Friday, July 13, 2012

CA Board Recap: July 12, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:36 pm
End Time: 10:13 pm

While I certainly appreciate the meeting ending about 45 minutes earlier than our average (and getting to see an awake Jane before she sets out on a weekend long sailing trip), this accomplishment is ever so diminished by the simple fact that we did not have much to do.  The real work is getting this Board to operate more efficiently and intentionally.  As you will read, I believe that even with this shortened meeting, we still spent a lot of time spinning our wheels in the mud.

John DeWolf Presentation on Downtown Columbia

The Board has requested an opportunity to have John DeWolf, VP of Howard Hughes, speak at our meeting regarding HH's plans for Downtown Columbia.  I think it is fair to say that the Board was "wow'ed", which is all the more impressive considering the adversarial stance many of these same Board members had taken towards our community developer as recently as last year.

I will be honoring Mr. DeWolf's request to keep some of the subject matters discussed under my hat, despite this being presented at an open meeting.  I would strongly encourage any of you that are interested to download the audio recording of last night's meeting when it becomes available on Tuesday.  The Downtown Presentation is right at the beginning.  (Funny aside: John did say that if he had known the County Council meetings were viewed recorded and webcast, he may have taken a different approach with the County Council last month.)

First of all, this is very exciting.  Mr. DeWolf laid out the planned progression of development across a number of parcels and gave us an overview of the "grand scheme" (my words).  He noted that HH has been receiving significant resistance to incorporating "paid parking", which I think is unfortunate.  Traffic is not some disease that goes into remission.  It must be treated.  Paid parking and cutting back on vast expanses of ugly, watershed destroying, property wasting asphalt will be an important step in encouraging alternative modes of transit.  Mr. DeWolf noted that many people have said "this is a suburban town and we need our parking".  The fact that he is respecting that interest says a lot about HH's intentions and the frivolousness of having staid community comforts running the show.

My biggest take-away from this presentation was something John DeWolf never actually said.  When he was asked what Howard Hughes wants from CA, he noted that HH is "big on property rights".  He then said "we don't want you...we don't want to tell you or GGP what to do with your property."  What I thought he was going to say, and what I think he intended behind that me/you semantic slight of hand, was "We don't want you telling us what to do with our property".  The Board nodded and smiled at what he actually said, with many looking to say "Well good, we don't want you telling us what to do either", but I hope they understood part B of that statement.  Personally, I'm ready to agree to that request, but I wonder how much the rest of the Board may be interested in letting up on the reigns (that we don't actually hold).

Village Share Allocation

This albatross is not going away anytime soon.  As a quick refresher, the Allocation Model is designed to distribute CA lien assessments amongst the 10 Villages according to various classifications, expenditures, and other needs.  It is very complicated and lends itself to grievous misinterpretation (and I don't use "grievous" lightly).  The Board is objectively paralyzed by the concerns of three Villages, two of which feel a third has been mis-categorized and, as such, receiving more than a fair share of the assessment.  It is unfortunate that this record found itself on the turntable, yet again, but I think the Board is taking a professional approach to the issue by having all Villages reassessed to ensure uniformity across the Columbia Villages.  Once that is done, however, I will have no tolerance for any further objections or tweaking to the model.  We came into this explaining to the Villages that not everyone would be satisfied, but that we would try to find the most palatable solution for the most Villages possible.  The vast majority of Villages accepted that premise and did not seek any further adjustments of the model because of it.  To now go back and tinker with what was originally proposed undercuts that trust and the preliminary agreement we extended to those Villages that did not look at this item in terms of whether money was left on the table.  We open a whole new bag of worms by suggesting that this model is incomplete and I would not blame other Villages for feeling like they were tricked into complacence.  Nonetheless, if these reassessments do not change the final outcome, we have maintained our original deal and no one is worse off.

Key Strategic Issue Radar Screen

This is another item that, at first blush, would seem to be a quick item for approval.  It was not.  We spent about 15 minutes deciding whether we wanted to include the words "information technology" or "channels of communication" with the premise being that our older residents may not use "the Twitter or the Facebook".  You may recall that at the first reading of the Key Strategic Issues, I said that I didn't see much relevance of these directives to what CA actually does.  I still don't. 

Joint Venture Policy

One of the most productive items on the agenda was a review of a proposed Joint Venture Policy to outline the guidelines by which CA will enter into Joint Ventures with for-profit entities in a manner that will preserve our 501(c)(4) status.  I think Staff did a tremendous job on this policy and incorporated both the legal and financial considerations that are at play with these types of arrangements.  The Board was on task and asked good questions about certain edits that may be necessary.  This was an example of what the Board can do when it is on focus, has a pre-set objective in terms of what is being asked of the Board, and is directed by a strong Chair.  We referred the policy back for additional edits, but will see it again next month.

Five Year Capital Improvement Plan

Here's where I think we were a little inefficient with our time.  CA President Phil Nelson has drafted a Five Year Capital Improvement Plan.  Phil is particularly good at long term planning and I'm not sure we have fully utilized his capacity in this regard.  Nevertheless, the Planning and Strategy Committee has specifically solicited this Plan and I am glad it has been brought to the Board level.  However, Phil was not at last night's meeting.  He was at the Planning Board meeting to defend CA's Plan for Symphony Woods (the decision on which will be postponed to the next meeting).  Due to Phil's absence, the Board spent a lot of time discussing issues that may have been easily answered by the author of the Plan, such as "Does this Plan limit us?" "Why does the Plan presume this revenue stream when we may have more available in two-three years?"  The Board continued this discussion under the premise of "passing ideas and concerns on to Staff", but it seemed like much of the time was spent criticizing aspects of the Plan that may be a complete misinterpretation of its terms.

By my review, we spent about 45 minutes on this topic, and I'm not entirely sure it was worthwhile.  What I would have preferred is a request to the Board to review this Plan and have questions for the next PSC meeting, at which Phil would address those question in turn and see if we actually have criticisms that are more than mere misunderstanding.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love!