Friday, February 24, 2012

CA Board Recap: February 23, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:36 pm
End Time: 10:37 pm

Shorter than expected meeting, but there is little pride to be taken there.  This meeting does not have much to show for the time, effort, and frustration that was spent on its existence.

Symphony Woods
CA must submit its revised plan for Symphony Woods by March 6.  This new plan will be a "Neighborhood Plan" including both Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion.  Last night the Board, and a few members of the public, received a preview of the Plan to be proposed by Howard Hughes with an accompanying schematic by CA for Symphony Woods.  There were two items of this Plan that received some resistance from the Board.

First, the Howard Hughes Plan presumes/incorporates a series of land transfers for some vendor pavilions on the south-east side from CA to HH (i.e., pavilions are noted on property that currently belongs to CA).  Board members objecting to this schematic seemed to presume that Staff was interested in relinquishing this land without negotiation, payment, or trade.  The Staff's response was that a) This is just a schematic with little to no legal significance in terms of ownership of land; b) This land may be sold or leased to create a more complete design for the neighborhood with due compensation being received by CA.

The second concern was a parking lot on the north-west side of the neighborhood.  Notably, this parking lot is much larger than that proposed by CA's SW plan and presumably would serve MPP.  I can't recall whether the proposed lot was on CA land, but I do know that the primary concern was...more trees will be cut down.

On top of everything else, there were five residents, primarily if not exclusively from Oakland Mills, who expressed concern regarding the "53 healthy trees" that would be cut down in the creation of Symphony Woods park.  I clearly lied to myself when I thought the issue of trees in Symphony Woods had been put to bed.  The tree issue is jumping on the bed, breaking the springs, and waking the neighbors.

There is a well-used quip in Howard County that every resident presumes that once they pulled their "for sale" sign out of the ground, a big fence came swinging across the County borders with a "No Vacancy" sign.  The SW complaints are that notion under a different cloak.  This sparsely used, vacant park was no one's "paradise" until changes were proposed.  These changes are focused on a forward-looking "new" Columbia that is down-right scary to those who have spent their entire lives here.  I understand that and have a significant amount of empathy for those who are concerned.  Nonetheless, if you think there weren't 53 trees cut down to build your house, your grocery store, or even your favorite man-made lake, you are deluding yourself into this fiction that "Columbia is nature."  It's not.  And Symphony Woods is not a natural preserve.

Either way, the Board did not vote on anything last night.  It was an "FYI" session.  For my information, this is going to be a boondoggle once there comes a time for the Board to vote.

Dashboard Metrics
Pavlov would have a field day testing my blood pressure whenever someone uses the word "Dashboard."  (Is it possible to get PTSD from meetings?)

We spent another hour (plus) discussing how to make the Board more efficient by way of a set of graphs (known as the "Dashboard") that will provide a snapshot of where our organization is along those metrics.  This is a fantastic idea in concept.  Execution is looking grim.  As a member of the Staff joked last night "We are no longer looking at this as a destination as much as it is a journey."

The most significant debate last night was whether survey results for member satisfaction with CA Staff in the Sports/Fitness and Community Services context would be a valuable metric.  The survey responses to be gauged were Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, and Not Sure.  Staff included all responses, but then combined "Excellent/Good" to great consternation and gnashing of teeth by the Board.

I don't find this metric to be useful at all.  Maybe it is my general skepticism of survey statistics, but the variation between Excellent and Good does not amount to anything in my judgment; certainly not anything I would expect the Board to act on.  Imagine a 50% drop in Excellent's to Good's.  What does that mean?  It was a rainy day?  People were suffering from seasonal affective disorder?  Or that staff is losing a step?  Nonetheless, I was a minority vote on this item, which found itself in limbo over the simple fact that these surveys are done approximately every two years (at $20,000 expense to CA lien-holders) and would not have much relevance in a quarterly survey.

The next metric proposed was "Internet/Social Media Metrics."  Some Board members wanted to add a metric that would show our "Internet communications."  Seeing that I may be in the minority of Board members that follow CA on Twitter and on Facebook, this seemed a bit hypocritical and/or ignorant.  There are easier ways to see whether CA is a salient target for spam-bots.  But again, I was in the minority, and this metric will be "attempted" in the next proposal.

What I keep coming back to is one of my first meetings as a Board member.  The Quarterly Report had just come out and a number of Board members were demanding certain pieces of "data" from the Staff.  Question by question, the Staff would respond that the data was provided in the Quarterly Report.  It was embarrassing.  In this context, it is not too difficult to imagine a day in which a future Board demands "Metrics" from Staff, to which they will point to a 40 page packet and say "It's in the Dashboard."  At which time, I will stand up and slow clap.

Service Reductions

Certain members of the Board (overlapping with those who wish to cut staff salaries, rates, and CPRA fees), want there to be at least 30 day notice for any "service reduction" that adversely affects residents.  This is another nice idea in theory.  Unfortunately, its application is a hot mess.  New programs, failing programs, or simple redundancies cannot and should not be subject to a 30 day holding period.  Some Board members responded that this would only be a "Guideline" and not "Policy", to which I have to ask "Why are you wasting our time?"  Is the presumption that Staff does not have common business sense and they are only waiting for proper inputs from our amateur Board?

The policy is going back to the drawing board, but I would just as soon see it thrown away.  If there is an improper handling of a service reduction, the Board will have every opportunity to take that up with an operational criticism.  Not as Board action.

Similar to Board meetings, I have run out of time to discuss the matters before the External Relations Committee (i.e., the Committee upon which I sit).

Have a great FRIDAY (!!) doing what you love!