Perspective on Leadership Conflict at Columbia Association
Several members of the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors are actively trying to undermine and potentially dismiss an effective leader - Ms. Lakey Boyd - from her current position as CA president and CEO. Unfortunately, the reporting and discussions on this issue, since it became widely known, have often focused on related but secondary topics that distract from the readily observable facts: that a dysfunctional Board of Directors is trying to oust an effective CA President.
Why CA Leadership Should Matter to Residents
Columbia residents pay significant amounts of money to CA in annual assessment fees. The most affordably-priced housing in Columbia pays CA hundreds of dollars per year (renters may not see this cost directly, but their landlords pay CA’s fee and pass it onto them). At the high end, residents living in Columbia’s most expensive single-family homes pay several thousand dollars to CA each year. 1 The annual assessment charge is paid by both residential and commercial property owners, and combined with membership revenue, provide CA an annual budget of over $70 million. CA uses this revenue to employ over 1000 employees, maintain 3,600 acres of open space containing over 100 miles of paths, stream valleys, 3 lakes, 171 parks and tot lots and operate dozens of facilities (pools, gyms, sports facilities archives, etc.).
Everyone paying money to CA deserves to have their money managed effectively and receive as much value as possible from the fees we pay. Additionally, Columbia was founded on a belief that cities could be purposefully designed in a way that enhances the lives of its residents and helps breakdown and/or avoid barriers often associated with race, wealth, and creed. Many Columbia residents are proud of that legacy and, although the Rouse Company no longer exists, believe CA has a responsibility for carrying out and implementing those same values going forward.
To ensure Columbia residents get maximum value from their HOA and membership fees and continue to benefit from Columbia’s fundamental values, CA needs an effective president that is capable of managing millions of dollars, leading hundreds of people, building beneficial partnerships with other organizations, and providing forward thinking that can best position the organization for the future. At the same time, Columbia deserves and should demand a Board of Directors that engages the community to understand their interests, translates those interests into clear and consistent strategic goals for the organization, and recruits and retains leadership for the organization capable of implementing those goals. Without CA leadership and the Board working effectively together, the money residents pay has been spent inefficiently and CA has been less capable of breathing life into Columbia’s foundational values.
Columbia currently has the right President with Ms. Lakey Boyd, but not the right Board. Making it worse, several members of the Board are actively trying to undermine and potentially dismiss Ms. Boyd from her position. Not only would this deprive CA of an effective leader but it could (and already is to some extent) divert money away from public amenities and services and instead towards costly legal battles and/ or severance packages. In the long-run removing Ms. Boyd under contentious circumstances would damage CA’s ability to attract effective leaders in the future (no high-performing individual will want to serve in the flunky role desired by several members of the current board).
Readily Observable Facts
Ms. Boyd’s leadership and the Board’s unprofessionalism and efforts to undermine Ms. Boyd are not mysteries that are taking place behind closed doors nor are unknowable to Columbia residents. Instead, anyone can attend CA Board meetings, watch Board meetings on YouTube, attend community events, talk to CA staff, and talk to their village representatives. Additionally, for the past few months, this blog has attempted to summarize and communicate these meetings and events to the extent that two volunteers with young children have time to do so.
The following is an incomplete list of readily observable facts relevant to Ms. Boyd’s service to the community:
Over the last 18 months Ms. Boyd has demonstrated visible leadership in the community. She has attended numerous community events (most-recently the Howard County Veteran’s Day Celebration) and partnered with community-based organizations including Columbia Community Cares.
Ms. Boyd’s leadership is respected and appreciated by the vast majority of CA employees as demonstrated by the testimony provided and/or supported by hundreds of CA employees at the recent CA Board meeting.
CA’s most recent financial audit received an unqualified opinion by an independent accounting firm, which is the best possible outcome. This demonstrates that CA’s financial resources are being used as directed by the CA Board and tracked in accordance with accounting best practices.
CA is proactively seeking solutions to navigate difficulties caused by soaring inflation and supply chain issues.
CA is actively ensuring our community has a voice in the county’s General Plan update.
Ms. Boyd embodies the values that are fundamental to Columbia’s identity. (See: From the Desk of the President: Doing the Work for a More Equitable Future)
Ms. Boyd has emphasized data-driven decision making in order to manage CA resources efficiently and provide as much value to residents and members as possible.
Hundreds of CA staff members – including the entire senior staff – have risked potential retaliation by the board of directors by publicly supporting Ms. Boyd and praising her leadership.
Ms. Boyd is responsive to the directives she has received by the Board of Directors through majority consensus. The suggestion that Ms. Boyd has been insubordinate, that she is ignoring the direction of the collective board, or that she threatens the community’s ability to control CA’s direction is false.
The following is an incomplete list of readily observable facts relevant to the CA Board’ position:
As explained in a previous article (See: How Poor Judgement, Ego, and Miscommunication Have Led the CA Board to Consider Firing CA President) several members of the board are upset with Ms. Boyd because of the Symphony of Lights Settlement, the process she has put in place to organize the board’s informational requests, and the staff’s recommendation that the Board hold itself to high ethical standards. 2
The board is in the process of rewriting its own ethics policy. The early draft and discussions strongly suggest the board is working towards a policy that specifically allows board members to have conflicts of interest and provides a weak mechanism for addressing violations of the policy.
Members of the CA Board routinely attempt to micromanage staff. The board attempted to codify this micromanagement into Ms. Boyd’s annual objectives. (See: CA Board's Goals and Objectives are focused on Themselves and not the Community)
The CA Board routinely provides inconsistent direction to the staff: for example, its recent reversal of its January decision regarding the Six-Pence tot-lot and its apparent reconsideration of the Lake Elkhorn Stream Restoration project it previously approved unanimously.
Some CA board members routinely attempt circumvent the authority of the board and task Ms. Boyd even though they, as individuals, have no authority to do so.
The board has not addressed their own strategic plan and failure to achieve its stated goals.
This fiscal year the board has not discussed a single strategic issue that will affect the CA operations beyond the next year.
The board is overwhelmingly focused on Ms. Boyd’s service to them instead of her service to the community.
Two board members – Andy Stack (Owen Brown) and Bill Santos (Wilde Lake) – have expressed their individual support for Ms. Boyd during their respective village board meetings.
The board (as a collective body) has refused to directly address Ms. Boyd’s concerns about her job security and community requests for this issue to be addressed in a public setting.
In addition to the above facts which any Columbia resident could witness firsthand, reporting from the Baltimore Fishbowl Columbia Association CEO denied request to challenge her evaluation as board maintains silence 3 and discussions in CA meetings has revealed that:
The board’s only performance review of Ms. Boyd contained multiple inconsistencies and significantly different scores from board members.
Ms. Boyd requested the board clarify those inconsistencies and provide actionable input that she could use to improve her performance in areas identified as shortcomings by some members of the board.
The board elected to keep performance review comments and scores of individual board-members confidential so neither Ms. Boyd nor fellow board members know which board member provided which comment/score.
Instead of clarifying those inconsistencies, the board elected to use tens of thousands of dollars of the community’s money to pay an external attorney to challenge Ms. Boyd’s right to ask for those clarifications.
Ms. Boyd has stated her desire for the relevant facts related to her performance be made public.
Context of Secondary Issues
Unfortunately, the reporting and public discussion regarding the Board’s attempt to remove Ms. Boyd since this issue became widely known has been largely focused on related but secondary topics. These secondary issues include the potential role the Inner Arbor Trust president, Ms. Nina Basu, has played in the dispute between the CA Board and President; the rumored existence of an ethics investigation into Ms. Boyd; the motivations of community members criticizing or supporting Ms. Boyd or the CA Board; the demographics of CA’s Board; and/or the impartiality of the bloggers and reporters attempting to shed light on current events.
The bullets below attempt to provide the context of these secondary discussions:
Whatever Ms. Basu’s role (if any) in the conflict between Ms. Boyd and the board is, the nature of her role does not change the fact that the conflict exists. The conflict between Ms. Boyd and the Board has been obvious for months and the desire of some board members to fire Ms. Boyd was a logical outcome of that conflict. Ms. Basu’s involvement (if any) is downstream of that conflict.
The demographics of CA’s Board, while clearly not representative of the community, are not related to the shortcomings (unprofessionalism, self-centrism, and micromanagement) causing conflict with Ms. Boyd.
The rumors of an ethics investigation into Ms. Boyd are not evidence of an unknown issue that justifies the Board’s (mis)treatment of Ms. Boyd. Instead, any hypothetical ethics issue is almost certainly the result of a Board member using a bureaucratic process to harass Ms. Boyd - possibly in an attempt to manufacture “cause” for termination - regarding one of the three publicly known issues: the SOL settlement, Ms. Boyd’s efforts to prevent micromanagement, and/or Ms. Boyd’s efforts to maintain a high standard of ethics. Additionally, the existence of the rumor of some type of investigation itself is clear evidence that members of the CA board have been unethically and unprofessionally disclosing half-truths about issues that are supposed to remain confidential. Finally, even if there is an ethics violation committed by Ms. Boyd, the hypothetical violation would need to be so egregious that it outweighs the value Ms. Boyd is providing the community in order to justify the board’s current course of action. To date, Board members have relied on innuendo to implausibly suggest Ms. Boyd has committed an egregious ethics violation with no evidence.
The reporters, bloggers, and other community members attempting to shed light on this issue are imperfect messengers (we all are); however, their motivations do not change the facts (listed above) and ad hominem attacks on the messengers only distract from the merits of the issues.
The specifics of these secondary issues, while interesting 4 and arguably important, are difficult for anyone to definitively understand; however, the facts (identified above) that Ms. Boyd is an effective leader and that the Board is dysfunctional is both obvious and far more important.
Columbia residents can help themselves by supporting CA Board candidates in the coming elections who focus on the service CA’s President provides us, ensure CA delivers value on the money we pay, whether, live up to Columbia’s foundational values, and provide strategic vision for the future. Meanwhile, residents should demand the current CA board provide a clear explanation of why they are taking their current course of action.
1 The CA annual assessment is 68 cents for every $100 of 50% of state-assessed property valuation. Simplified, it’s an annual payment of 0.34% of your property assessment. So, a $250,000 home pays $850 annually, while a $1,000,000 home pays $3,400 annually.
2 Since the article identifying these three issues was first posted, many Columbia residents have expressed confusion about why seemingly minor issues such as handling a legal settlement with discretion, establishing a formal process for engagement between the board and staff, and advocating for a high ethical standard would lead the board to consider firing Ms. Boyd. These residents are justifiably confused: these issues do not warrant dismissing Ms. Boyd and the Board is demonstrating its own dysfunction by turning these issues into a major conflict.
3 There is no reason to doubt these claims. CA’s Board could easily refute them if they were untrue.
4 The fact that there is so much drama in the leadership of a large HOA is itself a problem. No one should find it interesting to read about – nor a worthwhile hobby to blog about – the politics of an HOA… yet here we all are.
Note: Article updated on 11/28 to clarify confusing language.