Reaction to a Board Meeting - Early Thoughts
Whoa, what a night. I never attended a board meeting in person before and if last night was an example, I don't think I'll ever miss one again -- it was what they call Edutaining (Educational and Entertaining).
I'm still truly processing the whole experience and I have some things I need to figure out how I want to handle. For example, President Stephan (who asked I called him Phil, so I'll honor that request) went through my agenda review and commented almost point for point -- and I really appreciated that. But he also asked me to make changes to my site based on the information he shared. I have chewed on this request and how I want to handle it. On one hand, I could edit the posts and note the added information; on the other hand, I could create a post with the notes and my thoughts. I'm leaning to the latter -- mostly because I've said from the beginning this is MY process. I'm open to new ideas and opinions; but not so much into revisionist history. So, I will do a recap of the meeting with the agenda, comments, and notes with the recording in the next day and with that I'll note any updates or changes. If I was/am wrong, I think my readers will appreciate it more if I own that and my ego is secure enough to handle changing my mind when given additional facts.
One of the things I learned last night in speaking to a few of the board members who have historically not responded to me was that there are many one on one conversations with Phil before the meetings regarding some of the agenda items that come up. They felt it was important for me to understand that these things aren't being passed without discussion.
However, as I explained, I think that is in opposition of the spirit of the Open Meeting Act (OMA). You see, the point of the OMA is that the public gets to participate in our government. That we get to see the details of what they are deciding and why. This is why the board packet is published at least 48 hours in advance publicly -- so we can review and prepare our questions. When all of the conversations and the questions being asked are done essentially behind closed doors, then the public only is allowed to see that one man's agenda is being pushed through unchallenged. There's no disgrace in losing a vote. There's no disgrace in respectfully talking openly about issues and kicking around all the solutions.
Last night, I saw a fairly major shift in the discussion level of the board, and I encourage the board to take note and continue that going forward. I believe the more discussion that gets held in a public forum, the better the proposals will be written; the better our decisions will be; and with luck there will be more, not less, understanding of these decisions.
The residents really came out last night. To be very honest, sometimes you have no idea how many people are listening or care enough to give up a Tuesday night and it warmed my heart to see so many people there last night. I know that people only come when they care about an issue (or many issues) so the board should (and hopefully does) take notice of that. I believe we can't stop shining a light on the inner workings of village, because if there was one thing I saw last night is that EVERYONE seemed to step-up their game.
There were real discussions. I'll go through this in far more detail in the Post Meeting Agenda Review; but I can tell you that I understand more than when I walked in the door of the meeting -- and shouldn't that be part of the goal? I know it can make the meetings longer; but I think it's important that all the residents see that the board isn't rubber stamping one person's vision.
We have a resident who couldn't be there last night because of the risks, but her emailed comments to the board were read. She had a statement that should shake us all: "But what we’ve been witnessing since has degraded into an unprofessional public side show of a personality conflict between 2 passionate trustees, rather than a fair and unbiased handling of an apparently untenable ongoing situation." And she's right. We, the residents and the staff, are caught in a tug of war between two passionate trustees.
I fervently believe we need to (with regard to both of them) separate the message from the messenger. I will call out both of them, (Mr. Berman and Mr. Younge), as being horrible messengers. Both are coming across as dug in, bullies, and slightly irrational. But there's an underlining message that needs to be heard.
Mr. Younge's Message: When you pull back all the bluster and the fact that Bryan tends to speak from the heart without always engaging his logical brain, I hear a message that he's horrified that we have staff who have been hurt (emotionally). His message is there's something wrong -- we have staff leaving at a greater rate than surrounding villages; we have budgetary inconsistencies that need to be reviewed; and our priorities in solving the first two don't seem to be in the right spot.
Mr. Berman's Message: There's nothing to see here. Lakewood is doing great things, but we won't talk about them. And when challenged, Mr. Berman attacks the messenger, not the message. (And this is me trying very hard to ignore the blatant condescension in every personal interaction I've had with Mr. Berman.)
I urge the balance of the board to frankly ignore both of these gentleman's delivery and focus on the message. Either we really look at why the staff is fleeing the village or we don't -- but know that if we don't or if we do it in a bias and dismissive way, this issue will just keep coming up. That's why I keep pushing for an independent investigation and some well timed Administrative Leave.
One last thing, I heard Phil use the word "I" a lot last night. "I built this" he told me; "I am going to fix Lakewood." he told me. I spent nearly 2 hours within 10 feet of Phil and I lost count of the number of times he said "I." At the end of the night, walking to our car, he stopped me to share the Turnberry park -- a lovely and beautiful spot, for which I complimented him on as I knew he played a huge part in building it. He explained that it was HIS idea, HIS vision, etc. I came along side of him and said, "Phil, one piece of advice I'm going to give you. Change your pronouns. You didn't build that alone. WE built it..." He said, "you are right, WE..." (Almost as if he was test driving the word for the first time) and then in one breath the pronouns changed back to "I." Our village has issues, some of them are easy to fix and some of them are really hard; but no one person is not going to fix our village. Phil, if you are reading, I challenge you; I encourage you to stop thinking of how you are the hero of Lakewood. If the community can come together like they did last night and tell you that we see issues and we expect them to be addressed with respect and compassion, you have to listen -- and that listening requires that you set the ego aside, talk less, and listen more. There's no simple fix to all of these things -- but there are many simple ways to fail. Avoiding the latter requires a unique set of skills that include being able to listen to those who disagree with you and allowing that, on occasion, they could be right.