Monday, September 5, 2016

Who's the Boss?

I recently had an extremely odd experience when attending an Oakland Mills Board Meeting. I arrived a few minutes late to find all the community members who had come to attend the Board Meeting standing around in the lobby. Apparently the meeting had begun in the usual way, then after ten minutes the board went into closed session and asked everyone to leave.

We waited in the lobby for over an hour while the board discussed a personnel matter.

Over an hour.

Did you know that Columbia's Village Boards were in change of hiring and firing and job evaluation? One of their responsibilities is the annual employment evaluation of the Village Manager. The Board also votes each year on his/her continued employment and salary.

Employee supervision and evaluation is serious business. While I was standing around in the lobby I began to wonder whether it was such a good idea to put it in the hands of volunteer boards who are elected by only a small fraction of residents of the village. What if you get a bad board?

I always thought, somewhere in the back of my mind, that if something went wrong in this process that the employee could appeal to the Columbia Association. I was wrong. What happens in the village stays in the village and the employee has no recourse or advocate.

Most of the time the people who serve on our village boards are kind, responsible, and fair. But what if they are not? What if they create a toxic work environment for employees where fear is the motivator rather than the desire to do one's best work? The logic built into the system says that village residents will then turn them out of office in the next election.

But we all know that nobody, or hardly anybody, votes in Village Elections anymore. So the board continues and the Village employees suffer. Let me repeat: they have no recourse.

The leadership of the current Oakland Mills Board has created a toxic work environment for our Village Employees. It makes me angry, and it makes me sad. This is not what the business of a board should be. This board has met more times in closed session to "discuss personnel issues" than any board in recent memory, and they are doing it again tonight.

None of this is improving life in Oakland Mills. And much of it is making very good people miserable. Who on earth would want to work in one of these Village positions if they truly understood how easily a positive work environment could turn into the personal fiefdom of a less than well-meaning board?

I have served on the Oakland Mills board and I know first-hand how hard our village employees work. We worked closely with the Village Manager and her organization and advocacy were a big part of the success of any Village initiatives. In my opinion the role of the Board should be to support our Village employees. It they are not happy to work for us, something is wrong.

Perhaps when Oakland Mills Village was founded, this system worked. It is not working now.



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