By RCA President Colin Mills

It’s time once again for one of
my favorite duties as RCA President: announcing our Citizen of the Year.  With so many dedicated citizens doing good
work in the Reston community, I am delighted that we can honor some of those
well-deserving folks.  I love reading the
nominations we receive, and learning about the citizen volunteers that make
Reston such a special place.
RCA is all about the power of
Reston’s committed citizens to achieve great things.  It may be fashionable to be cynical about
what individuals and citizen groups can accomplish in a world of big
bureaucracies and institutions.  But RCA
is built on the belief that with hard work and dedication, our citizens can
move mountains.  This year’s winner is a
shining example of that belief in action. 
It gives me great pleasure to announce Kathy Kaplan as our 2013 Citizen
of the Year.

Kathy joins a proud tradition of RCA Citizen of the Year award dating back
to 1976, people like Embry Rucker, Janet Howell, Jim Allred, Claudia
Thompson-Deahl, Dave Edwards, and last year’s winner, Cate Fulkerson.  As
you know if you’re familiar with this award, the criteria for selection are as

  1. The nominee has been a Reston resident for at least 5 years.
  2. The nominee’s actions are consistent with the goals of Reston, and of
  3. The nominee’s actions have contributed to the quality of life in Reston.
  4. People in need of help have benefited from the nominee’s actions.
  5. The nominee’s deeds were done without thought of personal benefit or
  6. The nominee is not currently serving as an elected public official or a
    member of the Board of a major community organization (RA, RCA, or RCC).

Kathy is the sort of active,
engaged citizen that every community needs. 
She reads the kind of long, boring official documents that most of us
can’t be bothered with.  Sometimes, those
documents contain some interesting surprises. 
For instance, in the spring of 2013, Kathy found out about plans that
had the potential to do serious damage to Fairfax County libraries.

This included the infamous “Beta
Plan.”  You may have read about it last
summer and fall.  RCA passed
a resolution opposing it
last August. 
If you have heard about it, you can thank Kathy for you dedication
perseverance, and leadership in bringing the plan to light.
Through research, conversations
with knowledgeable sources, and numerous FOIA requests, Kathy uncovered a grim
picture of the future of our library system.  In addition to the Beta Plan – which would
have slashed library staff, de-professionalized position requirements, and
eliminated specialized positions for youth librarians – Kathy discovered that
the library budget had been reduced by a third over the last six years.  Even worse, she discovered that the library
had reduced the size of their collection by a quarter-million items since 2005,
and that many books in good condition were being thrown in dumpsters and
destroyed.  Not donated to book sales or
given away to charities – destroyed.
As a longtime book lover, Kathy
was rightly horrified at what she learned. 
But she didn’t just write a letter to the editor or grumble about it
under her breath.  No, she swung into
action.  She identified County librarians
and library supporters who were also concerned about the changes, and worked
with them to get the word out.  She wrote
emails and letters to County officials, community organizations, and media
outlets.  She helped get over 2,000
signatures on a petition to stop the Beta Plan. 
She met with County staffers and elected officials to learn more about
the library issue and to show them what she had found out.
The turning point for the issue
came when Kathy acquired and shared photos of library books sitting in a
dumpster.  This had been alleged
previously, but now there was visual evidence. 
These photos led Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth to do some
dumpster diving of her own; when she retrieved books in good condition that had
been thrown out, the resulting outcry really focused attention on the problems
in our libraries.
Thanks to the efforts of Kathy
and her colleagues, the Library Board and the Board of Supervisors voted to
eliminate both the book-trashing program and the Beta Plan.  With continued public support, we should see
the library’s funding restored in future County budgets as well.  This was a tremendous win for citizen
activism, and it wouldn’t have happened without
Kathy’s dedication and tireless work.
Since Kathy is a Restonian and
the Reston Regional Library was one of the targets for the Beta Plan, RCA was
one of the first organizations she contacted with her discoveries.  When she shared what she had learned,
frankly, our first reaction was disbelief. 
How could this be happening to such a valuable County resource?  But when we followed up and discovered that
what Kathy said was true, we were gratified that Kathy had done the leg work
and let us know about the Beta Plan and the book-culling before it was too late
to act.
If the only thing that Kathy
did for Reston was her library activism, it would have been enough to make her
a deserving Citizen of the Year.  But
Kathy is a longtime Restonian, and she has done much more for the community.  She has served as an interpretive naturalist
at the Vernon Walker Nature Center, and she has taught art workshops to kids at
RA camps.  She is an award-winning author
and illustrator.  And she has created
bronze relief sculptures for the September 11th Memorial at Brown’s
Chapel, and the Woodland Gardens at the Walker Center.  Kathy is a woman of many talents.

We will be honoring Kathy in a
ceremony at RCC Hunters Woods in the coming weeks.  I’ll share the date and time as soon as it is
finalized.  I hope you’ll join us to
honor a woman who showed that you can fight City Hall – and that individual
citizens can make a big difference in our community.