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.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bonanza Column 272 - Time to Stop this Ridiculous Lawsuit

So once again we have the interests and opinions of a vocal few blocking the implementation of hard science and the will of the majority.
I’m referring of course to the ridiculous lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore attempting to block implementation of the TRPA Regional Plan Update (RPU) and the scurrilous, radical guest column in last week’s Bonanza by their hangers-on.
As a reminder, 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.
Let’s review the bidding: The RPU is the first significant update to environmental protection standards at Lake Tahoe since 1987. The update was years in the making, involved countless hours of scientific and public input, and fostered an unprecedented level of bi-state collaboration to come out with a plan that incorporates much of what the Sierra Club itself has advocated over the years. It institutes and retains growth control limits and restrictions that are among the strongest in the US.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe, historically an advocate for the most stringent environmental regulation and no friend of TRPA responded to the lawsuit this way:
This is the wrong move for Lake Tahoe....While the plan is not perfect, it is a product of community collaboration and compromise, and is designed to be adaptive...litigation will likely result in the dissolution of this compact and no compact means no regional environmental standards for Lake Tahoe. Preserving the compact and implementing the RPU will provide the greatest long-term benefit to the lake and its communities.
Similar responses came from the Nevada Conservation League and in a joint statement from California Secretary of Natural Resources, John Laird and Nevada Director of Conservation and Natural Resources, Leo Drozdoff. Laird and Drozdoff were the principal architects of the bi-state collaboration.
Despite all this, the Sierra Club and its partners apparently consider their opinion of what is good for Lake Tahoe superior to the collective conclusions of environmental scientists, the agencies of California and Nevada, the TRPA, the majority of public input and almost everyone else. I guess it must be nice to have that smug sense of superiority that is impervious to rational consideration – kind of like Wayne La Pierre and the NRA.
One of the basest fabrications on the part of these self-appointed guardians of what’s good for the rest of us is that somehow TRPA (and presumably the scientists, public, and state agencies) are “in the pocket of developers.” I worked at TRPA as a contract executive for a year, and if any largesse was being passed out by some evil cabal of developers I never saw any evidence of it and, worse yet, they missed me! If you’re out there, evil cabal, I’m waiting for my check. But I won’t hold my breath because no one had produced one shred of evidence to support that canard.
If you have the stomach to plow through the 33 pages of the legal complaint, you will see that it is poorly formulated and based on the thinnest foundation imaginable. The Federal Court should summarily dismiss it and can do so on any number of grounds.
One last thing: isn’t it time that these self-appointed “guardians of the lake” come clean about their real agendas and conflicts of interest? What about the realtor who rails against development but makes her living selling Mc Mansions on the lake shore to millionaires? What about the vocal critic of any human inroads into the environment who owns property in a sensitive stream environment zone? Or the loud critic of TRPA who has been cited for numerous serious environmental violations and refuses to correct them?
It’s time to give up the knee-jerk negative response to government in general and TRPA in particular and stop listening to these hypocrites. The RPU may not be a perfect plan, but it is a good one with enough checks and adaptability built in that if offers the best chance for a balance between humans and nature in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Bonanza Column 271 - Is the Fix In at IVGID?

I was in St. Louis all last week on business and so couldn’t attend the IVGID Board meeting that was on Wednesday, so I made a point of talking with some of the 60 or so people who did make it. I was surprised at the number of times that words like “disarray,” “chaotic,” and “silly” came up in accounts of the meeting.
Then I read the recap of the meeting in last week’s Bonanza, and I started to understand.
In what universe does filling the job of General Manager with an amateur, locally focused search make sense? IVGID has a budget of over $35 million and over 550 full and part time positions on its staff (both according to the 2012 – 2013 Budget Book). These 550 people range from seasonal life guards and ski instructors to highly skilled craftspeople, engineers, and professionals. Despite unfounded allegations to the contrary, the IVGID staff are top notch at what they do – that’s why we’ve had great people recruited away by Reno, Truckee, Washoe County, and others. It takes a top General Manager to lead top people. A weak leader will see the best people leave and the worst rise to new levels of mediocrity. We have been fortunate to have had such an General Manager for 11 years, and unfortunate in his decision to retire.
The General Manager manages the entire operation under policy set by the Board. The skill set of a GM or CEO from one industry to another is not interchangeable. It takes a very different CEO to lead a retail chain than it does to lead a worldwide non-profit, and than it does to lead a hotel chain, a financial institution, or a high-tech firm. Most times when a CEO was hired under the misguided notion that a good executive can lead anything, the results have not been good – think of Carly Fiorina, and John Sculley to cite two well-known examples.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of firms in a variety of industries that went through CEO successions. In almost every case, internal candidates were considered, and in absolutely every case an expert search firm was employed from the writing of the job description and qualifications through hiring. There is a profession called Public Administration. Its "fundamental goal... is to advance management and policies so that government can function." (Handbook of Public Administration) Colleges and Universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in Public Administration. Why? Because it is a professional discipline, and any professional discipline starts with study and is advanced through experience. Translating policy into execution and services for a municipality of 9,000 residents with a budget and staff like ours is not a job for even a very talented amateur, and we can’t afford to have someone learn on the job.
This is not a comment on the three people who were mentioned in the Bonanza story – I know and have worked with Claudia Andersen, Mike Brown, and Lynn Gillette and hold them in the highest esteem, and knowing the Hyatt organization’s standards, I have no doubt that Fred Findlen is very good at what he does. There are two problems with all these good folks: first, they have jobs to which they are dedicated, and second, they are not trained or experienced in public administration.
There is a rumor going around that the fix is in on the whole GM search, that the job description will be tailored toward a particular individual and the “search” will be a sham. I pray this is not true – if it turns out to be true, we are headed for a level of cronyism and incompetence in the governance of IVGID that has not been seen in my 17 years here and probably not ever. The job description will be the Board’s first opportunity to dispel this rumor – if it calls for a professional, experienced public administrator, then the rumor is clearly not true; if it is vague in regard to the parameters of the job, does not require more than generic credentials and experience, then the Board will have to answer some tough questions. Now this Wednesday’s Board meeting has been cancelled because “There are no matters requiring action by the board,” even though it was clearly stated at the last meeting that the job description would be on the agenda. So we will have to wait at least another two weeks to find out which way the wind is blowing on this one.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Bonanza Column 270 - Public Private Partnerships

The recent discussion over the eLearning Lab’s proposal to partner with the library brought to light a situation that, regardless of the merits of that particular issue, ought to be of concern to all of us.
Over the past decade or so, so-called “public-private partnerships” (PPPs) have been of increasing importance all over the world in extending the ability of governments to provide services in difficult economics. According to the U. S. State Department, “Such partnerships have leveraged the creativity, innovation, and core business resources of private partners for greater impact on global issues. To date, the Department has worked with over 1,100 partners and mobilized more than $650 million in public and private resources to support key foreign policy objectives including climate change mitigation, women’s empowerment, economic growth, and human rights.” The State Department’s participation in PPPs represents only a small portion of PPPs worldwide.
In most countries these PPP arrangements have been aimed at overcoming broad public sector constraints in relation to either a lack of public capital; and/or a lack of public sector capacity, resources and specialized expertise to develop, manage, and operate infrastructure assets. Public Private Partnerships are now commonly used to accelerate economic growth, development and infrastructure delivery and to achieve quality service delivery and good governance.
The need for PPPs in many countries has been accelerated by the public sector‘s recognition of the vital role of modern infrastructure in economic growth, and PPPs are now accepted as an important avenue for funding major public sector infrastructure projects. PPPs are joint ventures in which business and government co-operate, each applying its strengths to develop a project more quickly and more efficiently than government could accomplish on its own. The private sector may be responsible for the designing, financing, constructing, owning and/or operating the entire project. The private sector may want to be assured that the public-private partnership structure is designed to provide competitive rates of return commensurate with a financial rate of return that they could earn on alternative projects of comparable risk.
In the case of the eLearning Café/Washoe County Libraries discussion, the Library Board’s counsel delivered an opinion that the PPP could not happen because of a peculiarity of Nevada Law. Under the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) anything of this sort that is not explicitly enabled or permitted in the Statutes is considered to be prohibited. Not surprisingly, PPPs are not included in the NRS, which was originally formulated in 1861.
The provision that effectively prohibits anything not explicitly permitted is particularly problematic in a state where the Legislature only sits every two years and then only for a few months.
PPPs are proving to be an especially effective vehicle in the environmental area as recognition increases that a focus on the environment in isolation from the larger picture is in most cases ineffective. Current thinking in the mainstream of the environmental movement is that there is a “triple bottom line” that requires attention to environmental, economic, and social factors, and this lends increasing importance to looking beyond government for solutions. The TRPA Regional Plan Update depends on such PPPs that are represented in part by developments such as Homewood, Boulder Bay, and Edgewood on a large scale, and also partnerships such as that between TRPA and the Tahoe Resource Conservation District for boat inspections in service of keeping aquatic invasive species under control.
The 2013 Regular Session of the Nevada Legislature begins on Monday, February 4, and while it is too late to hope for new legislation to enable PPPs, it is possible to attach such a measure to existing legislation being introduced. I’ve written to Senator Ben Kieckhefer and Assemblyman Randy Kirner asking them to look into this situation, and thus far have received no response. If enough people raise this issue with them, it’s possible we can get something done in this legislative session.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bonanza Column 269 - IVGID Trustees Need to Slow Down

If there is one theme in the early reports about the new IVGID Board of Trustees, it is “slow down.” The new Trustees (three of the five on the Board) were no sooner sworn in than the Board embarked on a four-hour meeting to consider such matters as the search for a new General Manager, the e-Learning Café’s proposal to the Library Board, and Board meeting locations and frequency. The Board packet for this meeting totaled 171 pages and covered a lot of ground. One assumes that the Trustees, particularly the newly-elected three, pored over this packet and studied it carefully to be able to deliberate on all this in just four hours.
Two of the three new Trustees ran on almost identical platforms of cost-cutting and “efficiencies.” As I’ve discussed before, interpretation of election results is at best an inexact art. Except in the case of a landslide, everyone is able to read in the tea leaves of vote counts anything they want to, but objective conclusions are difficult. In my view, the best course for a newly elected official to take is to consider his or her election a limited endorsement (at best) of whatever views they put forth in their campaign, and tread cautiously with a finger on the public pulse.
According to the 2010 census, the population of Incline Village/Crystal Bay is 8,777. Of these there were, in the 2012 election, 5,566 registered voters (Washoe County Registrar of Voters), or 63% of the total population. The three who were elected, Mssrs. Smith, Devine, and Hammerel, received 47.75%, 39.5%, and 39.3% of the vote respectively. This means that 50 to 60% of the electorate did not endorse the three who were elected. I’m not saying that means their positions were wrong, just that they do not necessarily reflect the views of over half of those who voted.
Based on this it would be a mistake for the Board (and I’m speaking here about Trustees Smith and Hammerel in particular) to think their only job is to cut costs and create “efficiencies.” Yes, these are high priorities for governments at all levels, and every decision taken should include an analysis of fiscal impact, but as any executive will tell you, cost is only half of the financial picture – the other half is benefit, whether financial (return on investment, ROI), or environmental or social – and it is the cost/benefit ratio that should guide decisions.
The Trustees need to remember that they are stewards of the District’s resources. A steward manages property and affairs on behalf of someone else. Stewardship is an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources, and is generally understood to include returning the resources in improved shape, and where stewardship of financial resources is concerned, growing the resource wherever possible.
This point about stewardship is an important distinction because Trustees are not the same as representatives. The IVGID Trustees are elected by the whole village to be the stewards of the District, not necessarily to do what is popular. At the same time, they have to be responsive to the “owners” of the resources, and where there is no clear downside should probably act in alignment with vox populi. However, it’s important that they have a good read on what that voice of the people is telling them. In the case of the eLearning Café and the Library Board, while the Café’s founder asserted that the majority of the community is in favor of her proposal, there is scant evidence to support this assertion and there is definite opposition. For the Board to have endorsed the idea without a clear sounding of the community was precipitous at best.
This brings us to the matter of the new GM, a decision that will have a major impact on the direction of IVGID in the future. I can’t see how the Board can make this decision without a clear indication from the residents about what we want the character of the community to be. When Bill Horn announced his impending retirement, the work of Incline 2020 went from interesting and important to crucial. Hopefully the Board will take this work into account and not base its decision on generic hiring parameters.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bonanza Column 268 - Who Does the NRA Work For?

So there is this device that is in widespread use – almost every family has at least one. Used carelessly or incorrectly it can do damage or even create lethal effects. It is often used in the commission of crimes, and theft of the device itself is a common crime.
This device must be registered – anyone who wishes to own one has to give personal information and obtain insurance against its misuse. The owner is required to display evidence of registration prominently, and every device has a unique identification number so even if it is found without the evidence of registration, the owner can be identified and located. Further, even non-owners of the device must be licensed if they wish to use one. The licensing involves extensive testing on knowledge of the rules for operating the device and practical operation of the device under real-world conditions.
If a used device is sold, the sale must be registered with the government and the buyer is subject to all the above requirements. If the device is retired or destroyed, its registration must be cancelled.
Improper or illegal operation of the device can result in revocation of the operator’s license, confiscation of their registration, and cancellation of their insurance.
Notwithstanding all this, there is almost no resistance to the registration, licensing, and insurance requirements. Registration and license fees provide significant revenue to government agencies, and insurance provides a substantial private market as well. To date no government has undertaken a mass confiscation of these devices, nor has their use been significantly restricted – in fact there are more of these devices in private ownership than at any time in history.
I suspect you’ve figured out by now that the device in question is motor vehicles – cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc. If someone proposed the above set of requirements for gun ownership, however, the outcry from the NRA and its disciples would be loud and long.
Why do we have this whole system for vehicle registration? Because while cars don’t kill people, people in cars kill people at a rate very close to the rate at which people with guns kill people. Yet no one worries that the government is coming to take their cars, no one threatens revolt if cars are regulated, and no one much worries about car registration.
The current debate on gun control has given rise to a whole raft of nonsense. “Gun ownership is a mainstay of American culture.” Hogwash – 39% of US households own guns; 95% own cars. Even if the 39% figure is low, it’s still not close to car ownership. Yet the rates of fatalities by cars and by guns are, by all accounts very close.
“Gun ownership is a God-given right.” Errant nonsense, and also the usual right-wing cherry picking of the Bible.
“The Second Amendment guarantees my right to own guns.” This is true by usage if not by intent. The Second Amendment says “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The ownership argument never bothers with that first part – it seems to me that “well-regulated” is a good argument for (wait for it) REGULATION! Also, by way of intent, there is a school of thought that the Second Amendment was created to appease southern states, and the “militias” referred to were slave-catching vigilantes.
And finally, who exactly is the NRA working for? Poll after poll indicates that the views of a significant majority of its membership on regulation are not nearly as extreme as what its leadership espouse, and while La Pierre and his cronies scream about the government “coming for your guns,” not one person in government from the President on down has put confiscation forth as even an idea.
I don’t know about you, but I have to think that the corporate leadership of the NRA have some other agenda. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not hard to make some educated guesses. According to research reported on the National Gun Forum website, LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of this non-profit organization, pocketed about $950,000 in compensation in 2005. It’s not a leap to suppose that he and others in the NRA have a vested interest in keeping the funds coming in, and scaring gun owners seems to work for that. And of course there is also the cash that comes in from gun manufacturers and others.
I’m just sayin’ – maybe the NRA is to the interests of gun owners as Lance Armstrong is to the interests of competitive cycling.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bonanza Column 267 - Who is Being Represented?

According to a number of respectable polls, 57% of Americans favor some form of gun control. Ninety-plus percent of NRA members favor background checks for gun ownership. The fact that Congress has failed to take any meaningful action on any form of gun regulation illustrates, in my view, a situation that is both unfortunate and dangerous.
We elect our Senators and Representatives, yet once they are elected a large majority of them are unresponsive to what the electorate thinks and wants. Instead, they become the servants of those who pour large amounts of money into their campaigns and continue to find ways through their lobbyists to keep those in Congress in their debt. I am referring, naturally, to groups like the NRA, major businesses and business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, and, yes, even more liberal-leaning groups like labor unions.
In a poll taken last June, 61 % of respondents favored allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26, 72 % of respondents wish to maintain the requirement that companies with more than 50 workers provide health insurance for their employees, and 82 % of respondents favored banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions – all components of the Affordable Health Care Act.. Notwithstanding that, 34 bills have been introduced in Congress for the wholesale repeal of the AHCA, the latest just this week by the redoubtable Michelle Bachman (R-MN).
We cherish the myth of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” when a grass-roots campaign by a determined lay person could send them to Congress where their passion and the rightness of their cause could change the course of political events, and it’s possible that before about 1940 that could work. Now, however, the cost of running for national office makes politics beyond the most local level the province of the well-financed, whether through personal wealth or outside support. When that outside support comes in large infusions of cash, it would be naïve to think it comes without some expectation of quid pro quo, no matter if the infuser is Sheldon Adelson, the NRA, the UAW, or the Sierra Club.
I’ve always been fond of the Chinese proverb that says if we don’t change our direction, we are likely to get where we’re headed. In this case a change of direction means a radical reform of how our government is elected. That starts with genuine campaign finance reform, and meaningful finance reform requires that we reassess the legal fiction that a corporation is a person. This doctrine originated in the Dartmouth College case of 1819, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation may sue and be sued in court in the same way asnatural persons.” This doctrine in turn formed the basis for legal recognition that corporations may hold and exercise certain rights under the law The ruling was never intended to mean that corporations are "people" as that word is normally understood, nor did it grant to corporations all of the rights of citizens. Given that there is no bar to restricting or even barring corporations’ donating to candidates and campaigns, and to eliminate PACs and Super-PACs which are connected to corporate entities.
There should be a limit to donations by individuals as well, both to candidates and PaCs and Super-PACs, so that millionaires and billionaires have no greater ability to influence elections than do the 98 or 99% of Americans who fall below that level of wealth.
Finally, and this would require a Constitutional amendment, the terms of Representatives should be four years rather than two. The two-year term means that a Member of Congress start running for his or her next term almost immediately after the current term begins. This was not the case when the Constitution was written, and to extend the term would simply be to acknowledge the realities of governing and running for office in the modern era.
None of this can happen unless the American people demand it, loudly and persistently, until the stranglehold of special interests and the very wealthy on the electoral process is broken. This is not an issue that fractures along the Right-Left fault line. Whichever way you lean politically, your interests are being represented only to the degree that they coincide with the interests of those in control, and that is clearly not what the Founders had in mind.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Bonanza Column 266 - Here Comes 2013

The 112th Congress, arguably the least effective in US history, has ended, and there are at least some indications that the 113th won’t be as feckless. One can argue over the interpretation of election results ad nauseum, and as I’ve said many times in this space, interpretations can’t be proven or disproven Nonetheless, I assert that the overall results reflect what my colleague, Verita Black Prothro, called “a slight but fundamental shift in our country’s ethos [that is] encouraging for those of us on the left.”
While I don’t think we’ll see the immediate disappearance of the Tea Party and its supporters, I do think we’re seeing the sun start to set on that distorted world view that each of us lives separately from the rest of the human race and it’s every person for him or herself. Issues such as marriage equality (now the law in nine states and the District of Columbia) are coming to be seen (correctly) more and more as civil rights issues. Women are standing up for their interests and to maintain the gains of the movement for women’s equality, and while the House failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act this week, such regressive moves are being seen more and more for what they are – a rear-guard action in a losing cause. John Boehner was re-elected as Speaker of the House over the Tea Party’s opposition, so hopefully he won’t feel so inclined to kowtow to them.
So I, for one, am optimistic going into 2013. I realize there will be setbacks such as the House’s action, but there will be victories as well and as Martin Luther King said, the moral arc of the Universe bends toward justice.
On the local scene, just as we have a new Congress in Washington, we have a new Board of Trustees for IVGID, a new County Commission, and a new Board of Governors for TRPA. Arguably these three governing bodies have a more direct and immediate effect on us as residents of Incline Village/Crystal Bay than do the President, Congress, and Supreme Court in DC. Here again I’m cautiously optimistic.
The IVGID Board has three new members who have not served in our local government before; the two Trustees who were not up for re-election are in their first four-year term, so we have a Board that, while it may be short on history and institutional memory, is to that same extent not likely to be bound by “how we’ve always done it.” Two of the three new Trustees ran on platforms promising greater accountability and closer fiscal management. Both, along with their third Freshman colleague, are young enough and intelligent enough to allow us to hope that this will go beyond mindlessly cutting spending or services and lead to a real consideration of what this community will be like for the next twenty or so years.
I’ve had the chance to meet and talk with our new County Commissioner, and she seems intelligent, non-doctrinaire, and eager to learn about her constituency. She also strikes me as articulate and persuasive, which is important as she is our one voice among the five County Commissioners.
The TRPA Regional Plan Update has survived extensive public scrutiny and seems to have stimulated an unprecedented level of bi-state collaboration. There are those who are certain that their analysis of the likely effects of the RPU are more accurate and honest than that of the TRPA Staff, Governing Board, and experts, which I think is unlikely to be true. If those well-meaning (but misguided) folks can restrain themselves from filing suit, which will delay, but, I am convinced, not deter the implementation of the RPU, they will have ample opportunity to make their case on a project-by-project basis. I am confident they will not do any better there than they did in the adoption process, and I am of the view that the RPU, in both the short and long-term will be one of the best things ever for the environment, economy, and people of the Basin.
On to 2013!