Jan 2013

Giving Back

Photo credit: John W. Brett, FCCPS

I work for a lot of association clients, and as a result, I interview a lot of association presidents. They’re nearly always incredibly successful people, with big jobs at big companies, and I’m always amazed that they can find the time to volunteer untold hours working, speaking and traveling on behalf of their association. But time and again, they tell me that they feel the need to pay back to an industry that has supported them for so long, or that they do it because “you get out what you put in.” I’ve heard that “get out what you put in” quote so many times I feel like I can finish their sentences for them as easily as a long-married couple.

In my own life, I tend to be a joiner and a doer. I love a good cause, and I’ve sort of made it my personal mantra to never complain about something if I’m not willing to do something about it. That’s not always possible of course — there are plenty of times I have a good kvetch about something without having the slightest plan to do a darn thing about it. But for the big issues … the stuff that really gets my goat … the stuff I’m truly passionate about? That I’ll commit to doing something about. And just as all those association presidents have been telling me over the years, it feels great. I get out more than I give. It’s awesome.

Below, then, are two articles that I think are perfect illustrations of this. I share them not to toot horns. Rather, I share them because after it was all said and done, I got this huge outpouring of thanks from other parents in my community, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that by having this story played out this way, it helps everyone remember that change doesn’t have to be hard. That little actions by many can result in one huge (fabulous) thing. So I hope, I truly truly truly hope, that if I’ve inspired even one person to stop kvetching and start volunteering, than the success of this little project of mine has been way more worth it than just the act itself. And that’s cool.

City Council Approves Board’s Bus Camera Request
By: John W. Brett
(From the Falls Church City Public School website, January 30, 2013)

Beginning later this year, blowing past a Falls Church City school bus with its flashers on and stop sign out will cost drivers $250.

The new law follows a year of work by an FCCPS parent, a Falls Church school board member and finally the unanimous support of the City Council.

“I’m really just thrilled,” said Stephanie Oppenheimer, a parent of two boys, both of whom ride the bus each morning. “Their bus stop is on a fairly busy street where cars routinely blow by the stopped bus. We’ve even had cars swerve around us in the crosswalk. It’s insane and dangerous.”

So last year she began her quest to do something about it. Working with Transportation Supervisor Nancy Hendrickson and Falls Church Officer Mary Gavin, the three researched the law to determine how best to proceed and brought their research to the school board.

In October FCCPS school bus drivers tracked violators over the course of three days and documented 60 incidents of running school bus stop sign arms. With data in hand, the matter was presented to the City for action.

“We felt it appropriate for Council to take the initial action,” said school board member Kieran Sharpe. “It appeared the Council must first authorize the schools to install and operate a video monitoring system before the schools can enter into an agreement with a vendor.”

Sharpe drafted a proposed ordinance to be presented to the Council before their December 17th meeting. And Monday night, Council unanimously approved.

“We are extremely grateful to Ms. Oppenheimer, who led the way. And also, to Mr. Sharpe who wrote the original draft ordinance” said Superintendent Toni Jones. “All in all, it was a great collaborative effort between FCCPS and Falls Church City Council and staff. We couldn’t be more pleased!”

“It was definitely a feel-good, ‘it takes a village’ moment,” added Oppenheimer.

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Falls Church first in Va. to use surveillance cameras to ticket drivers who don’t stop for school buses
By Tom Jackman, The Washington Post, January 30, 2013

It’s illegal in Virginia to drive past a school bus while it is picking up or discharging students, not to mention very dangerous. But who could consistently enforce such a law? Falls Church City says it can, and it approved an ordinance Monday night which would make it the first jurisdiction in Virginia to use video surveillance cameras on the outside of school buses to capture license plates of those who drive past the flashing red lights.

“This came from the community,” said city spokeswoman Susan Finarelli, who said that citizens complained they frequently saw drivers cruising past stopped buses. In November, the city asked its bus drivers to keep track of how many cars illegally passed them while they were loading or unloading. In three days, the drivers reported 60 violations.

By unanimous vote, the Falls Church City Council approved placing video cameras on the rear corner of some or all of the city’s 17 buses, who cover more than 155,000 miles per year. No vendor has been selected, but the two biggest manufacturers both told Falls Church that they were the first in the state to adopt such a plan.

The vendor will monitor the footage and supply possible violations to the police. A sworn officer will review the tape and issue a civil summons if the license is clear and the violation is apparent. A $250 fine, but no traffic points or convictions, will be assessed, and it doesn’t matter if you weren’t driving: if it’s your car, you’re liable under Virginia law.

“We expect this program will change driving behavior and have a positive impact on the safety of the city’s students,” said Falls Church police Captain Rick Campbell. “While the city has been fortunate to have not had an accident yet, it’s only a matter of time. The safety of our community is our number one priority.”

The city hopes that the cost of the cameras, and using the vendors to monitor them, will be roughly balanced out by the fines brought in from the violators, Finarelli said. She didn’t know how many of the buses would be equipped with the cameras — no vendor has been hired yet — but said it would be on the buses with the mostly high-traffic routes.

Stephanie Oppenheimer, a Falls Church parent who worked with school and police officials to get the ordinance passed, said the council’s approval was “definitely a feel-good, ‘it takes a village’ moment.”

Oppenheimer has two boys, ages seven and 10. Both use “a bus stop on a fairly busy street,” Oppenheimer said, “where cars routinely blow by the stopped bus. We’ve even had cars swerve around us in the crosswalk. It’s gotten so commonplace that the most dangerous part of riding a school bus is literally getting off of it and getting on it.”

Oppenheimer said the program’s goal is not to make money, but simply to stop drivers from passing buses. “Keeping our youngest citizens safe is far more important than any revenue,” she said, “and that point was repeated again and again last night” by the Falls Church council.

Photo credit: John W. Brett, FCCPS

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