Friday, March 9, 2012

CA Board Recap: March 8, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:32 pm
End Time: 11:00 pm

This meeting primarily focused on the Aquatics Master Plan, but there were other important issues discussed.  The disposition for the AMP presents a vexing issue for which there appears to be no consensus (or at least not one shown) in terms of how we will approach the future of Columbia pools.  I was happy to see the Board defer any action on this plan to allow the Board more time to think.
Hobbits Glen

We received an update from the architectural firm that is designing the proposed renovation or reconstruction of Hobbits Glen.  The gentleman who spoke gave a detailed overview of the feedback they had received and how it was incorporated into future plans.  One of the most prominent items were a dedicated "19th Hole" grill/bar for the golfers, along with separate "approaches" for those at Hobbits Glen for golf and those there for the restaurant.  Based on my conversations with members of the golfing community, these were important issues and I was happy to see that reflected in this presentation.

Aquatics Master Plan

After a brief overview of the changes that have been made to the recommendations in the Aquatics Master Plan, the Board received overwhelming testimony from residents living near the pools that had been targeted for "re-purposing."  These residents consistently testified that they did not want their pool to be closed and that the real cause of under-utilization was a lack of attention and/or improvement of their existing facilities.  They described what I conceptualize to be a death spiral in which people stop going to a pool because it isn't updated, which shows attendance numbers indicating that the pool is redundant, which then decreases the call for future improvements.

While I appreciated the testimony, it was what the Board should have expected.  If there is any one truth to CA amenities it is that when the organization looks to "take" something away, there will be uproar, regardless of whether the purpose may be designed for the good of Columbia as a whole.  Those that may benefit from a new use have not had the opportunity to experience what they might be missing and, thus, they have little to no motivation to be heard.  I think we could have started the meeting by asking "Who is here because you don't want CA to repurpose your pool?" and ended up with a very good idea about what the next two hours of testimony would have shown.

That's not intended to be dismissive.  In fact, I would say that the two hours of testimony truly affected the Board and made the likelihood of any pool being voted for re-purpose next to nil.  The harder question is "What is the right choice?"  The easy choice is clear -- don't close down any pools.  And maybe that is the right choice (as I was leaning last night), but my gut feeling is that the future of CA Aquatics is slightly more complex than a straw poll of 20-50 residents who have testified at the two community geared sessions.

And that brings me to the most important issue, and one the Board considered last night: Are CA pools "neighborhood pools" or are they part of "Columbia's Aquatic Master Plan"?  A member of the Staff noted that the CA Board in the mid to late nineties (or was it eighties?), approved a policy stating that Columbia pools were a city-wide amenity (as a whole) and that CA would work away from the idea of "neighborhood pools."  As Phil Kirsch rather astutely noted, this may have been because of the economic situation of the Board at that time, when the organization was paying high yields on its bonds and did not have money to spend on new pools in its new neighborhoods.

This is a big question.  If our pools are part of a larger system, overlap will normally be an indication for re-purposing one of two pools serving the same area.  If we have a neighborhood pool system, it does not make sense to close any pools, as they all have a constituency that will be left without a pool in the circumstance of closure.  Jane Dembner, who shepherded through the AMP, noted that an online survey performed by CA indicated that most residents did not use the pool that was closest to them.  They traveled to where their friends, family, or swim teams were.  This indicates that the neighborhood concept may be nice in theory, but does not play out in application.

The problem with relying on that data is the same "death-spiral" described above, which undercuts any discussion of usage.  Unfortunately, I don't think our organization has taken proper cognizance of many of the concerns expressed regarding the upkeep of our pools.  That makes it very difficult to essentially "blame" residents for not using their neighborhood pool and "punish" them by taking that pool away.

My suggested approach, which did not have much sticking power with the Board, was to take a more decentralized look at these pools.  Implicitly, this calls the game in favor of "neighborhood pools", but I also think it can make inroads in terms of a hybrid approach.  All of our pools will never be equal, but we will also never experience a day when all of our pools are fully utilized.  A piece-meal look at each under-performing pool may reveal ways to make it a "Columbia-wide amenity" without taking away that "one pool" that is in walking distance for 100 residents.  When you take a meta approach, the details are lost.  For this particular project, I think the details, and the simple things, may just be the crux of the solution.

The Board will be addressing this at a later date and I look forward to seeing additional avenues explored.

Service Reduction Policy

After nearly three hours discussing the Aquatics Master Plan, we turned to a draft "Service Reduction Policy" that would essentially require Staff to provide 30 days notice to the public for any reduction in programming or hours at a Columbia amenity (primarily focusing on gyms).

I did not like this policy when it was first proposed and I did not vote for it when it passed.  I think this is micro-managing at its worst, which has the concrete danger of tying the hands of Staff and wasting CA money on unattended programs.  Nonetheless, when I voted against this policy, the proposing Board member turned to me and said something to the effect of "Nice job, Mr. Transparency."

Glad to see none of us are above a grade-school collegiality level.
That's all for today.  Have a great day doing what you love.