Saturday, January 28, 2012

CA Board Recap: January 26, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:35 pm
End Time: 11:05 pm

As we concluded this meeting, someone who had been in attendance for the full 3.5 hours turned to me and said "I dare you to write something positive about this meeting."  It was another instance of a lot of talk with very little action.  While I would concede that there are times for prolonged deliberation, this meeting had at least two occasions where we discussed the prospect of future discussion.

Symphony Woods Fountain
You know how when you get a tickle in your throat and you think "Darn, I'm getting sick", but there is little you can do to stop it?  That's a good way to describe how I feel about the SW fountain.  I foresee nothing good coming of this.

First, the designs.  I find myself in the camp that is not particularly wow'ed by the current proposals.  I thought Westco Fountain put on a great presentation within the parameters that were presented in the RFP.  Maybe it is a failure in imagination, but I can't see a circumstance in which either of these fountains draws people to the park.  I understand that many of you disagree on this point, but density will be what defines this park.  There is nothing spectacular about Centennial Lake, but it is in a good location to draw people for walking, running, fishing, etc.  In that context, creating a fountain that "draws people" to the park is probably a bad idea and has the danger to become an eye-sore.  Rather, I think we need a fountain that is complimentary to the Park, but is also innovative and symbolic of what the new Columbia aspires to be.  That's a heavy load, but if we are going to spend up to half a million dollars (currently budgeted for much less) of CA funds and grants, it really should be spectacular, regardless of what $1 million (or more) would have provided.

That brings me to my potentially conflicting second point: the CA Board should not be the "Aesthetic Council" for deciding what this fountain should look like.  Period.  Exclamation Point.  Highlight cursor.  As noted in David Greisman's article, at least two members of the Board expressed their personal disappointment in the proposals and suggested holding a work session to develop additional ideas.  One of those Board members recommended that each Board member find pictures of fountains that they liked and bring them to the work session for Westco to incorporate.  In a project with permanence, I would rather defer to expertise than personal favorites.  I expect a proposal that is a little outside of my comfort zone with the appearance of being lasting.  With a fountain that has this many components, I am quite certain the temptation will be for each Board member to have their "mark" on the final product.  "See that sideways jet of water coming out of the vertical feature?  That's mine.  And actually the vertical feature was [insert Board member's name]'s idea.  The color scheme was offered by..." (You get the idea).  If that doesn't sound like a horrific process for building a lasting monument to Columbia...you probably are on the Board.

So where does that leave us?  I have no idea.  I am interested in seeing what happens at the work session, which will be at least three months off.  This would have been a lot easier for me if I had fallen in love with one of the two proposals.  Right now, I feel that my only alternative will be to join one of the camps in favor of what's on the table.  I need to decide if that is "settling", which I will not do for a project of this magnitude.  If that turns out to be the case, I would rather look to solicit additional proposals...from experts.

Transfer Dredging Funds

This agenda item was delegated 10 minutes, but ended up taking 30.  As I've noted before, the Board has repeatedly shown that it does not have the discipline necessary to follow a timed agenda.  While the agenda item was to discuss the allocation of excess funds from one dredging project to another, we devolved into a discussion of dredging as a whole, when these projects would be finished, and whether we need to reevaluate the dredging process as a whole.  When this gyre begins to spin, there is very little that can be done to slow it down or put it in reverse. 

We eventually voted to transfer the funds.  Unanimously.  After 30 minutes discussion.

Dashboard Metrics

For those new to the show, the Dashboard Metric discussion celebrated its one year anniversary!  The Board is considering which metrics of achievement and sustainability it would like displayed in graph form for easy reference by future Boards.  The most controversial example is "Market Share", which shows what percentage of Columbia Residents have "memberships."  I put that last word in quotes because it is the source of great frustration and gnashing of teeth.  Some Board members want a footnote defining what "memberships" means (Package plan?  Pool?  Golf?).  Others (me) feel that the Board can't see the forest for the trees with these types of complaints.

As I noted at the meeting, I think we need to narrow down what metrics we are including in our "Dashboard" (which is beginning to resemble that of a helicopter).  The current Dashboard is approximately 8 pages of graphs of varying importance.  The Board is now looking into whether we should add additional metrics regarding "Resident Satisfaction" and...well...I can't tell you exactly what else.  The suggestion was made that our metrics should be more forward looking with an example of "Not just whether you liked what you got for Christmas last year but what do you want for Christmas next year?"  That is probably a good way to conceptualize what the Board is looking for, but I don't know how you graph that and, more importantly, I don't know what the Board would do with that information.

The best possible Dashboard will provide relevant accessible data for the Board to act.  The last three words of that sentence are the most important.  If these metrics will encourage inappropriate overreach by the Board, I am against them.  If these metrics can refocus the Board on the items of greatest importance for Board oversight (i.e., finance and sustainability), I am for them.

Overall, I just want to stop talking about them.  These discussions remind me of that time when Mr. Rogers displayed a TV monitor with an image inside of another image that went on for eternity (if that did not make sense, just bear with my dabble into nostalgia...and then check out this horribly awful statue of Mr. Rogers in Pittsburgh).  We are discussing what data we will need for future discussions without any context.  What I would really like, that I think has been requested in various ways throughout the year long discussion, is just a Dashboard.  What doesn't work will be tweaked.  What is unnecessary will be removed.  But unlike the helicopter, we can fiddle with this thing while we are driving.  These discussions are absolutely pointless and get into all of the philosophical mumbo jumbo that frustrates the dickens out of me.  I am frankly quite tired of hearing Board members pontificate about what CA "aspires to be."  My favorite suggestion of the night was from Ed Coleman who proposed that we have a "Board Efficiency Metric" that would measure how long we talk about this Dashboard.  The Board laughed.  I was ready to second his motion.

CA's New Logo

The biggest story in Columbia that isn't being covered is that CA does not own the People Tree and has been "encouraged" to find another logo.  Hu-whhhhaaaaaaaat?  In the shattering of the Rouse Company that resulted in CA, GGP, and Howard Hughes, the People Tree appears to have gone to Howard Hughes.

In response, CA has engaged Redhead Companies to design a new logo.  I've been impressed with all of my interactions with Redhead and look forward to their proposal, but as a former employee who wore the People Tree on my polo shirt for two years, I am a little reticent to concede.

The new logo will be unveiled this Spring.

So that was the meeting.  We really only passed one vote (reallocation of Dredging Funds).  I found the Fountain discussion to be important, but probably about 30 minutes too long.  There will be a discussion of agendas at the next Board Operations meeting, which I will plan to attend (work permitting).  Maybe the death of Board Reform has been greatly exaggerated.