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Arlington County Civic Federation

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Best Practices Task Force
Final Report

Adopted August 26, 2003

In September of 2002, the Civic Federation Executive Committee formed a Task Force to review the policies, procedures and practices of our member civic associations. The purpose of the Task Force was two-fold: to set minimum standards that would trigger Civic Federation action, at the request of the County Board, and to survey and highlight those attributes or actions of civic associations that could be deemed "best practices" - ideas that could in turn be shared with existing, new or reforming civic associations. This report is the result of that effort. Many issues are cross-cutting; a decision on one issue limits or expands options on resolving other issues. Some cross-referencing is included below. You can also reference a short synopsis of the Federation's policies in this area.


Paramount among the issues for organizational guidance, the Committee found formally recognized documents of governance to be essential to a well-run, equitable association. Documents can take the form of Bylaws, Constitutions and/or Articles of Incorporation where applicable.

There are a number of purposes behind these documents. Among the most important are:

    1. To provide organizational guidance;

    2. To insure all members have the opportunity to understand expectations and obligations of the organization and its members;

    3. To reduce difficulties during times of dispute or disagreement;

    4. To provide flexibility for future needs;

    5. To insure inclusivity of the community, as defined by the bylaws or other governing document (i.e., owners and/or renters and/or businesses, etc.)

The best components of governing documents are those that insure a solid foundation for the present and flexibility to deal with future contingencies. It is recommended that bylaws be reviewed periodically, but no less than every five years, to insure currency of use.

Among the best SPECIFIC recommendations are the following developed by the Task Force:


A well-designed association or organization should have the following attributes:

    1. The association should be governed by a formal document; for instance, a constitution and/or bylaws or articles of incorporation. That document shall:

      a. state organizational purpose(s),

      b. provide for election of officers and their terms,

      c. state duties and responsibilities for officers,

      d. make provision for organizational financial stability,

      e. define boundaries, and

      f. define membership.

    2. The association should conduct no fewer than one general membership meeting per year (any twelve month period may be specified).

    3. The association should make timely notifications of general membership meetings to all eligible residents within their boundaries.


While the following are not minimum standards required for full standing on matters before the Federation, they represent suggested mechanisms and processes for the successful overall conduct of association business.



    Governing documents, such as Bylaws, are like an insurance policy; you usually ignore them until they are really needed in a crisis. They are best created, distributed, and understood by members before there is a crisis. If the association has a website, they should be included.

    Governing documents set the rules of the game for an association; they should be designed to ensure fairness in proceedings; especially guarding the rights of minority positions in disputes to be heard.

    Governing documents should emphasize the process, not specific results; they should be reasonably flexible.


    See also 2. below.

    There is a need to determine precisely who is allowed to vote. Residential property owners and/or renters? And/or businesses? Multiple adults in the same household? Don't try to resolve this in the middle of a dispute!

    Do only paid members receive the Newsletter or other association notifications or is there wider distribution? Or a combination of these?

    A dues policy specified for residents joining in mid-year (full or partial payment).

    Is a minimum quorum required for meetings and voting? Is this quorum likely to be met at all meetings? Some minimum number should be required to assure both the membership and outsiders that positions taken are representative of the neighborhood or organization.


    Well-defined duties minimize confusion and facilitate efficiency. Who can speak on behalf of the association? What, if anything, can be done on behalf of the association between membership meetings (and/or Executive Committee meetings)? For any association that does not meet monthly, this is very important to decide in advance.

    How do Arlington County Civic Association delegates and alternates from this organization or neighborhood association interact with other officers: are they members of the Association's Executive Board? Do they represent themselves or the association at the Federation?

    If your Association is involved in a Neighborhood Conservation Plan, how do representatives interact with other officers? Are they members of the Association's Executive Board? Do they represent themselves or the Neighborhood Association at meetings of the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee? Similarly, if your neighborhood is represented on the Neighborhood Traffic Calming Committee, do comparable standards of area representation apply?

    Making your immediate past president an ex officio member of your Executive Committee should be considered to provide continuity.


    How many monthly meetings can you effectively present during a year that will have good attendance? Too many meetings on only routine business items drive residents away. A functional Executive Board with regular, separate meetings can handle routine matters between association meetings. Meeting places should be centrally located within neighborhood association boundaries, if facilities are available. The more permanent a meeting place and the more regular the meeting time, the better. [NOTE: In most county/school facilities, meeting rooms are provided to ACCF members.]


    Provide for enough committees, both permanent and temporary, so that really concerned residents can fully discuss an issue without disrupting general membership meetings. Give committees clear operating mandates and deadlines.

    The neighborhood association or organization president (or other defined leader) should be an ex officio member of all Committees to ensure continuity.


    Don't reinvent the wheel (do not specify every operating procedure and rule); default to the latest version of Robert's Rules of Order unless your Association has a clear need for an exception. Robert's is generally too ponderous for small, informal meetings but essential for large meetings or controversial topic discussions.


    As you draft your governing document, keep in mind the changing nature of civic technology. If you specify that meeting notices must be provided by postal mail or in newsletters, for example, you may want to note that the newsletter can be delivered by e-mail. Some voting may be by email as well, particularly Executive Committee votes. Bear in mind that e-mail may eventually be replaced by another advance in technology.


    If you need examples of governing documents, many neighborhood associations and organizations have their Bylaws on their website. Check the Civic Federation's page linking to members' sites for them. Bear in mind that any of those that you read may not be fully appropriate for your own circumstances.


To ensure that membership is broadly representative of the neighborhood, all neighborhood residents should be welcomed to participate.


In general, boundaries should not overlap with those of other neighborhood associations, and established civic associations should not encroach on the boundaries of others.

If there is overlap, such as with condominium or small geographic homeowner associations, it is best to discuss the reasons with other involved neighborhood associations to minimize resident confusion.

Unless boundary changes have been accepted by the County Board, insure that any public representations comport to the Arlington County Civic Association map found at http://gis.arlingtonva.us/Maps/Standard_Maps/Civic_Associations/Civic_Association_map.pdf, the map that reflects those areas officially recognized as representing an area in public forums and on commissions or advisory groups.


Each neighborhood association should have a distinct bank account; funds should not be commingled in any officer's private account. [An association should acquire a unique tax identification number to facilitate creating these separate accounts.]

Whenever a neighborhood association Treasurer remains in office for a number of years, periodically, another person should review/audit the financial accounts.


The Civic Federation, at the request of the Arlington County Board, has been designated the arbiter in matters of civic association boundary disputes. The Civic Federation does not set standards for its member organizations, nor does it seek to enforce them. However, it does set standards for its own actions and responses put before it.

When reviewing Neighborhood Association presentations on various matters, such as boundary disputes, the Arlington County Civic Federation will evaluate the following criteria for each presenter:

    1. That the civic association has and follows by-laws or other governing documents (i.e., constitutions or articles of incorporation;

    2. That membership is available to at least all residents in the geographic area served;

    3. That there is at least one meeting annually and that meetings be broadly advertised, in a timely fashion, and open to all residents within the geographic area served. OTHER CONSIDERATIONS FOR ACTIVE CIVIC LIFE


New or Reforming Civic Associations
    Getting started on the right footing is important to the long-term survival and well-being of any organization, and communication with affected residents is at the heart of reorganization.

    The Federation recommends such associations consider the basic steps found in How to Organize/Restart a Neighborhood Association, found in Appendix A.

Internal Communications

Communications are critical to provide a forum for airing of community activities, issues, needs and concerns; to produce an atmosphere of inclusivity (see open membership); to insure timely notification of meetings, hearings and events.

Among the many communications practices of our member organizations, bilingual where appropriate/available are:

    1. Newsletters

    2. Topica/Yahoo groups

    3. Web Sites

    4. On-Line E-mail news

    5. Kiosks or bulletin boards

    6. Phone trees

    7. Postcards

    8. Coffee clatches

    9. Phone and/or e-mail directories

    10. Community Alert System (County emergency system available at www.arlingtonva.us

    11. Special meetings with County for development or facilities

    12. Oral history project to preserve neighborhood memories


    13. Arlington Reunion Program on neighborhood history (Barcroft)

The distribution networks for these should be determined objectively. Some might be voluntary (directories, phone trees, etc.). Some might encompass all members; others only dues paying members. Some might be determined by affected geographic areas (i.e., notices of hearings or meetings). Consensus should be garnered on objective standards for distribution.


These are the communications that represent the association and its interests to the broader Arlington community. Determination should be made as to who can "speak" for the association and in what circumstances. Consideration should be given to checks and balances or lines of authority/clearance. Mechanisms should be considered to insure timeliness.


Business meetings, either general or special, should be conducted in a way that insures a solid reflection of community attitudes and representation of all interested parties. They should be communicated as broadly as possible and in as timely a fashion as possible. Again, they should be open to the broadest community in the neighborhood (as defined by individual by-laws) - either the entire membership community or those areas affected by issues (e.g., zoning, parking, etc.). To the extent possible, they should focus on issues of concern and interest to the membership, in whole or in part.


Events are the fun and glue that often hold communities together, the time for socializing and getting to know one another. They should foster a sense of community and a feeling of involvement and should recognize the spectrum of interests and ages within each of our neighborhoods.

Neighborhood Day is a county-wide celebration for which many neighborhoods plan special activities. These activities run the gambit from roasting legs of lamb to pancake suppers, from cook-outs to community service projects, from participation in school-based events to marching in the Neighborhood Day parade, from Voter registration drives to distribution of free trees.

Our associations and organizations are creative other times of the year as well. Some of the highlights we've discovered that have met with great success include:

    1. New England Corn Roast (Bellevue Forest)

    2. Ice Cream Social (Barcroft)

    3. Spaghetti Dinner, Barbeque, Pig Roast (Barcroft)

    4. Reception for neighborhood old-timers (Barcroft)

    5. Service Luncheon to honor working level County people like fire, police, mail carriers, FedEx, UPS, school teachers, garbage collectors, etc. (Barcroft)

    6. Centennial Celebration (including neighborhood history play by Barcroft Players)

    7. Snow shoveling brigade with County snow-blower (Leeway-Overlee, Waycroft-Woodlawn)

    8. Get out the Vote Campaigns

    9. Graffiti patrols to remove graffiti and old yard sale or real estate signs (Barcroft)

    10. National Night Out (many)

    11. Halloween Parades and parties (Bluemont - parade, storytelling in the park, cookies; Highland Park-Overlee Knolls - Party and Parade on the Greenway; Bellevue Forest - parade, games and prizes and pictures)

    12. Fourth of July Parade (Bellevue Forest - prizes, music; Barcroft)

    13. Columbia Pike Blues Festival

    14. Adopt-a-Trail for a section of the W & OD Trail (Barcroft, Bluemont)

    15. Candidates Night (often jointly sponsored by contiguous associations)

    16. December Holiday Party (Lyon Park)

    17. Wine and Cheese Social (Bellevue Forest - adults only)

    18. Cookie Swaps

    19. Neighborhood Yard Sales (Leeway-Overlee; Barcroft)

    20. Park Clean-Ups (Bluemont - monthly removal of invasives from the neighboring parklands; Barcroft)

    21. Stream Monitoring (Bellevue Forest, Donaldson Run)

    22. A capella performance (Lyon Park)

    23. Meet and Greets (getting to know new and old neighbors)

    24. Block Parties

    25. Annual holiday parties (Barcroft - multicultural singing)

    26. Community House maintenance blitz; Community House garden renovation (Barcroft)

    27. Neighborhood T-Shirts with map on front (Barcroft)

    28. Neighborhood cookbook; note cards (Barcroft)

    29. Theater groups presenting plays

    30. Book donations to neighborhood libraries.

    31. On-going neighborhood book, bridge and garden clubs.

    32. Formal discussion groups.

    33. Bringing special training programs into neighborhoods, such as Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), CPR, First Aid, AED, etc.

Schools are part and parcel of many neighborhood associations - either within their boundaries or contiguous to them. Opportunities should be explored to support or work in cooperation with neighborhood school activities. Some engage in joint grounds clean-up or planting in cooperation with their local schools or libraries.


NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION ADVISORY COMMITTEE encourages neighborhoods to survey their community and make determinations/prioritize needed improvements or embellishments. (See Appendix B for more complete details.)


WORKING WITH BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS (Ballston Partnership, Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, Clarendon Alliance, Rosslyn Renaissance)

Communities immediately affected by the business corridors have found themselves well-served by becoming involved with these partnerships.



To organize or revitalize a civic association, one should contact the Civic Federation Membership Committee Chair for a Start An Association Kit, and:

1. Clearly define a purpose or a set of purposes. Why do you want - or need- a civic association?

2. Determine your boundaries. Do not encroach upon the territory of a neighboring association. Since the Arlington County Board asked that the Federation be the arbiter of boundary changes, we ask that you work with the Federation Membership Chair in order to establish your boundaries. Check http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/EnvironmentalServices/dot/planning/civmap/civiclst.htm for currently recognized boundaries.

3. Ask friends or neighbors to assist you in canvassing the houses within your boundaries. Your purpose becomes a "selling point."

4. Obtain names, addresses, home phone numbers, etc. of those in agreement with the purposes. Enlist their help as you continue the canvass.

5. Set a date for a meeting. Notify all residents. Special outreach efforts will be necessary for apartment houses and non-English speaking residents.

6. Elect a temporary president, etc. Form committees to work on governing documents (e.g., bylaws), nominate a slate of officers, select an association name, etc. (For restarting a civic association, contact the Civic Federation Membership Chair for copies of previous association by-laws.)

7. Set a time for the next meeting. All preliminary work is to be done by that date. Elect your permanent officers; select your organization's name; approve a governing document.

8. Apply for membership in the Federation.

9. Notify the Arlington County Board Office, 2100 Clarendon Boulevard, #300, Arlington Virginia 22201, telephone (703) 228-3130 of your association and the name, address, and telephone number of your president.

10. Notify the Arlington County Department of Public Works, Engineering Division, Mapping Center, 2100 Clarendon Boulevard, #813, telephone (703) 228-3629 so that your neighborhood association will be placed on the Arlington County Civic Associations map.



Most of Arlington's neighborhood associations should participate in the Neighborhood Conservation Program. There are more than forty active neighborhoods in the program. Each year they allocate among the member neighborhoods approximately $5 million in funding from NC bonds and pay-as-you-go capital.

To participate, a neighborhood must prepare a Neighborhood Conservation Plan. This Plan details needs for rehabilitation of streets, curbs and gutters, bikeways, sidewalks and other pedestrian ways including traffic calming efforts, parks, streetlights, beautification and other capital improvements. To make the plan as broad-based as possible, questionnaires are distributed to all homes and responses are used to draft a plan that represents the whole neighborhood. The process opens the door for greater civic involvement for many residents who have not been active, as they see opportunities to guide their own changes and invest their tax dollars in what the community wants. Many neighborhood associations have been revitalized by the preparation of a Neighborhood Conservation Plan.

A Conservation Plan may encompass only a part of a neighborhood association's boundaries or areas not included in a neighborhood association. Sometimes projects are proposed for an area covered by two Conservation Plans.

When a plan has been accepted by the County Board, the neighborhood prioritizes its projects and can begin to receive funding for them. The neighborhood's representative participates in the monthly meetings and in the semi-annual Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee's funding sessions.

As projects are implemented, neighborhood residents provide essential input. For parks, citizens pick the equipment, the color, and the style. They help design streetscapes and pick streetlight styles and landscaping. This is a hands-on process where the County provides design guidance and the neighborhoods make the decisions.

In addition to funding projects, NCAC meets every month to discuss Arlington issues from a neighborhood perspective and hear presentations by County staff and others on neighborhood planning and County services. Even a neighborhood association that judges a Neighborhood Conservation Plan unnecessary will probably find it useful to send observers to NCAC meetings.

For further information on NCAC, contact the Office of Neighborhood Conservation: 703-228-3830.

This page was last revised on: August 6, 2004.
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