Friday, June 28, 2013

CA Board Recap: June 27, 2013 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:38 p.m.
End Time: 10:54 p.m.

This is it folks - my last CA Board Recap.  It was a good meeting, with Board leadership showing flexibility in the face of extended Agenda topics and, most importantly, we actually got a few things done.  Despite not being on the original Agenda, the Lionel Fultz Memorial Plaque was passed and formally approved by the Board.  That is a good note to go out on.

Strategic Planning - Wellness

As you may have seen in the Flier, the Columbia Association is considering a shift in approach from "health and fitness" to "wellness".  To many of you, and a few on the board, "wellness" is a squishy term that everyone likes, but no one can define.  What we're talking about here is a more holistic approach to health that goes beyond cardio, weights, and sports.  Those offerings will continue to exist, but they will be promoted in a way that is a more complete package and takes into consideration nutrition, mental health, and relaxation.  Fitness is to gymnasium as Wellness is to spa.

I think one of the core benefits of this shift is that it is "new", substantiated by market research, and will attract young professionals and young families, while providing our retired population precisely what "the doctor ordered" for sustained health.

Now, while CA's current offerings will continue, it is deceptive to suggest that this is just an "and also".  With a shift in focus, CA would be promoting wellness as its focus over "health and fitness", with marketing (and funding) moving in that direction.  This is proposed as a gradual shift and, hence, is being discussed under the Strategic Plan into the future.  I can't say for certain how CA would look different under a "Wellness" focus, but I can assure you that it would be noticeable.

With a comment on process, the Strategic Implementation Committee carried this agenda item last night and it did not lead to a vote.  I asked the Board chair how this would work, and he suggested that the committees will address parts of the Strategic Plan at each meeting, but that no votes were anticipated.  I noted that this could become a quagmire and there seemed to be general consensus of the Board that future Strategic Plan discussions should be more focused.  I project that at the end of the Board year, the entire Strategic Plan will be brought to a vote, which would be a big step for President Phil Nelson, who has been promoting the Strategic Planning process for as long as I've been on the Board.

Heating of Dorsey's Search Pool

This issue has stirred more controversy than may have been merited, which I normally read as a communications misstep.  In the face of unexpected costs related to ADA compliance, and the pressing need to offer a year-round Aquatic amenity, the CA Leadership Team has proposed heating an outdoor pool year-round.  This approach has been tried as far away as Colorado and as close as Silver Spring to great success.  This idea, on its face, has been almost universally well-received, but for the deputized energy efficiency experts who object on "heating the whole outdoors" grounds.

Where things came loose was in the proposal that this replace or substitute for the enclosure of one or more of CA's pools, offering a more acceptable alternative for year-round swim teams and recreation.

Let's begin with the acceptance that an enclosed pool is preferable to a heated outdoor pool.  No one disputes that and, considering the time-frame of the Aquatics Master Plan, this never needed to be an either/or proposition.  We need to trust that future Boards, when faced with the stark realities of budgets, usage, and cost, will make the right decision, but for Planning purposes, nothing needs to come off the table.

If the Board were to go forward with an enclosed pool, it likely would not make it in this year's Budget cycle (as proposed for the heated pool) and may not even make it in the Budget cycle two years hence.  We're talking about the difference between a few hundred thousand dollars and a few million dollars.  To be able to offer this exciting amenity in the short term, without endangering the possibility of enclosing a pool, is a no-brainer.

Thankfully, at least a majority of the Board felt the same.  Some Board members sought to push the heated pool to a vote last night, but I think it is appropriate to allow additional time for members of the Aquatics Master Plan Task Force and Swimming Community to be heard.  That said, it would be a tragedy if a motivated few upset the opportunity for all of Columbia, which we have seen time and time again.

Village Organizers

Most outside of CA don't know this, but the Columbia Association pays two part-time "Community Organizers" in Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills to supplement the work of the Village Manager in "creating community", offering Village Programming, and handling crises.  The propriety of these positions being offered in only two Villages and the utility of having the position to begin with are both important considerations, but I appreciate that certain socio-economic dynamics amongst Villages require different approaches than others.  I've heard nothing but positive things from the people in those Villages about the work of their Community Organizer and I believe it is a program worth continuing.

The Board considered whether these positions should be organized under the Villages with subsidized funding from CA or whether the position should be internalized further and offered as a CA position that will serve all 10 Villages.  I favor the former (along with four other Board members).  Five Board members favored the latter.  Tom O'Connor will be the deciding vote.

Watershed Funding

Due to some projects being cancelled and others being more expensive than anticipated, John McCoy with our Watershed Project division sough an additional $60,000 to complete projects previously approved by the Board that bid out over estimated cost.  The Board consistently finds that our Watershed Protection efforts represent some of the best work CA does as an organization.  John's relationship with the Board prior to tonight's meeting has customarily been to show us all of the great work he's been doing and receive an "atta-boy" from the Board.  Although the Board unanimously supported his Request, it was endangered of not passing due to a procedural requirement that a committee vote unanimously to waive a second reading of any Agenda item.  One of the Board members on the SIC was not willing to waive a second reading.

We were told that this matter was pressing and that permits may expire if put off for too long.  Nevertheless, we were also assured that if a vote were held by July 11, the project would continue without a problem.  With this understanding, I was fine waiting another two weeks, but as a matter of principle I had trouble with the work of the Board (with unanimous support) being held up by a single Board member.

The Board, superseding the vote of the committee, voted to waive the committee's right to a second reading and passed the measure 8-2.  (Couldn't let me leave without a little excitement, right?)

We also received a great presentation on CA Communications, which showed me more in terms of how far we have to go than where we are, but that's what a presentation to the Board should look like.


I am sad to leave this Board.  I feel like I left the Columbia Association better than I found it, which is really all I can ask.  I regret the moments of controversy and the times I offended other Board members.  I truly do.  But I'm not sure if I would do things any other way.  I'm not sure that we could have passed the things we passed without some controversy.  I had the opportunity to speak with a County leader last week who recounted to me the strong opposition and controversy surrounding the creation of another County park.  People wanted to preserve the nature that already existed and were worried about traffic through the green space.  They wanted things to stay as they were.  That park was Centennial Lake.

Above all things, I'm an optimist.  I believe that it is harder to inspire than it is to scare, but that we have a moral obligation to choose the former over the latter.  My only hope is that in leaving this Board, the remaining members consider every voice that comes before them in these terms.  Is this person looking to inspire or scare?  We make mistakes out of fear.  We close down opportunities out of fear.  But greatness is found in inspiration.  It is the legacy of Columbia: one man's inspiration became our home.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  Rock on, my friends.