Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 117 - Trustees

As the year drew to an end, the IVGID Board of Trustees elected their officer for 2008 and, wisely I think, chose to retain the same officers as last year. Chairwoman Bea Epstein expressed a sense of responsibility for the "Pandora's Box" she opened in 2007 and wished to stay on as Chair to complete some or all of these issues. The Bonanza, in an editorial, endorsed this decision and so do I.

Epstein has been a different kind of Chair than the Board has seen in recent years. She has not been intentionally controversial, but neither has she shied away from controversy. She has encouraged what it is fashionable to call "out of the box" thinking in approaching issues, and has not worried about popular approval so much as she has tried to do the right thing for the whole community.

It's a popular misconception that the Trustees represent the residents of the District. Unlike the House of Representatives, 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. My dictionary defines a Trustee as "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. A representative may favor the interests of those he or she represents against the interests of others – for example, a representative from Northern California may defend the interests of San Francisco or Napa when they conflict with the interests of Los Angeles or Anaheim. A Trustee does not have that charge nor should they – each Trustee represents the interests of the whole District and the reason to have more than one Trustee is to ensure that those interests are fully represented in the Board's deliberations. For the most part this Board has tried to do a good job of that.

The Trustees, and particularly the Chair, are considered by some in the community to be fair game for criticism, vilification, and personal harassment. Trustees have told me that they have received late night and early morning phone calls letters both signed and anonymous and reams of email, some of it thoughtful and useful, and much of it insulting and rude. This seems to come with the territory of public service, even volunteer public service, but it also often crosses the lines of propriety. It's one thing to write a letter to the editor or a column disagreeing with or criticizing the Board or a given Trustee – public discourse is the proper venue for public issues. It's something else again to call at 4 in the morning, to insult a Board member's spouse who happens to answer, and to send what amounts to hate mail.

Three seats will open up on the Board for the November election. Running for a seat on the Board in 2006 was very interesting and enlightening to me about our community. If you have an interest in taking on the job or if you don't like the job the current Trustees are doing, I urge you to run. If you don't, then at the very least keep your response to the Board and about its members to public and proper forms. I wish Chairwoman Epstein and the other Board members all the best for the coming year and trust they will continue to do a good job.

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