Friday, June 29, 2012

CA Board Recap: June 28, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start: 7:34 pm
End: 10:50 pm

I will have to be careful with my tone this morning, as I was very disappointed with how the meeting went last night.  As you can see, we are back to our old ways of pushing the meeting to 11 pm.  Some may even say "triumphantly" back to our old ways.  I will get to that in a moment, but I feel there is a divide between what the Board says it wants to do in running a meeting and what it actually endorses.  We "come down" to the feet-stompers and table-slappers.  We entertain their unprofessional behavior, meet their demands, and avoid all criticism for the good of the order.  It can't go on like this and we need to see what our leadership is willing to do about it.

Although never actually discussed in great detail, the provision of time amongst our Agenda ended up being an important topic for last night's meeting.  All three committee chairs have shown a committed effort to abiding by the time we are allowed in meeting the objectives of the Agenda.  Nevertheless, there has been a significant amount of resistance once the "rubber meets the road."

We had two presentations last night that were not allocated enough time, both under the Strategic Implementation Committee.  I should have done my due diligence to realize this beforehand, but one presenter told me that they would only take 10 (out of 20 minutes) and another had been Staff.  When noting the time remaining for the latter, one Board member turned to me and said "Tom, this time thing has got to stop" as if I had come down from a mountain with the invention of a timed agenda.  While I appreciate the thought, hundreds of thousands of organizations across the world have been able to use timed agendas to address the matters before their Boards and CA has no innate defect that would prevent it from doing the same.

So why?  Why must we limit ourselves?  Last night the Agenda had us getting out at 10:50 pm.  With just about every Chair employing the limits that were noted in the Agenda, we left the Board room at...10:50 pm.  While a few Board members may be frustrated that someone would dare tell them there are limits to their pontifications and cross examinations, I don't think anyone could reasonably say that deliberations were artificially or unnecessarily curtailed.  However, if we had allowed for unlimited discussion on matters that did not require our immediate action (see below), other matters would have been arbitrarily shortened, despite the conscious allocation of time at the Board Operations Committee level.  So we have two choices -- follow an intelligent ordering of business with a conscious delegation of time OR follow a chaotic line-up of round-abouts and limit deliberation on whatever comes last.

The Board has the opportunity to evaluate its Agendas at the beginning of every meeting.  For reason unknown, other than an ignorance or ambivalence towards the limits of minutes in an hour, the Board passes the Agenda week after week without any comment on time allocation.  Last night, I did not need the four minutes allowed for a Chair report.  I asked that it be moved to another item that would take more time.  About 75% of the Board laughed.  I'm a big boy, it didn't hurt my feelings, but it did baffle me that a Board that, for as long as anyone seems to remember, can't seem to wrap up its business within 3 hours time, and will fill whatever time limits that are provided with whatever comes to mind, seems so aloof as to what this type of dysfunction has done to our image in the community.

Am I done?  Yes.  Let's move on, shall we?

CA's Economic Impact

The Board heard a very interesting presentation last night about Columbia Association's impact on property values, state and local revenues, and overall business revenues last night.  While I didn't feel the need to grill the presenter or confront him at the meeting, I wasn't all that sold on the concepts at play.  The methodology compared Columbia to Laurel and Ellicott City, primarily using CA as the contrast.  I like the idea, and I think it is without question that CA adds to property values, but this argument got a little too "big" for my taste and the skeptic in me took over.

All the same, I do look forward to referring to this study the next time an elected official wants to bully CA around, which seems all the rage over the past few months.

CA's Strong Homes Pilot Program

I am very excited about this program from the Groundswell organization that would work with CA residents to leverage group purchasing to lower insulating and "green" home improvement contracts with outside vendors.  The program is still having its rough edges rounded off, but essentially CA would use Community Grant funding to help subsidize energy efficiency projects for CA residents, which would then be repaid at little to no interest.  Programs in other locales have reduced costs for residents by 10-15% and have seen up to 95% participation.

Connecting Columbia

This is yet another exciting initiative managed by Jane Dembner that will fundamentally change your enjoyment and appreciation of CA amenities.  Although the project includes a wholesale re-conceptualization of CA's pathways as an actual means of getting from A to B (as opposed to just recreation), and would include an East-West pathway that would meet the concerns of Bridge proponent far in advance of any construction over 29, I am most excited about the signage.  (I am a man of small pleasures).  Our consultants are looking at flag-posts and directional pads built into the cement that will allow residents to step onto the path outside of their home, take out a map or smart-phone, and plan a trip to just about anywhere in Columbia, or even some destinations around our borders.  While rail and dedicated bus lanes may be the future 10 years out, these paths are our contemporary avenue towards creating an alternative to the single-occupant automobile.

Despite the meta-level perspective of this project, we spent a good amount of time discussing whether CA should pay for curb improvements on County land connecting to our paths.

Key Strategic Issues Radar Screen

If you all have been with me for the long haul, you may know that there are certain things (i.e., Dashboard) that just do not interest me and for which I have no real use.  The Strategic Issues Radar screen is one of them.  We spend so much time talking about what we want our organization to do that could otherwise be spent just doing it.  Throughout all of last year, there was no one occasion where a Staff or Board member said "We can't do that.  It's not a Strategic Issue."  I appreciate those who work on these items and why another Board (functioning on a higher level, perchance) may find great usefulness here, but for me it is fluff.

Planning and Strategy Committee Goals

Ed Coleman has shown true leadership as Chair of the PSC and I have been very impressed with the direction he has taken this committee.  He recommended that this portion of the Agenda be broken out into a work-session, which has been an interesting new avenue that the Board has taken on matters better addressed through open discussion.  I have some concern that the platform invites rabbit-hole chasing, but under the hand of a good steward/Chair, they can be very productive.  Last night was an example of that.

The PSC and the Board identified some trouble spots we've hit in the past with regard to Budget Planning and made some prospective edits to address those concerns.  The PSC is also looking into the very exciting step of involving the Board in long term 5, 10, 15 year strategic planning that will put us in front of problems and/or windfalls, as opposed to merely reacting to them.  There was even some manner of self-criticism directed at the Board...that was summarily tends to happen with those things.  Nevertheless, I do believe the Board recognized that we have been undisciplined with Board proposals, despite there being a form and process in place for the receipt and analysis of those initiatives.

After typing all of this out, I guess it wasn't such a bad meeting after all.  My frustration remains, but we have strong leadership in place to fix that which needs fixing and evolve on those areas in need of evolution.  What I most appreciate is that I feel I can trust everyone on the Board Operations Committee.  That is important to getting the hard work done.

One more thing -- Please check out the piece in the Columbia Patch about our ability to raise $2,500 (now $2,625!) in three days.  Even more exciting is that a few of you have suggested that this project pushed you to start efforts of your own to address problems in your community that may be addressed by group action.  You can expect my full support and endorsement for all of it.  Let's keep this rolling.  Start something bigger. 

That's all for today.  Have a fantastic Friday doing what you love.  It is impossible not to.