Thursday, June 13, 2013

Public Disgust with the IVGID Board is Growing

Public disgust with the dysfunctional IVGID Board is growing, if the responses I’ve been getting to my last two columns is any measure. Nothing will happen, though, unless that disgust translates into some sort of communication and action on the part of the residents of the District, who have historically been long on complaining and short on action.
Here are the issues: This Board and the last one have been increasingly held hostage by three individuals who are self-proclaimed champions for the “rights” of the 400 or so residents of Crystal Bay. These three – Aaron Katz, Frank Wright, and Steven Kroll (KWK) – have used a combination of lawsuits, ethics claims and charges, and dilatory tactics in Board meetings to tie the Board in knots and prevent the Trustees from doing the work they were elected to do. These tactics have and will cost the District an enormous amount of money that, in these straitened times could have been put to better use, and almost any use would have been better. They have also cost the District some very good employees who, like good people anywhere, when they were given better offers, took them.
In addition, there is growing evidence that one or more of the current Trustees are feeding information to KWK. While this may be technically legal, it is arguably unethical for someone entrusted with the assets of the District to be a back-channel for people who are engaged with these sorts of activities. Finally, in last week’s column I brought up the problem of some Trustees interfering in management of staff, and since then have received further and more egregious examples including that of one trustee talking about possible future plans that would affect staff jobs as if they are sure to happen. As a result of this inappropriate behavior, staff morale is at a low ebb.
So what is to be done? Well, one thing is to make sure that the conversation cannot be marginalized – as long as the public voices of outrage are few, they can be ignored. Bullies know that there are people who don’t approve of their actions, but as long as those people are few and ignorable, bullies will keep bullying. When the community stands up (think High Noon), bullies are defeated and/or back down. So attend IVGID Board meetings and speak up. When you hear the calumnies being propagated by KWK against the General Manager, the Counsel, or the Staff, speak up – don’t listen to unfounded gossip. When you are at the golf courses or the beaches or around town, give the staff a good word – they really are doing good job.
Beyond that, there is always torches and pitchforks in the street, but that may be a bit extreme. How about this: Under Nevada election law, a public official can be recalled if 25% of the number of voters in the last election. In IVGID, 5,566 people voted in the 2012 election, so 1,392 signatures would compel a recall. Think about it.
Finally, to be fair, I don’t mean to tar the entire Board with this brush. Several of the Trustees have done their best to be voices of reason and moderation. However, it will take more than that – those Trustees who see the damage being done by KWK and the Trustee(s) who are apparently covertly aligned with them need to stand up and fight them, and if they don’t have stomach for the fight, step down and let us elect some who will.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Bonanza Column 279 - What is the Board's Job?

What is the job of the IVGID Board of Trustees? I’ve raised this question before and am raising it again because the answer does not seem to be clear to many residents and at least some Trustees.
To reiterate, the Board is not a legislature or a town council or a board of supervisors, it is a board of TRUSTEES. To quote from an earlier column, the Trustees are not elected by constituencies – all Trustees are voted on by the entire village and are charged with holding the assets of the District in trust. A Trustee is “a…person to whom property is legally committed to be administered for the benefit of a beneficiary.” We, the residents of the District, are the beneficiaries, and the Trustees serve as stewards – they manage our common property and interests for the benefit of all of us and are charged with maintaining and increasing the value of those properties and interests.
The job of the Board is governance, not management. Governance can be said to be representing the owners, of an institution. Governance represents the will of these owners and consists of a governing body that oversees the overall function of the institution. The governing body appoints management personnel, whom are given the power to administer the organization. Governance can be said to set the right policy and procedures for ensuring that things are done in a proper way. Management is about doing things in the proper way.
Under the Policy Governance Model, which is one of the most widely applied and respected models in use in the non-profit and government sectors, the job of the Board is to set policy, hire a chief executive, ensure that that person is clear on the Board’s policies and results expectation, and then leave the executive to manage the achievement of those results within the limits of the policies. In IVGID, that executive is the General Manager.
In 1984 the IVGID Board passed a resolution (number 1480) that set general personnel policies and objectives for the District. Consistent with Policy Governance, the resolution stated clearly that the Board’s job was to “develop a uniform set of guidelines to direct the administration of the District’s personnel matters” and that the approach the Board took to personnel administration should be strategic, to “diagnose long-term problems, anticipate future needs, and develop a stable framework for addressing these problems and needs.”
The resolution goes on to state that “The General Manager shall maintain direct, day-to-day supervision over all District employees, with the exception of the Attorney” and that “Trustees are encouraged to express their opinion and/or concerns on any personnel matter to the General Manager in private. … Trustees will exercise their authority to direct Staff, collectively, through the General Manager, at Board meetings. Individual Trustees shall refrain from directing or attempting to directly supervise Staff. This policy statement is not intended to prevent individual Trustees from occasionally making suggestions to supervisor Staff, when such suggestions do not imply supervisory direction.
Some of the current Trustees may need to re-read Resolution 1480. There have been reports of Trustees who seem to think it is their job and their place to give directions to IVGID staff, including being observed telling one staff member at Diamond Peak to clean up some spilled coffee. I’m not saying the spill should not have been cleaned up, just that if the Trustee felt compelled to have it done at his behest, he should have gone to the employee’s supervisor.
I can’t imagine a situation where it would not be grossly intimidating for any employee of the District with the exception of the GM to be confronted or directed by a Trustee. More importantly, the GM, is accountable to the Trustees; everyone else with the exception of the Attorney is directly accountable to their manager and ultimately to the GM. In the corporate world, this is called “board interference with management” and is considered a very bad practice, to the point where corporate board members have lost their seat over it.
The Trustees should concentrate on setting policy for the District and supporting and empowering the GM in managing the execution of that policy rather than (in some cases) trying to look and act like big shots at the Staff’s expense.

Bonanza Column 278 - Are They Serious?

Ever eat at Crosby's? Probably - the place is popular with locals and is a gathering place. What was your average food tab there? Twenty-five dollars? Thirty?

Former IVGID Trustees Ted Fuller and Bea Epstein stand accused before the Nevada Commission on Ethics of a conflict of interest for failing to recuse themselves from a Board vote to exempt the meals provided by Crosby's for the Incliners club from an IVGID tax of 7.725% on those meals. Both Fuller and Epstein are members of the Incliners along with much of the 50 and older population of the Village.

7.725% of thirty dollars is $2.31.

The complaint was brought by Frank Wright of Crystal Bay who, having been resoundingly rejected in his bid for a seat on the Board has continued his campaign of harassing the Board and IVGID staff wherever possible, but this business represents a new low, even for Wright and his buddies, or perhaps a new high in foolishness.

Yes, indeed, Fuller and Epstein stood to save as much as $2.31 on meals at Incliners gatherings, along with all the rest of the club. Now I don't know how often the Incliners meet, but let's say it's weekly, with a meal at each meeting. That's an astounding $120.12 in a 52-week year! Ethics charges, hell! We should string them up!

Now the argument can be made that it's not the trivial amount of money, it's the principle that a Board member should never vote where there is any possibility of a conflict, and if it weren't for Wright's demonstrated animus toward the Board, the staff, and IVGID in general I might have some sympathy for that position. But both Fuller and Epstein served long and honorably and are no longer on the Board. What is to be gained by these charges?

The answer is that Wright once again gets to mount his high horse and posture as if he were a champion of the Right (in every sense of that term). He, along with Steven Kroll and Aaron Katz will take any position, no matter how petty and ridiculous, to attack IVGID, and to what end? Every attack, every bit of bombast at a Board meeting, every lawsuit and charge takes time and money away from what the Board needs to be doing, namely the work of administering the GID, and no amount of sanctimonious posturing justifies that where an issue as silly as this is concerned.

Predictably, Wright will rejoin that the Commission felt this was serious enough to take it up, and on the face of it, that's true. But I can tell you from my own experience bringing ethics charges against a (sitting) Board member some years ago that the preliminary screening by two Commissioners is there to weed out only the most egregious wastes of the Commission's time - everything else goes to the full Commission where, if there is any rationality left in the world, these charges will be laughed out of the room, as well they should.


Friday, April 05, 2013

Bonanza Column 277: Too Little, Too Late?

While most people consider it unseemly, the most human of vices is the urge to say “I told you so,” so I’m not going to say that.
Having not said that, it’s good to see that the IVGID Board has come to its senses and voted to hire a search firm to fill the GM position. While the Bonanza’s story on the meeting cast is as “Joe Wolfe getting his wish,” it was much more than that. A majority of the trustees now see that the catch-as-catch-can process of advertising and hoping is insufficient. Of 72 applications received, 11, or 15% were considered “A” level by the HR Director, with 26 “B” or fall-back candidates. Put another way, only about half of the applications were considered at least marginally acceptable. I’ve never seen an executive search firm provide such a poor showing for a senior position – almost always search firms create an interesting problem for their clients of choosing among 3 to 5 outstanding candidates, and that’s what I’d expect from Peckham and McKenny, the firm the Board has retained.
An aspect of last week’s meeting that continues to trouble me is the continuing seeming intransigence of Trustees Hammerel and Smith, on anything that touches on the GM, whether current or future. While Hammerel was quoted in the Bonanza ad being “unimpressed” with the candidates who have applied to date, he seems to think that doing more of the same process will produce better results, and that there is no need to hurry. Smith was, at least, favorably impressed with at least some of the applicants, a view apparently not shared by the other Trustees.
For those who are coming late to the conversation, it’s important to note an important difference between an advertising campaign and a recruiting effort by an experienced and expert search firm. The first will reach several groups of people: the unqualified (apparently about half of the current group), the currently unemployed, and those currently employed who are looking to leave their position. A search firm will reach out to the last two groups but will also have a network of contacts that will lead them to currently employed people who, while they may not be actively looking, might be interested in the opportunity. That will yield a much better selection of candidates.
The current GM has nine months left in his contract. Nine months is not a lot of time to recruit at this level when you take into account finding people, contacting them, one or more site visits, interviews, and the possible need for the candidate selected to give notice in their current job. It would be ideal, in my view to have some overlap so that the handoff is clean and efficient, which shortens the time even more. While I believe the Board should have taken this action in January, that’s water under the bridge and at least they’ve taken the action now, three months later. We can only hope this presages a more rational deliberative process for the Board going forward.
Aw heck: I told you so.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bonanza Column 276 - Teenagers vs. Corn

Warning: This is going to be one of those liberal, bleeding-heart columns where I take the distasteful (to Conservatives) position that human life is actually more important than business profits. If you’re one of those who find this position somewhere between objectionable and disgusting, you can stop reading now and start writing your response.
If there was any doubt that the prevailing paradigm in American business is “profits before people,” this will remove it. Yes, there are enlightened businesses that go against this paradigm, but overall the paradigm rules.
If you didn’t grow up in the Midwest, and on a farm at that, the term “walking the corn” may evoke images of Stephen King novels or “Field of Dreams,” but the reality is far darker than that. When corn kernels are blown into silos, they tend to stick to the walls and to clump up, which jams machinery and makes moving the corn out of the silo difficult. The way farmers deal with this is to send workers into the silos, which are often on the order of four stories high, to walk on the corn and break up the clumps. Generally these are minimum wage workers and often they are teenagers.
Walking the corn by itself is not too dangerous. Silos filled with corn, wheat or soybeans become death traps, however, when grain cascades out of control, asphyxiating or crushing their victims and creating vortex effects that suck the workers deep into the grain. Since 2007, 80 farmworkers have died in silo accidents; 14 of them were teenage boys. These deaths were almost totally preventable.
Even though the rate of serious injury and fatalities on American farms has fallen, the number of workers dying by entrapment in grain bins and silos has remained steady. The annual number of such accidents actually rose throughout the past decade, reaching a peak of at least 26 deaths in 2010, before dropping somewhat since. Nearly 20 percent of all serious grain bin accidents involve workers under the age of 20.
The New York Times quotes Wayne Bauer, the safety director at the Star of the West Milling Company in Frankenmuth, Mich., which operates grain elevators in five states as saying: “The concept of walking down the grain should be avoided at all costs, and people sending kids into spaces where they have no business being deserve to be fined.”
To understand the connection between these deaths (and likely hundreds more that go unreported) and the profit motive, you have to understand that, if all the machinery were shut off and nothing other than walking the corn was happening, the danger would be minimal. However, in every case the people running the operation kept grain pouring into the silos, opened the outlet chutes, or both, creating a suction that turned harmless yellow corn into the equivalent of quicksand. Rather than interrupt the operation and have a few hours of down time, they put the workers at risk and were directly responsible for these deaths.
Under Federal Law this sort of safety violation is a misdemeanor, and OSHA typically reduces what little penalties there are. US District Attorneys don’t make the kind of career-advancing splash they love prosecuting misdemeanors, so the Justice Department rarely if ever prosecutes. In other words, the agribusiness concerns that own the silos prosper and the workers die or nearly die. One 20-year old watched two friends, one 19 and one 14 die – the 14-year old was sucked down so far he was beyond reach. As the corn rose up around the 20-year old, he kept a hand free and tried to clear corn away from the face of his friend whose arms were pinned. Ultimately he was unsuccessful and watched as his friend was buried and suffocated.
For the irony fans among us, if any of those teenagers had thought to bring an animal from an endangered species into the silo with him, the animal’s death would have been a felony under Federal Law.
Last year the Labor Department proposed new regulations aimed at tightening protections for children doing farm work. The proposed regulations would have prohibited children under 18 from working in large commercial grain bins, silos or other enclosed spaces. But the Obama administration, sensitive to Republican charges that it was choking the economy with expensive regulations, pulled back the proposed rules this year in the face of furious farm-state objections.
After all, there’s a lot of teenagers out there, but corn is in short supply.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bonanza Column 275 - How is the IVGID Board like the US Senate?

I had occasion last week to sit down with a newcomer to Incline Village who wanted to discuss the local political landscape. This gentleman is no stranger to politics – he is a retired professor of International Relations at a major university, a position he took following a career in Washington DC working in the Pentagon, the State Department and the Congress.
Our conversation was wide-ranging, covering everything from local to national issues, and we were both struck by what seemed to us to be parallels among those levels.
Take the gridlock in the Senate caused by the filibuster rules – most recently we saw Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) waste thirteen hours of the Senate’s time to no good purpose - he spent the time talking mostly about the issue of drones. Now this is an issue that deserves considered debate, but the context for Paul’s semi-coherent rant was the President’s nomination of James Brennan as CIA Director, and the sole purpose of it was to delay Brennan’s confirmation which eventually passed 63-34 vote after a vote of 81-16 to end Paul’s filibuster.
IVGID Board meetings don’t allow for the possibility of a filibuster as such, but we’ve seen again and again how one or a few individuals both on and off the Board can bring the Board’s ability to transact the District’s business to a grinding halt. Most recently, in the meeting week before last, two trustee’s objection to the General Manager’s long-standing policy of copying the Chair on any correspondence he has with Trustees was the occasion for stopping the meeting for an hour amid insinuations of open meeting law violations and general nefarious skullduggery.
I’ll grant that the GM’s using blind copying (bcc) rather than open copying (cc) was an error of judgment, one that he was quick to apologize for. Notwithstanding that, the policy makes sense on a number of levels, not least of which is the GM’s partnership with the Board Chair and the Board’s oft-avowed commitment to transparency. The attorney who was present as the Board’s Counsel did not offer any indication that this was a violation of Nevada’s complex open meeting law, and the matter could have been put to rest in minutes with the GM’s apology and a request that in future these communications be openly copied. Instead the conversation was contentious and often on the edge of belligerence – all in all another unprofessional performance by this Board.
Legislative deliberations, from the Senate to the IVGID Board are, by custom, polite to a fault. Often in the Senate we will hear one Senator refer to another as “my friend” while excoriating that person in the most vitriolic terms. Proponents of this pretense of civility argue that it keeps things from getting personal, and I’m willing to allow that that might be true. An unintended consequence of this custom, however, is that it mitigates against anyone openly pointing out that the emperor has no clothes or that something someone is saying is factually incorrect. It also makes it very difficult for leadership to keep things moving efficiently.
It’s still early days for the 2013 Board – in practice that means that inefficient and ineffective practices can still be nipped in the bud before they become ingrained and harder to change. Doing that, however, will take real leadership on the part of the Chair and those Trustees who have the courage not to be intimidated by those who aggressively push their point of view as if it were divinely inspired, whether that is the small, non-representative number of members of the public who have been working to cow the staff and Trustees for several years now or it is another Trustee who insists on his interests overriding those of the other Trustees, the District, or the public.
Just as the Senate, tiring of Sen. Paul’s nonsense, voted 81-16 to end his tirade, the Chair and the other Trustees need to speak up and intervene when one or two individuals try to dominate the conversation at the expense of getting real work done.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Bonanza Column 274 - Time to Repeal SB 271

A bill (SB630) has been introduced in the California State Senate by Senators Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) that, if enacted, could end the TRPA as we know it. While I realize that this would be welcomed in some short-sighted quarters, the impact could be disastrous for the lake and for residents of the basin.

My usual disclosure when I write about TRPA: While I did work for TRPA, I no longer have any administrative or management accountability there, though I am doing some training for the staff This column is intended to represent my views and my views alone, and not those of the agency or any of its staff or Governing Board.

Also, despite unfounded bloviating in a recent letter to the editor, I have no agenda with regard to TRPA. I do have, based on my experience there, profound respect and admiration for the commitment, integrity and expertise of those who work there.

The bill talks about California needing a contingency plan if Nevada goes forward with the provisions in its Senate Bill 271 which calls for the Silver State to withdraw from the bi-state Compact in 2015. SB271 was passed two years ago and was intended, as I understand it, to accelerate the process of updating the Regional Plan and to address what Nevada sees as inequities in the TRPA Governing Board voting structure under the Compact.

While the voting issue has not been addressed, SB271 had a major positive impact in that it did accelerate the RPU and in the process created a level of collaboration and cooperation between the two states that had not been seen before and that led to the near unanimous adoption of the Regional Plan in December.

There has been some talk in Nevada about repealing SB271 the current session, but the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore lawsuit to prevent the Regional Plan Update from taking effect could make Nevada leery of a repeal that they might see as premature.

The California bill states that “for California to have due time to protect its many interests in the Tahoe basin, the state will need to have a contingency plan in place prior to the dissolution of the bi-state Compact, as contemplated by Senate Bill 271.”

It goes on to say, “The bill would revise the membership of the governing body of the agency to eliminate the existing five members of the governing body, and prescribe requirements for the appointment of a new nine-member governing board. The bill would also revise the composition of a technical advisory committee required to be appointed by the agency, and would request the participation of a representative of the governing board of the Nevada Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The bill would eliminate a provision authorizing the governing body of the agency to contract with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for services.”

In other words, there would be two TRPAs — one in California and one in Nevada — the exact opposite of the bistate collaboration that has taken place over the past couple of years, and no single body accountable for the environment of and around the lake. Kind of like when two outfielders go for a fly ball and it drops between them.

TRPA makes decisions, recommendations, and judgment calls that, unfounded bloviating to the contrary, are driven by the best available science and the commitment of its Governing Board and Staff to the sometime conflicting demands of the environment, the social milieu, and the economy of the Basin. The air, water, wildlife, and vegetation of the basin don't recognize the CA-NV state line. The Federal Government recognized this in setting up the TRPA, and even the most benighted intelligence should recognize it now.

The Nevada Legislature should do the right thing — they made their point, and made it well and effectively. Now it's time to repeal SB271 so we can all rest a bit easier.-->

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bonanza Column 273 - Don't let NLTFPD become average

Recently I had occasion to read an evaluation of the emergency medical services provided throughout Washoe County. The evaluation was done by the TriData Division of the System Planning Corporation under contract to Washoe County. TriData’s report included several findings and recommendations regarding actions that could be taken by the affected agencies including the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.
The NLTFPD is the exclusive provider of emergency medical services for Incline Village and Crystal Bay. The Fire District has provided these services to our communities here at the Lake with great success for several years, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who lives or visits here who has less than the highest regard for the NLTFPD. The problem is that, as with so many things, the report fails to distinguish between the part of Washoe County that is inside the Tahoe Basin from the rest of the County.
EMS programs in the Truckee Meadows, including both Fire and REMSA in the Reno/Sparks area, come in for substantial criticism in the report, and TriData’s recommendations come under the heading of “Washoe County Wide” changes to emergency medical services that are needed.
The concern is that if County-Wide changes are made with a broad brush, NLTFPD’s ability to deliver the excellent service we have come to expect could be impacted.
The report recommends that “The future of EMS in Washoe County should include a countywide EMS system with responsibility for total system oversight…A countywide EMS system could be overseen by the Washoe [District Board of Health] or a Washoe County public safety agency. An EMS lead agency should include an EMS Manager and staff and an EMS Medical Director. We include several possible EMS organization models and specify EMS staff requirements.”
I have no argument with the notion that such oversight could result in improved service for Reno, Sparks, and most of the County, but I have every expectation that it would be disastrous for services here at the Lake. When you put an excellent service provider under management that is (a) distant and (b) broad in scope, you get what in statistics is called “regression toward the mean.” In other words, if NLTFPD is an A and the rest of the County is a C, everyone will get to be a B. Good for them, bad for us.
NFLTPD must obviously cooperate with Washoe County to ensure that any improvements to county-wide emergency medical services are successful. Any changes of ordinances, laws, protocols or certifications that may affect the operations of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District’s existing ability to provide the high level of emergency medical services currently provided should require approval from the Board of Fire Directors of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, and may require approval of the voters of the District as well.
Rather than wait until we are fighting a defensive action, IV/CB residents should let the County know that we will not accept any solution, county-wide or otherwise, that detracts from the level of services we have and that our taxes pay for. The TriData report went to John Slaughter, Director of Management Services and Kurt Latipow, Fire Services Coordinator, in the Washoe County Manager's Office, and those would be two good people to communicate with, along with County Manager Katy Simon, the District Board of Health, the NLTFPD Board, and the IVGID Board of Trustees who should be in the forefront of this effort.