Columbia Association Board of Directors Unable to Agree on a Single Chair
The Columbia Association Board of Directors held its first meeting of its fiscal year on May 11th. During the meeting they discussed who would serve as chair for the fiscal year and, after being deadlocked 5-5, the board decided that Andy Stack and Eric Greenberg would each be chair for six months of the year using a coin flip to determine which would be chair first.
Technically, there were multiple distinct meetings held on May 11th with the same group of ten individuals convening separate meetings as the Columbia Council, Members of CA, and CA’s Board of Directors; however, most of these meetings were pro forma and simply went through the motions legally needed to appoint themselves as the Board of Directors and reappoint the officers of CA. The salient content of the meetings was limited to the election of the chair and committee assignments.
Why the Chair Matters
The choice of chair matters for several reasons. The chair manages each meeting and is responsible for ensuring each director can meaningfully participate in discussions, maintaining momentum of discussions to ensure they don’t drag out, and maintaining civility in the meetings. An unskilled chair can contribute to chaotic meetings where individuals feel disenfranchised and the board’s collective decision-making ability is hindered. The chair can use his/her influence to establish draft agendas that may or may not effectively help the board make decisions. Between meetings the chair serves as the primary conduit for communication between CA’s staff and the board. Ultimately, the chair indicates the overall approach the board will take to guide the organization.
CA's board consists of ten volunteers passionate enough about their community to spend substantial time in positions that open them to public criticism. Getting ten people with different perspectives to agree on anything they are passionate about is inherently challenging. The fact that board members require no qualifications (other than being from a village and occasionally being elected) creates vastly different experience levels in overseeing a multi-million dollar corporation like CA which compounds that inherent difficulty. A skilled chair can help navigate those challenges. The CA board has had varying degrees of difficulty collaborating together over the years including several years when Mr. Stack was chair. The board's level of dysfunction, however, reached new heights during the last year when Mr. Greenberg was chair with virtually no forward progress made on any effort to better serve the community, three board members seemingly quitting in frustration, and two senior staff resigning after conflicting with the board of directors in a way that directly cost CA's residents over $112,000 in legal fees and at least $335,000 in severance pay (in addition to numerous indirect costs associated with staff disruptions and project delays).
Deadlocked Votes and Coin Flip
During the discussion, two candidates – Andy Stack (Owen Brown) and Eric Greenberg (River Hill) – were quickly nominated in a way that indicated their nominations were known to all board members in advance. After the formal nominations each board member cast a secret ballot which resulted in a five-to-five tie. After the tie, Mr. Stack and Mr. Greenberg each gave statements to make their case and answered questions from other board members. After the Q&A session, another vote was held by secret ballot which again resulted in a five-to-five tie. Realizing that they were at an impasse, the board decided to split the year with one of the two serving as chair for the first six months and the other serving as the vice-chair before swapping positions halfway through the year. After debating who would go first, they agreed to flip a coin to decide who would be chair first. Mr. Stack won the coin toss (heads) and will be chair for the first six months.
Although the votes were cast by secret ballot, statements and actions of the board members (both prior to and during the meeting) provide strong indication about how each board member voted:
*Technically, The Merriweather Post is not aware of any statements Mr. Fuchs has made that make his vote clear; however, the other nine chair members have indicated their support enabling us to know that Mr. Fuchs must have supported Mr. Greenberg.
The statements and Q&A session with Mr. Stack and Mr. Greenberg clearly illustrated differences in how each one views serving as chair.
Mr. Stack expressed a view that the board would more effectively serve the community by making better use of its finite time. He believes the board should be more deliberate and methodical in choosing which issues they address. In Mr. Stack’s view it is impractical for the board to try to develop detailed solutions for each issue and instead should concentrate on providing clear strategic guidance that facilitates the staff’s ability to address issues within the parameters outlined by the board. He also emphasized the importance of improving board communications (with each other, staff, and the community) and noted that, during his previous tenure as board chair, he took the time to attend each of the village board meetings at least once a year to hear their perspective (Mr. Greenberg did not engage with villages last year).
In contrast, Mr. Greenberg, who spoke with more brevity than Mr. Stack, expressed a belief that the board should be more involved in detailed decision-making. In Mr. Greenberg’s view, board members' responsibility to represent their neighbors required them to engage in detailed decision-making to ensure resident concerns were taken into consideration (implicitly suggesting an unfounded belief that CA’s staff do not strive to serve residents). Mr. Greenberg also highlighted his relative newness to the community having moved here only a few years ago and emphasized that seeing his child use CA services gives him perspective on CA’s benefits.
Some other board members made comments and questions that provided some insight into their views:
Mr. O’Neil asked how each candidate thought the board could spend their time more effectively and indicated his perception that the board had not been operating efficiently in the last few months
Mr. Klein expressed concern that Mr. Stack was “too close” to staff and that may hinder Mr. Stack’s ability to effectively represent the board's opinions. Mr. Stack disagreed and framed his familiarity with staff as a positive asset that would facilitate enhanced cooperation.
Mr. Fuchs (who was at his first meeting as a board member) indicated he had not prepared for the decision of who to elect as chair and stated, from his perspective, the choice between Mr. Stack and Mr. Greenberg was a proverbial “coin flip.”
Despite the deadlocked votes, the meeting was noticeably more amicable and less chaotic than most CA board meetings over the last few months.
About the author: Michael Golibersuch is a Columbia resident and believes increased awareness of CA Board activities can benefit the community. He appreciates the time all CA board members spend volunteering on behalf of a community they love. It brings him no pleasure to publicly highlight anyone’s shortcomings; however, he believes his neighbors deserve to know whether their representatives are effectively serving them. He does not believe that being a poor board member reflects poorly on an individual’s character and he encourages everyone to be kind to all their neighbors. His participation in this effort does not indicate he agrees with all opinions expressed in The Merriweather Post.