Thursday, July 23, 2009

Heart Beat Readers Write: About Columbia's Dysfunctional Boards

About Columbia's Music Men and Their Dysfunctional Directors

Hi Mike. Thank you for airing these concerns about Boards of Directors. They are one reason that we really want to emphasize the importance of board development. It is unfortunate that these situations occur with such frequency.

Nonprofit organizations are the interface between our community and those most in need. A way for the community to take care of itself, without the need for government intervention. It is our [the community’s] responsibility to ensure that nonprofits operate efficiently and with integrity. Effective board training is an integral part of ensuring that nonprofits, and their executive directors, receive the oversight that they need and deserve. -- Mindy Duncan, Columbia


Just got your latest Beat Byte and couldn't agree more about the lay board vs. professional staff issue.

This is a major problem at all levels - from not-for-profit organizations in DC, SF, and LA to our local City Council. Most bylaws or charters specify that lay board sets the policies and positions, and the staff carries these out. But, the way it works in reality is that the professional staff works every day and the lay board meets every other week or monthly or even annually - and the staff insists that things come up that must be dealt with immediately. These are reported to the lay board, but as a fait accompli - and the Board is asked to ratify decisions and actions that have already been made.

Then there are those situations where the staff says "trust us" and just goes ahead and does what it damn well pleases. When the lay board attempts to exercise some oversight, the staff objects vociferously - such as the situation here when Karl Skala offered some advice and was promptly ruled out of order by an attorney hired by the City Manager.

Staff also insists (with some validity) that they are there every day, and the Board only meets occasionally, and therefore is not up to speed on day to day events. In addition, the professional staff "knows" how far it can go. For instance, the City staff here knows that with the current composition of the City Council, that certain actions cannot be taken, or these actions are done out of sight of the Council, the media and the public. Finally, the professional staff recruits persons to get on the lay board (either through election or appointment) - persons that will support the actions of the staff.

When the City Manager (and the City Attorney and City Clerk) or the School Board Superintendent sit at the meeting table with elected members, the public perception is that these appointed officials are at the same level as elected officials and these staff people often weigh in on whatever agenda item is being discussed.

I have met with several City Council members, and have urged them to use their authority to direct staff to take certain actions - and if the staff doesn't do so, their sorry butts should be canned. While these City Council members agree with me, they haven't done much to establish their control and oversight. They talk the talk, but don't walk the walk.

Akin to you, I have no magic wand to wave to address this situation. It is up to individuals on the lay boards and, at present, most of them seem to be invertebrates - lacking a backbone.
-- Ken Midkiff, Columbia

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