comprehensive pickleball study, the final version of which is due out this fall. The study was prompted by calls from pickleball advocates for more dedicated and shared-use courts for a sport that’s surging in popularity—and they’ve zeroed in on Wakefield Park as an ideal spot for a pickleball hub.
The draft report recommends the Park Authority consider creating at least one pickleball-only facility with six or more courts to support large groups and tournaments. The report suggests funding could come from the 2024 park bond or other sources. It also recommends that, starting in FY22, existing tennis courts be evaluated for potential conversion to shared-use or pickleball-only.
The report found that Fairfax County is in the middle of the pack for pickleball facilities per capita when measured against nearby jurisdictions, as you can see in this table:
The Park Authority is currently converting two little-used platform tennis courts at Wakefield Park to pickleball.
Truro featured in Washington Post real estate section: The Washington Post real estate section last week profiled the Truro neighborhood, calling it a place where “people come to live and rarely leave.” Here’s more from the story:
What truly sets Truro apart is its homeowners association. “We are one of the few remaining, if not the sole remaining, self-managed homeowners associations in Northern Virginia,” said [Dave] Watts, a former association president. “We do it all ourselves. . . . Everybody volunteers.”
Although the association pays for a treasurer and a record-keeper, all the other positions are unpaid. Volunteers run the swim and dive program, the tennis program, the parkland cleanup program, the social committee and the architectural control committee. The clubhouse with its pool and tennis courts is the neighborhood hub. Dues are $210 annually for homeowners and an additional $560 annually for use of the amenities.
“They have a very active social community,” said Jay D’Alessandro, a real estate agent with Long & Foster, who doesn’t live in Truro but has been selling houses in the neighborhood for 20 years. “It feels like you are in a little village when you get there. . . . I think whoever has been organizing the social community built around the pool has been very good about being inclusive of everyone.”
Read the full article here.
News in Brief
The Fairfax County Police Department has released body-worn camera footage showing a 30-year-old woman, Jiyoung Lee, being shot by a police officer at a group home in North Springfield on July 19, The Washington Post reports. Police Chief Kevin Davis said the woman, who was wielding a knife, “posed a deadly threat to our police officers.” Lee is recovering from her injuries and has been charged with assault on an officer.
The Virginia Department of Transportation will present its design plans for the Braddock Road Multimodal Improvements project by the end of the year, according to the latest edition of Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw’s newsletter. As we reported in June, VDOT will provide more than $50 million for the project through its Smart Scale program.
FCPS will hold more than 40 vaccination clinics this fall to boost vaccination rates among those ages 12 to 17, WUSA9 reports.
Jennifer Mack column: The difference between HOAs and civic associations
I received a reader question asking the difference between a formal homeowner association (HOA) and a civic association. We have both throughout our reader area, and if you live in a townhouse there’s a very good chance you have an HOA. Many single family homes are part of HOAs, as well.
The main feature that sets HOAs apart from civic associations is that HOAs have legal recourse options if you violate the rules. They can fine you, although they are required to provide a written warning first to give you a chance to remedy the violation. In addition, they can put a lien on the home and even initiate foreclosure as an attempt to recover unpaid assessments.
When viewing a home, you should be able to see on the MLS data sheet whether it’s part of an HOA. The data sheet will not necessarily state whether there’s a civic association. If you’re selling a home with an HOA, your real estate agent will instruct you or order a resale package on your behalf from the management company or responsible party on the HOA board. This document can take a couple weeks to prepare. For sellers, this is something you will need to provide buyers for review. In Virginia, buyers have three days to review these documents, which include the association's Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), meeting minutes, budget, a copy of the master insurance policy, and other important information. If a buyer is not satisfied with these documents for any reason, they are allowed to void the contract with no recourse. Some buyers feel strongly about purchasing a property with an HOA, and this decision is an important part of my conversations with new buyers.
Civic associations are voluntary, and the dues are typically minimal, often collected just once a year by neighborhood volunteers. These dues can pay for such items as a neighborhood social event, community directory, entrance signs, or landscaping in common areas. Civic associations do not issue citations or notices of violations. Some people prefer this to an HOA, but understand that if your neighbor decides to paint their garage door purple or leave Christmas lights up all year, there may not be any legal recourse unless they are violating city or county code.
Jennifer Mack has more than 16 years of experience in the real estate industry, with her team servicing Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 703-672-0038.
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