Start Time: 7:35 pm
End Time: 11:10 pm
Looking back, we probably overloaded our agenda and should give any agenda item with the word "Budget" in it a full meeting. The discussion of Splashdown went well over the time allocation and, as is our custom, we ran out of time while burning the midnight oil on an important topic (the FY14 Budget). This falls on the Board Operations Committee, which I am a part of, and I hope we take another look at how we manage our meetings...again.
Splashdown and Enclosing an Outdoor Pool
We received a tremendous presentation from Williams Architects/Aquatics on their preliminary plans for renovating/replacing Splashdown and enclosing an outdoor pool. The representatives from Williams have done a great job of presenting a litany of options (I think with alternatives, I counted about 11) meeting the community's requests at every turn. I was most impressed by their flexibility in saying "We proposed this, the community said that, so we changed this." As many of us have experienced, the community's desires are very difficult to nail down, but based on some of the Resident Speak-out, the Williams Group did a great job capturing the important points.
I'm not one to get into the details when I post about a meeting, so please check out the Agenda and Support materials here for more of the nitty gritty. I am hesitant to commit to any plan until I hear from our Executive Team on how this fits into future Budgets. While different Board members may have had different take-aways from last night, mine was that this Board's eyes (and the Community's eyes) may be getting bigger than our wallets. Unfortunately, this has turned into a "Well, if you're going to build a new golf facility, you certainly can afford a new X," which is the most backwards logic you can expect to encounter.
I like the idea of making Splashdown a premiere water park for Central Maryland (not just Columbia). I like the idea of enclosing an underutilized pool to provide warmer water for seniors and year-round competition space for the Clippers. I don't like the idea of my name being associated with the Board that sank the battleship.
Due to the mention of FY14 Budget Discussions on our Agenda, there was a large contingent of the tennis community at our meeting for Resident Speak-out. Maybe there is something discrete about Tennis, but most Columbians would be surprised to learn just how many people play in our area. Our Tennis Bubble in Owen Brown is at capacity and, by the sound of it, so are a lot of the other regional indoor tennis facilities. In light of this, CA is considering a plan to replace the "Bubble" with an indoor tennis facility. It is projected that the Tennis Bubble has another 5-7 years of use, at which time a future Board may be compelled to construct a new tennis facility under duress. By addressing this need now, we have the benefit of cool minds.
While I favor a new Tennis Facility, and the $100,000 in Planning Funds allocated in the Draft FY14 Budget, I don't think such a facility will need to be operated for a loss, as has been the presumption. Rather, this pent up demand in a wealthy community may offer the opportunity for time-slot pricing to at least bring us even. I'm not in the practice of advising our Executive Team on rates (enough of my colleagues on the Board are more than apt in this regard), but I will say that when a final proposal comes through, I will expect it to be a net-positive project.
Draft FY14 Budget
As I've said many times here, any budget review presents the opportunity to enter into a whole-scale audit of the entire organization. Maybe that's what some Board members want, but if so, shame on them for voting for an Agenda that only allocates 60 minutes at the end of a busy meeting to do so. So long as we are not entering into an audit, we may benefit from some additional formality to frame discussion (i.e., Motions to Amend, Second, Discussion, Vote). Through no fault of the PSC Chair, the Budget discussion devolved quickly into a discussion of the Aquatics Master Plan. I think the Board, and the Executive Team, set themselves up for failure by "Accepting and Filing" the over-arching policy goals of the Aquatics Master Plan, rather than affirmatively passing them as a policy statement. We're at a point where these policy goals have questionable legitimacy with some Board Members, while others want to fight the entire AMP process over again.
Update: It has been clarified for me that the Board did adopt these policy statements regarding neighborhood pools, but unfortunately there continues to be various interpretations of what that means amongst the Board members. That may be unavoidable, but it is hindering any mature discussions about how we maintain all 23 pools in a fiscally responsible way.
We voted to keep all 23 outdoor pools. That imputes a spectrum of upkeep amongst those pools, with some getting earlier attention than others. Some Board members would like to start work on the least utilized, worst-off pools, presuming that by doing so, those pools will increase their utilization rate. I think that such an approach is fool-hardy and based on chicken-egg presumptions that none of us would risk our own money on. If we revisit the Aquatics Master Plan, I would advocate for a full-on revisit, down to whether we keep all 23 pools open. I had the unreasonable expectation that once the continued availability of pools was maintained, Board members would appreciate the implication that renovation and repair would take even more time than it may if we downsized to 19 or 20. That expectation was unmet. I am tired of the "have our cake and eat it too" approach to pools and think the Executive Team is being boxed into a corner, only to be beaten over the head with the Board's own missteps. We chose to keep all 23 pools and now they are at fault for their disrepair. It is not right.
FY14 Budget discussions will continue at our January 24 meeting.
Overall, we don't have anything to show for last night's 3.5 hours. I wish this Board would be more purposeful with its time, but so long as we flounder in our attempt to respect minority positions, while prosecuting the will of the majority, we will have little to show for our work. In this respect, we're letting Columbia residents down. We repeatedly talk about forming "partnerships" with the County and for-profit entities without ever turning the lens back on ourselves to ask why anyone would want to partner with us. If your company or constituency had a line-item in the FY14 Budget, for which you have extended time and capital, I doubt you would be comfortable leaving the final vote in our hands. That disappoints me, but I don't think it is without resolution.
That's all for today. Have a great Friday doing what you love.