Friday, February 10, 2012

CA Board Recap: February 9, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:34 pm
End Time: 10:58 pm

This Board meeting was dedicated entirely to Columbia Association's Operating Budget.  It became apparent early on that some members (member?) have viewed the Board's opportunity to "review and approve" the Budget as a paired opportunity to dictate the very operations of this organization.  This is after repeated assurances that they are not interested in "getting into operations" and are rather exercising the Board's responsibility of "oversight."

What was even more frustrating is that it seems the Board is either unable or unwilling to prevent a blatant acknowledged tyranny by the minority in the course of Board meetings.  As will be noted below, the Board considered over 34 proposals regarding the Operating Budget.  With two to three items that were put on Tracking Forms for later action, none of the proposals made it past a straw vote.  That means the majority was not interested in the proposal, which was apparent from the start on many of these items.  Despite the CA Board's Special Procedures that are intended to govern our meetings, which explicitly say that the Chair is to take note of how many members would like to speak for or against a given item, each proposal was subject to discussion amongst whomever still had muscle-nerve contact between their shoulder and their hand.

In terms of Operational interference, it is time for the Staff to just say "no."  There is a legal limit on what a Nonprofit Board of Directors may require of Staff in terms of dictating action.  I would probably stand up and cheer if one Thursday a member of the Staff said to a Board member "We believe your proposal is entirely within the realm of CA operations and will not be following your directive on this."  It would surely infuriate the Board Member, and possibly others, but it would also seem to curb this blank checkbook approach that has micro-managed a very good organization into nonsensical spiderwebs of policies, white papers, and inequitable formulas.

As I noted above, we reviewed over 30 some-odd proposals.  I am only going to include those that stuck out for me.  Again, spoiler alert, none of them passed.  

Salaries Line Item

If you enjoyed "Attack on the Staff, Part 1" you'll love "Attack on the Staff, Part 8."  Yet again, members of the Board sought to limit the increase in the salary line item to keep it at the same amount as 2012.  Whether it is federal, state, or the nonprofit sector, I do not believe in taking "hard times" out on well-performing Staff.  If we were looking to curtail our budget to save money, I firmly believe it should have been in Capital Projects or Programming.  It was yet another round of amateur hour in terms of what CA's thousands of employees "deserve" due to "tough economic times."  This proposal was voted down, as were subsequent proposals looking to edit salary items in the budget.


If you enjoyed "Attack of the Rate-Slashers, Part 1" you'll love "Attack of the Rate-Slashers, Part 8."  Frequent readers will know that many on this Board see no measure of science in calculating rates.  If it is a lot of money, it is too much.  If the difference between resident and non-resident rates appears too small, it is not "significant."  Who has time for market comparisons when we have the "eyeball test" to apply to complicated matters of CA income?

I appreciate the interest in lowering rates...for low income residents.  Respectfully, for everyone else, I am willing to trust our Staff to consider market rates and our interest in providing Columbia residents a rate that is significantly below that rate.  Other than that, I have no experience to offer in this regard and will not impose my judgment on the rates that have been calculated.  These numbers don't exist in space.  They're based on the cost of fulfilling a membership, the cost of subsidization between resident and non-resident, market competition, etc., etc.  You have to wonder whether this organization would be spiraling into the red if there were two to three different Board members who thought Board service was an opportunity to get cheaper golf for their friends.

We also returned to the Board's policy of not offering Double Discounts.  Anyone paying attention to the Senior Discount will know that this has become a bit controversial.  In short, CA does not allow "double discounts" as a matter of "good business practices" and therefore a member who has a 10% Senior Discount may not also enjoy a 20% discount on the early renewal, leading to a 30% discount on their Plan.  It was suggested that we abolish the double discount rate at the Board level, which I tend to agree with.  The trouble is that the way it was written suggested that this may be misconstrued as prohibiting staff from setting their own discount policy, including the prohibition on double discounts.  (Still with me?).  As such, the matter was deferred for later Board action.

Soon after the straw vote went through, one of the Board members, who happens to be the standard-bearer for the senior discount, called the Board "spineless" and then corrected himself to say we were "gutless."  I would counter that this populist nonsense with no basis in data of any sort, and very well may be injurious to CA, is spineless...reckless and arrogant.  Offering up to 30% off CA memberships to a growing segment of our population is not just wrong; it is dumb.

It looks like I have run out of time.  Those were the two most prominent areas of discussion from last night's Board meeting.  I didn't see any members of the press, but I've been wrong before.  Nevertheless, I don't know if there was anything to cover.

I can't imagine that the ten directors enjoyed the use of their time last night.  Three and a half hours that could have been spent with your spouse, your children, your pet, or just reading a book.  But why aren't we doing anything about it?  We talk a lot about the Board's credibility and our interest in transparency, but both are injured by long purposeless meetings.

Residents will have their say in April.  Maybe they'll actually tell us something this time.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.