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On Board with BGWSD

June 2022 New Board Members First Meeting
by V. Lawson

#Politics— (July 2022)

June was the  first full public meeting with the new board of the Water & Sanitation District.  I had hoped to conduct orderly meetings of reasonable length, but alas, for the second straight month we met for a full 4 hours! Truly, our board members and staff are providing service!

We had a full agenda including two customer special requests, updates on several ongoing projects, and a matter related to the conduct of one of our board members. 

I have not intended to be an activist board president, but I do hold convictions around board process and governance of our public entities.  This stance seems to be bringing some long-festering differences around governance to a head.

Governing boards by nature are slow to act.  We have our processes that create a pipeline for our work: Agenda requests need to be submitted to the district at least 10 working days prior to a board meeting to be included in that meeting, and that timeline is too short in many instances for the board to be able to make an informed decision. We only meet as a board once a month, and open meeting restrictions limit our communications as a board outside of public meetings. 

Both the public and Board members can chafe against these limitations. Board members tend to want to be liked and appreciated for their service, and often a board will try to be lenient or to expedient and ignore the purpose behind our structures.

Covid challenged many of these long-present practices.  Covid added responsibilities of setting policies related to public health and personal freedom to the already heavy load of our Water District. And staff and board members experienced personal attacks and outbursts at and around our board meetings in relation to conflicts around these issues. Board majority decisions around these matters were challenged by minority members, and the Board was called to strengthen our governance policies in response. The district has had to defend its decisions related to meetings, masking, and public access to the office. I see that the district, to the credit of our District Manager JoAnn Slivka has handled these challenges with patience and grace. And the water still flows….

With this backdrop, I stepped into the board president role with a clear sense that governance is my strength, and that it is also an area of need within our organization. We need to heal the wounds of Covid, remove the personal, the woundedness, and the short-sighted from our decision processes. We need to restore and strengthen trust between individuals, and as an organization facing the public. Board members need to take the lead on this, and our example will inform District operations and our public interface.

Community members who have not served on a public board fail to understand how paradoxically fragile and resilient our community is. Every organization, whether it is our District, the town, the property owner’s association, or the county, is dealing with enormously diverse needs in the face of financial challenge. We face issues of high staff and volunteer turnover, often through no fault of the organization. We are all updating our organizational cultures in a rapidly changing community. We can no longer operate just by personal relationship and loose structures. We need a more sophisticated skill set among staff and volunteers.  At the same time, we don’t want to lose the small-town personal attention and individuality that separates our community from others. 

Please join us for our meetings and learn about your water district. We need responsible community members to care and become involved. And the work is more interesting that you would think!