Former board member's own history includes caucus
Recently, Mr. Jud Malone complained in these pages about a "secret meeting in a secret caucus" by five members of the Columbia Association's board of directors. Anyone who has served on any board or similar body knows that meeting in a caucus of less than a quorum is extremely common, whether by phone, e-mail or in person, to achieve a common view. So we wonder what the uproar is about.
We are all the more puzzled since Mr. Malone, during his term on the same board, as a member of a caucus of five members that discussed who should be elected board chair and other matters. That group also included Joshua Feldmark (who became chair), Wolfger Schneider and the undersigned.
What I find most troubling is that last spring we had a little thing called an election (and in the interest of full disclosure, I ran for office in that election, and lost). Reports in the local papers indicated the outcome of the elections (in the competitive races) was based on voters wanting more openness from the CA Board. Then newly elected CA Board member Phil Kirsch was quoted as saying, “I think the two victories send a clear message that (voters) are looking for
better communication and openness”
Fast forward to today, and we find that Mr. Kirsch, along with his freshman comrades Cindy Coyle and Gail Broida (in addition to Barbara Russell and Phil Marcus) appear to prefer debating, discussing, and deciding issues (aka “achieving a common view”) via email, away from the eyes and ears of the electorate.
As stated in Mr. Marcus’ and Ms. Russell’s letter, this has been done in the past. In fact, the issue of email has come up before the CA Board as it is currently constituted. In the July 18, 2006 Baltimore Examiner, an article by Laura Greenback (Columbia Association board debates e-mail use ), states:
However, at least one board member said the board uses e-mail as a forum for
“Why bother to fight in front of people when we can look
like we know what we are talking about, and be more comfortable with our
position, if we talk through e-mail?” Board Member Cindy Coyle said.
Now, I want to be cautious here. Many people get misquoted in the paper, but if this quote is accurate, I am very concerned. I am only one person in this town, but it is my opinion that people on the CA Board should know what they are talking about, and if they don’t know what they are talking about, we should know that, so we can vote them off the board. There should be no “look like we know what we are talking about.”
In an interesting side note, when I first read this article, I brought this concern about CA Board email (and phone) discussions to the Wilde Lake Village Board. The following is an excerpt from the August 7, 2006 Wilde Lake Village Board minutes (note: scroll down about 70% to find them).
Mr. Santos was also concerned about CA conducting votes and discussions via email or by phone, since these discussions occur out of the public view. Mr. Santos suggested that the Village Board comment on this to CA. Ms. Pivar noted that there was an email discussion about opening the pools during a heat emergency; however, it was an open discussion and no vote was taken. The Board agreed that it is bad public process to vote or discuss policy via email or phone.
So apparently CA board “caucus discussion” emails can at times involve Village
Board members such as Ms. Pivar. Given that the emails have never been made public, I still don’t know what an “open” email discussion is.
Also of note in Examiner article is a passage attributed to Mr. Marcus:
Board member Phil Marcus said the group should post its discussions on a blog that is accessible to residents. “There should be such a forum, where speed and convenience is available,” Marcus said. He said the board is “not playing by the rules” when it uses e-mail to talk about issues such as selecting a consultant to form an energy cooperative.
I would be interested to hear how Mr. Marcus reconciles his “not playing by the rules” statement in July 2006 with his “a caucus of less than a quorum is extremely common, whether by phone, e-mail or in person” letter in December 2006. For the record, Mr. Marcus has a publicly accessible blog. When I last checked, he had not posted any emails regarding “caucus discussions.”
In closing, it is apparent that less than a majority of the CA Board has been discussing at least employment contracts, opening pools during heat emergencies and the selection process for consultants via email. Moreover, it is not known if any other topics were discussed or what other parties have been included in these email discussions (CA staff? Consultants? Village Board members?). It seems to me that the practice is neither open nor accessible, and the voters are not getting what they asked for. In fact, if these board members had told the voters in their respective villages that they believed in openness, but would relegate the discussion of issues to email among CA Board members to “achieve a common view,” I am not certain they would be serving as board members today.