The Columbia Association Board of Directors met on May 26th. No substantive decisions about CA policies were made and the meeting was focused on allowing the board to hear presentations from each of the board’s eleven advisory committees. At 3.5 hours, it was a long meeting. The length was primarily a result of the ambitious agenda to hear from eleven different committees. Other factors contributing to the length included disagreement about the agenda itself, a large number of residents speaking out, and a large number of statements and questions (some of them arguably gratuitous or ill-informed) from some board members. The length of the meeting was also a testament to the time commitment CA Board members and advisory committees make in service to the community.
The majority of the meeting allowed the board to hear from its eleven FY22 advisory committees. The committees were: Aquatics, Climate Change & Sustainability, Columbia Arts Center, Golf, Health and Fitness, International and Multicultural, Millennial, Senior, Teen, Tennis, and Watershed. CA President Lakey Boyd prefaced the presentations by explaining that these reports were from the FY22 Advisory Committees and didn’t reflect the recent changes the board had made to its committees (see below). Ms. Boyd further explained that the committees were responding to common topics including their major accomplishments from the previous year, recommendations for their charge for the next year, and recommendations for the CA board.
Each committee’s main points can be read in the “packet” for the board meeting at https://www.columbiaassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/packet-agendas-229514-3.pdf. Some themes shared by multiple committees included the effect of the pandemic on the community (outdoor activities like golf and tennis have had participation surge while indoor activities are still recovering) and trouble recruiting sufficient and/or diverse membership to the committees.
Some board members – particularly Mr. Klein, Mr. Santos, and Ms. Thomas - asked multiple questions of the committee representatives. Many of the questions from the board appeared gratuitous, were more-appropriately directed at CA’s professional staff (instead of a committee volunteer), and/or were asked rhetorically to make a point instead of illicit new information. The CA Board, like any organization, has a finite amount of time. Rhetorical and gratuitous questions take time away from legitimate information-gathering, problem solving, and decision making.
Of note, one of Mr. Klein’s statements during the questions was misleading (at best). After the Golf Committee presentation, Mr. Klein posited that there is a “perception” in the community that the CA assessment share is being used to subsidize the use of the golf courses. Mr. Klein’s framing and tone incorrectly implied this “perception” is wrong. (CA’s most recent adopted budget can be found here: https://www.columbiaassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/CA-Fiscal-Year-2023-Draft-Budget-ALL.pdf. Contrary to Mr. Klein’s insinuation, the assessment share paid by all Columbia residents has been and continues to be used to subsidize golf operations and facilities as well as many other amenities. Over each of the past several years, golf has been subsidized between $1.5 and $2.2 million. The budget for FY23 projects a $1.7 million decrease in net assets from golf operations).
The Health and Fitness Committee was the only committee to receive no questions or comments (the Teen and Millennial committee also received little feedback). The lack of questions or comments for this committee is noteworthy because the gyms, which the Health and Fitness Committee provides advice on, represents a far greater chunk of CA’s budget, employees, and community users than any other Community Program.
Confusion Regarding Recent Changes to the Committees
Several board member comments made throughout the meeting indicated confusion about recent changes the CA Board made to their advisory committees. At the end of FY22, the CA Board made substantial changes to its advisory committees. Specifically, most committees are no longer “board” advisory committees and instead engage directly with the staff. As the May 26 meeting demonstrated, eleven committees can provide an overwhelming amount of information. The changes to the committee structures were made to focus the input the board received and provide the committees direct access to the staff capable of implementing committee recommendations.
Importantly, the change in committees does not preclude CA board member participation in any committee; however, during the May 26 meeting, several board members - including Mr. Klein, Ms. Thomas, and Mr. Fitzgerald – made statements indicating they thought the recent changes inhibited board member participation in the committees.
The meeting got off to a poor start with disagreement over the agenda which is normally approved without discussion.
Typically, the draft agenda is established by the Board Operations Committee (consisting of Ginny Thomas, Eric Greenberg, Shari Zaret, Lakey Boyd, and Dick Boulton) ahead of time and confirmed without discussion at the board’s meetings. Previously, at the May 23 Board Operations Committee meeting, Mr. Klein had already asked that a discussion regarding the anti-nepotism policy be added to the agenda; his recommendation was unanimously rejected by the committee. Despite the unanimous rejection by the Board Operations Committee and likely knowing it would not be approved, Mr. Klein raised the topic again at the May 26 board meeting. The subsequent conversation seemed to indicate many board and staff members were aware of the specifics of the issue and that the relevant decision had already been made. After considerable discussion about whether the topic could be discussed in an open meeting, whether the board of directors even had authority over the subject in question, and the level of micromanagement that the board would be required to undertake in order to result in the desired change, the motion to amend the agenda was defeated by a vote of 2 to 8 (Mr. Klein and Mr. England in the minority).
CA’s Anti-Nepotism Policy
During “Resident’s Speak Out” multiple residents spoke out in opposition to CA’s anti-nepotism policy and the specifics of the issue Mr. Klein wanted to address became clear. Mr. Richard Briggs explained that his children had grown up as members of the Dorsey Dolphins swim team. Now, as young adults/teenagers, they want to serve together as coach and assistant coach of their community’s swim team; however, CA’s anti-nepotism policy prevents siblings from serving in those roles. Mr. Briggs stated that he had been trying to work through this issue with CA since January. Mr. Briggs also stated that he had previously brought it to the CA Board’s attention in March but received no response (residents often receive no response when they contact the board of directors). Columbia residents Clara Scholl and Alexia Couch also spoke in favor of altering CA’s anti-nepotism policy so that it wouldn’t preclude siblings from working together as seasonal staff.
Later, during the Aquatics Committee presentation, Mr. Boulton asked the aquatics committee about the anti-nepotism discussion. The committee representative informed him he had already sent an email to the board about the topic (it is not uncommon for residents to learn their input to the board is disregarded or forgotten).
Two residents spoke out against the proposed Lake Elkhorn Stream restoration project. Residents Ms. Amy Bennet and Ms. Sharon Boies have voiced their opposition to the proposed project multiple times and have received thorough responses from CA (for example https://www.columbiaassociation.org/blog/whats-next-for-stream-restoration-in-columbia/). While their testimony highlighted some community opposition to the project, it omitted the fact that many other members of the community support the Lake Elkhorn Stream Restoration effort. Their testimony contained several mischaracterizations of the issue which Ms. Boyd corrected.
In response to the testimony, Mr. Klein asked the residents about details of the parties involved in the project and where it was in the process. He also stated he was “new” to the board, despite having served on the board for several years prior to a brief break of a few months (see: Alan Klein running for CA Board after being removed for ethics violation). Of note, Mr. Klein was on the CA Board in January 2019 when he participated in a unanimous vote in favor of the easement to WSSI that allowed the stream restoration effort to move forward.
A closed Architectural Resource Committee Meeting was announced
Resident Skye Anderson made several comments regarding the CA board’s previous meeting and encouraged CA’s Board of Directors to read The Merriweather Post
Resident Claudia Pak asked that one of the pools be converted to a saltwater pool
Resident Melissa Villegas from Moms Demand Action had requested a statement in support of gun violence awareness; the board approved a resolution for gun violence awareness and observed a moment of silence for the recent tragedies in Uvalde and Buffalo; Ms. Boyd also informed the board the fountain at the Lakefront would be lit in support of gun violence awareness and would look into whether colored lighting at other CA facilities was possible (Ms. Boyd’s statement from earlier in the week on this topic can be read here: https://www.columbiaassociation.org/blog/from-the-desk-of-the-president-community-connection-in-times-of-crisis/)
The CA staff is moving forward with a Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate events at the Lakefront with Howard Hughes Corporation; there was some discussion between Ms. Thomas and Ms. Boyd whether this effort, previously directed by the board, required further board oversight
Chair Eric Greenberg wants to establish a task force to improve the board’s policies and procedures
After some discussion of whether a separate task force to discuss board strategy was appropriate, the board agreed to have a group retreat to discuss their strategy for the next year
All board members attended the meeting; Brian England was the only person to attend remotely
Staff attendance included Lakey Boyd, Dan Burns, and Wes Aniton
About the author: This board recap was provided by Columbia resident Michael Golibersuch. Mr. Golibersuch believes increased awareness of CA Board Meetings can benefit the community and supports The Merriweather Post’s efforts to fill a local news void. His participation in this effort does not indicate he agrees with all opinions expressed in The Merriweather Post.
If you would like to volunteer to recap a future CA meeting, please email Jeremy at email@example.com.