(Dec. 14, 2017) Communication channels between committees, department heads and the general manager were reopened at the Ocean Pines Association Executive Council meeting last Monday at the Tern Grille.
The executive council — the board of directors and various committee chairs — generally convenes once or twice a year with mixed results.
Only three committee representatives attended a meeting in April 2016, but nearly all of the committees were represented in November 2016, the last time the executive council convened.
This time, members of at least 10 committees were present and representing areas of study ranging from bylaws and resolutions, to marine activities and aquatics, to food and beverage operations (clubs).
The previous administration discouraged many committees from working directly with Ocean Pines staff, which committee representatives said made it difficult to obtain good information.
Association President Doug Parks, however, said that was not how he wanted to operate.
“I want to encourage a lot of open dialogue and I need your help to try to figure out how we can do that,” he said. “At this point, I’m open for any kind of effective method to communicate.”
Parks repeatedly said there is expertise on each committee to help the board of directors make better decisions.
“I like to think the folks that … volunteer their time are not here for window dressing,” he said. “As president of the association, I’d be remiss if I didn’t try and foster some way of getting us to work more cohesively. What I really don’t know and I don’t have a specific idea of is exactly how that works.”
Clubs committee member Gary Miller said it would be helpful to have access to department heads. He added, however, that committees should not be able to give direction to staff.
“Whether it be the clubs being able to talk to the director of food and beverage or the golf committee being able to talk to the golf pro,” Miller said. “There has to be a way to communicate what the different department needs and what their plusses and minuses are, so that the committees actually know what the hell they should be looking at.”
General Manager John Bailey gave his one-word reaction, “yes.”
In other homeowner’s associations, Bailey said, department heads generally act as committee liaisons. In Ocean Pines, that responsibility falls on board members. Information then travels from the board of directors to the general manager and, eventually, back to staff.
Bailey also said some departments don’t have a committee to champion their needs. If public works needs a new bucket truck, for example, there is no committee assigned broadly to public works.
“I think the nexus of the problem is … this is a great place to live, but it could be managed just a little bit better. But, we build barriers to managing it better,” comprehensive planning committee Chairman Frank Daly said. “We might have all the intellectual capital in the world in a committee, but if Mr. Bailey can’t access that and give that committee an assignment that his staff might not be able to do because of work load, because of expertise … then we just might as well go out and blow that expertise away because it’s not being used.”
Daly said the number one complaint of each committee is “the board doesn’t listen to us.”
“I think the basic problem … is it’s set up bass ackwards,” he said. “These committees, with the expertise, should be working with Mr. Bailey and his staff to put together a plan for the future of this committee that the board approves – they shouldn’t be isolated out, talking with the board about things after the general manager and the board talks about them.”
Parks tried to paraphrase.
“If I heard you correctly, in essence, the board should not be the broker between the committee and the GM, because then you lose something in translation,” he said, adding open communication was different than “direction.”
For the last seven years, according to environment and natural assets Chairman Tom Janasek, “there hasn’t been a GM that actually wanted to interact with any of the committees.”
“It has to come from both sides – there can’t just be a committee that wants to go to the GM and fix something,” he said. “The GM has to want to use the information that the committees have.”
Parks cautioned about a “tsunami of information” overwhelming Bailey, who only took over as general manager in September.
“Now that we say, ‘hey, we want to do a better job and communicate,’ all the sudden there’s 475 emails in one day asking for his time and his staff’s time,” Parks said. “I think we need to manage that.”
Rather than committees having unfettered access to the general manager, Daly suggested the general manager should have unfettered access to the committees.
“When he asks for information because he’s putting together the plan for the association for the board, then he can contact whom he needs … and then it becomes a force multiplier rather than a tsunami that he’s dealing with of people wanting to know why the burger [at the yacht club] wasn’t well done,” Daly said.
Daly said there is little meaningful interaction between the board, general manager and committees.
“We’ve gotta change that system to manage the place better so that we can tap into the intellectual capital,” he said. “The easiest way to do it is to make that available to the GM when he wants it. Instead of having the committee drive the GM to make the food and beverage operation better, the GM wants to make it better so he drives the committee activity and the liaison can report back to the board. If that system works well, everybody should be on the same page.”
Parks said changing the current system might be “as simple as … stating it publically, JB, you have access to this intellectual capital, use it.”
“We need to publically acknowledge the fact that we’re in this kind of level support,” Parks said. “At the end of the day, if a decision point comes up out of that discussion, it’s going to end up with the board. The board will have the liaison, the general manager, they’ll have information from the committee – all the necessary elements to make a decision.”
Miller added it would help if the executive council met more often, perhaps quarterly.
“These type of discussions would, I think, be helpful for everybody,” he said. “This is the biggest I’ve seen of any group that has included all the committees – I’ve been to some where there were two committees … this is really refreshing.”
“I’ll use my authority as president to say, OK, I’ve heard you, let’s meet more than annually,” Parks said. “We’ve got a lot of good ideas and as time goes on things fall off the vine. I’d rather continue to have these discussions.
“JB, you’ve got this inventory of intellectual capital, use it … we implore you to take advantage of it, open up that dialogue,” Parks continued. “If there was a perceived restriction to staff assets for questions [from committees] … take advantage of it. We can do that.”
Parks added a note of caution, “if we just assume everything’s going to be wonderful now that we’ve made this decision, somebody’s gonna go rogue.”
“We’re giving you some access, please respect that access – don’t abuse it,” he said.