Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Everybody’s Talking at Me


Have you noticed? Suddenly everyone* has something to say.

The CA Board released a statement over the weekend:

The Board of Directors of the Columbia Association is aware of numerous false rumors and speculations surrounding the employment status of the Columbia Association President and CEO, Lakey Boyd. The truth is that the Board of Directors seeks to improve the relationship and communications between Ms. Boyd and the Board, and has presented a plan to Ms. Boyd to accomplish that goal. The Board is hopeful this plan will foster a productive working relationship and positive changes. The volunteer members of the Board of Directors are dedicated to continuing to devote substantial time and energy to ensuring the success of Columbia Association.

Would a statement like this have been released to the press without the pressure of last week’s event at the Lakefront? I don’t know. Maybe?

My CA Board representative Virginia Thomas wanted me to know about three issues to be discussed at this week’s meeting:

  1. How CA votes in Village Elections 
  2. Lake Elkhorn Stream Restoration Project
  3. Draft General Plan for Howard County—Focus on Possible BOD Statement
We do hear from Ms. Thomas from time to time about specific issues, but I don’t think it’s on any regular schedule.

The Columbia Association wants me to know they care.

If I hadn’t learned from the Library’s weekly newsletter that January is Mental Health Month, I would have found this 100 per cent creepy. Even so, it felt…odd?

Now, it is absolutely possible to take all three of these at face value, without over-interpretation or analysis.
  • The CA Board is outlining a process for resolving their dispute with CA President Lakey Boyd.
  • My CA Rep wants to keep Oakland Mills residents informed.
  • The Columbia Association sees promoting mental and physical health as a part of its overall mission.
It’s possible, alright, but - - at the moment - - it’s very hard for me to do.

So I’m going to take a left turn here and tell you about a local organization that never keeps me guessing: 

The Oakland Mills Community Association. 

The Village’s Facebook account is active and posts frequently. Residents receive regular communication on community topics. We have two newsletters! One about goings-on in the village,  and one specifically about our schools. The Oakland Mills website is clearly laid out and easy to use, with a wealth of helpful information. Village Manager Sandy Cederbaum and her staff coordinate the use of Oakland Mills event spaces, facilitate community events, and provide information/support to the OMCA Village Board.

The OMCA Board releases the agenda of each meeting in advance and makes it easy for residents to participate. The Village Board Chair Jonathan Edelson has been a welcoming presence who has drawn new interest in Village events and initiatives.

In short, I don’t find myself second-guessing communications from OMCA. The professional staff are consistently helpful and responsive. The current Board, under Edelson’s leadership, has given residents a trustworthy partner in addressing community concerns. 

When I served on the Village Board I remember realizing that it would be impossible to achieve anything significant without the support and knowledge of the Village Manager. Ms. Cederbaum came to each meeting prepared and had mastered the delicate balance of providing guidance when consulted without trying to tell us what to think or what to do.

The Board really can’t do its job well without that kind of expertise and respect from the Village Manager. 

On the other hand, there have been Boards (in recent memory) who brought a more accusatory and combative style to their role in community life. Under those circumstances, it was almost impossible for the Village Manager and her staff to do their jobs. Their work environment became a place of stress and fear.

The Village Manager and staff can’t do their jobs well without a knowledgeable and respectful Board.

When it works, it works amazingly well. It depends on people who want to build relationships, people who care about their jobs, people who listen, and people who are willing to communicate regularly with the community they serve.

Most people in Columbia/HoCo don’t give much thought to how the Columbia Villages run but maybe they should. There just might be something to learn, something - - dare I say? - - applicable to larger community challenges.

Let’s look around locally and find places where these kinds of relationships work and benefit a larger whole. 
  • Observe them
  • Figure out what makes them tick
  • Highlight their good work
  • Emulate them

I’d close by saying, “Just a thought. Not a sermon,” but in retrospect I think this may have been a sermon.

*everyone except the Columbia Conversation, which ceased conversing in November.

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