Monday, January 15, 2007

Column 90 - The Board's Responsibility

Tom Meyer’s article in Sunday’s Bonanza asks “Did the Board Fumble the Process” of selecting a replacement for Bev Mapps. I’m afraid the question could be answered “yes” based at least on the expectations the Board created in people’s minds.

Last week, as most readers will know by now, the IVGID Board of Trustees selected Chuck Weinberger to fill the seat vacated by Bev Mapps’ resignation. I say “selected” rather than “elected” because by all accounts the process that IVGID HR Director Susan Johnson designed and the Board spent hours debating in December went by the boards (no pun intended) when push came to shove.

To forestall reaction, let me be clear – I have no issue with Mr. Weinberger’s being selected, I think the idea of a younger member of the community on the Board is a good one, and his background seems very well suited to the job. I held no particular brief for or against any of the other 13 candidates, and do a little dance of joy every time I remember that I withdrew my name from consideration.

At the same time, I think there are a couple of issues that can’t be ignored. The Board had a procedure that they were understood to have adopted (though it’s not clear that they actually did); it was thought by many who attended the meetings that they were to select from the 14 candidates a top 3 and then debate that top 3 to elect a new Trustee. They spent all day interviewing the candidates then the Board discussed their top 3, and on a pre-emptive motion elected Mr. Weinberger. At the very least this flouted the expectation the Board had created with many in the community and in the view of at least some of those who put their hat in the ring disrespected their candidacy.

This clumsy process may be reflective of good reasons, but it further undermines public confidence in a Board that has already seen its integrity compromised by a (now former) Chairman’s ill-considered, unethical, and possibly criminal actions last year and by that same individual’s high-handed dealing with the public in what are, by law, supposed to be open and transparent processes. The new Chair is Trustee Bea Epstein, and I can’t think of a better person for the job, but she has her work cut out for her in restoring the public’s confidence that the IVGID Board are really acting as Trustees of the District’s and its residents’ interests.

Hopefully Ms Epstein will take the lead in ending the Boards appearing by its silence to tolerate Trustee Bohn’s actions last year in withholding news of Ms Mapps’ resignation until after he was re-elected. Complaints have been filed by residents with the Nevada Commission on Ethics, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Attorney General’s office, but the Board’s has thus far allowed Bohn to stonewall the public and stifle any inquiry into what to me seems a clear conflict of interest. If my email and conversations around town (many with people who start by saying they have never agreed with anything I’ve written before) are any indication, a large segment of the public in both Incline and Crystal Bay has lost any confidence they may have had in the Board and in the governance of the District.

What is likely is that the Ethics Commission, the Sheriff, and the Attorney General will be too long in following this up if they follow it up at all. If the Board does not take action to call Trustee Bohn to account and Bohn does not do the honorable thing and resign, the only recourse left to the public will be a recall. By my reckoning, this would require the signatures of 800 to 900 District voters, which is not an impossible number and there are people who will take it on, I’m sure.

Still it would be far better for the community if the Board were to police itself, and I hope that Chairwoman Epstein will make this a high priority – I can think of no better way to start a new term of the Board than by making a clear statement that arrogance and wrongdoing will not be tolerated.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Column 89 - civility

I’ve spent the past week or so in Hawai’i on vacation, and while I’m here, as I always do, I’ve been reading the local newspapers. One thing that struck me here is that the Hawai’i legislature has overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses, the recently re-elected Governor is a Republican. Despite this disparity, the legislative and executive branches seem to work together well and accomplish a great deal.

Interestingly enough in addition, the letters to the editor in the Honolulu Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin are quite civil. Writers certainly do not hold back on their opinions but they state those opinions without personal attacks and name-calling. Friends and family here who read the Bonanza are quite surprised and disconcerted at the nastiness of letters to the editor in our little paper.

I wonder why this is so. Are people in the Aloha state somehow more polite? Are they smarter? Or does the balmy island weather just take their edge off? Or is there just a small group of people in Incline who prefer personal attacks and name-calling to reasoned discourse?

I think I speak for Jim Clark and Andy Whyman when I say that those of us who write opinion columns in the Bonanza try to keep those columns reasoned and on the topic. We don’t expect everyone to agree with us or even anyone to agree with us – these are, after all, our own opinions – but it’s interesting to me that there are four or five people who seem to think that vituperation is a clever or intelligent response.

When I began to write my column and then again when I ran for office last year, a great many people told me they hoped I had a “thick skin,” and for the most part I think I do. But at the same time I have to wonder what motivates people who think that the fact that Andy or Jim or I state our opinion in a public forum gives them license for personal attacks and name-calling.

To give these individuals their due, I guess it takes a modicum more courage and integrity to write a signed letter to the editor (the Bonanza doesn’t accept unsigned letters) than it does to flame someone anonymously on the web, but I don’t think it’s that much more. I don’t doubt that they have friends who prefer to remain anonymous and who cheer them on, and I guess that’s a plus.

Still I have noted that I never see these individuals at IVGID meetings, particularly the ordinary meetings, or active in Rotary or Parasol or other community activities. Maybe they think their contribution lies in the supposed cleverness of their shots at those who do, but I have to say that after being in Hawai’i it just seems petty and nasty.

So I’ll keep writing and speaking out, as I’m sure will Jim and Andy and others, and I won’t give the snipers the satisfaction of our silence or withdrawal. I just wish they’d come up with something useful to say.