Friday, May 9, 2014

Welcome to Columbia, Mr. Matthews

Dear Mr. Matthews,
Welcome to Columbia!  I have heard a number of great things about you from members of the CA Board.  Unfortunately, due to no fault of your own, there is some controversy over the process for your selection, but do not let that detract from the excitement that comes with new beginnings and a new leader.

An open letter is an awkward means of introducing myself, but many of the things I want to say here have general application.  My name is Tom Coale and I am a former CA Board member representing the Village of Dorsey's Search.   I stepped down from the Board last year after deciding to run for the House of Delegates based on my (continued) understanding of the Conflict of Interest policy to preclude dual-service.  I truly enjoyed my time on the Board and, in full disclosure, consider your predecessor Phil Nelson to be a good friend.

CA is a complicated machine that no single Board member can operate.  With a ten-member Board, the interests are just too varied and commonalities so few that any action outside of the expected is near impossible.  This community, myself included, gets very worked up over Village elections, but the truth of the matter is that nothing is going to change all that fast.  And while no single Board member can operate CA to move the organization towards certain objectives, a President can.  You can set policy.  You can set goals.  You can guide the Board toward the right choices for Columbia.

CA's problems are legion.  The cap on CPRA liens is below the rate of inflation.  Infrastructure is crumbling while Villages seek upgrades and expansion.  Unrestrained, Board members will consistently try to get more for their Village without corresponding increases in revenue.  All the while, CA needs to reposition itself to meet the market of 2020 rather than preserve assets that met the demand of 1975.

You are tasked with a Board that includes many great public servants who care deeply about their community.  From top to bottom, they are good people.  But they do not have the time, expertise, or discipline to run a $64 million organization.  They value process over execution, mostly out of an unstated fear of being wrong; a fear of being blamed.  When you understand that fear, and are willing to step between them and the populist motivations that drive them on, you can do big things.

I no longer believe the fate of Columbia is bound up with the fate of the Columbia Association.  Regardless of any misconception in the press, the Symphony Woods easement is strong and, so long as plans are approved by the Planning Board, the plan will be executed as approved.  Columbians are no longer hostage to the process-minded retrograde tail-spin that has held up Symphony Woods for the past decade.  We're moving forward.

CA needs to be allowed that same path.  It needs to move forward.  The race is about to start and someone tied CA's shoelaces together.  If the right moves aren't made now to set CA up in a financially sustainable goal-oriented position, you will preside over the scaling back of an organization that has defined this community for as long as I've been alive.  Assets will be sold to for-profit entities.  Programs will be closed.  Instead of blue and green polo shirts on the banks of Wilde Lake, we can expect to see "LAZER-TAG-BALL-PIT CAMP!"  CA just is not on a sustainable path.

And even under those doomsday predictions, your first item of business likely will not be so simple as to get CA's butt in gear.  Your first choice will be whether CA is an antagonist or protagonist.  Will it hoist its own dysfunction on the rest of Columbia or fix the fundamentals and be an example of community pride?

We are all rooting for you.  Not only that, there are many people in Columbia working as you read this to help you succeed, inside and outside of your organization.  You are 100% potential right now.  Use that to your advantage.

I sign off every post with "Have a great day doing what you love."  You certainly have a job worth loving.

Your friend,
Tom Coale