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Renaud enjoying role as swing vote

(March 12, 2015) When Pat Renaud ran for Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors last year, he did so on a ticket of sorts that included former board president Dave Stevens and a shared platform of taking power back to the board and away from General Manager Bob Thompson.
The pair was swept in, Stevens was again elected president and Renaud was appointed secretary.
“We both had some concerns,” Renaud said. “I was concerned by the apparent takeover of the board by the general manager [and] we were trying to get the control back to the board – that’s what Dave and I talked about. We were looking to see that the general manager didn’t have more control than he should have, and I think that’s come about. I think we have accomplished that pretty much. Some people would say too much, but I don’t think so.”
New policies were immediately implemented, including Renaud’s initiative that the general manager write a summary report of his presentation, emailed to the board, at least three days before every regular meeting.
“When I had chaired my boards in my experience I had always anticipated that and it worked very well, because then we knew what he was going to say and we could think about what direction we wanted to go in.”
Renaud said that kind of due process was not in place when Tom Terry presided over the board, prior to Stevens.
“I like Tom Terry a lot,” Renaud said. “I think he’s a very bright guy and I appreciate working with him, but he didn’t think that was important and I did. That was one of the reasons I ran.”
Recently, Thompson challenged the board decision on golf management during a public meeting, saying he received questions from the membership he didn’t know how to ask and wondering aloud whether the board had properly done their due diligence.
“I talk to Bob a lot and he mentioned to me he thought there was something wrong going on there, and I said, ‘Bob, the decision had been made,’” Renaud said. “I told him, ‘Really it’s not your decision, it’s the board’s decision.’”
According to Renaud, Thompson countered that the board should be made aware that some, including him, still harbored reservations.
“I said, ‘They’re well aware of it. They’re not stupid. But if you go out there and tell them to their face, it’s not going to do you any good or them any good,’” Renaud said. “’You’re embarrassing them. I wouldn’t do it if I were you.’”
The independent Stevens and Renaud were supposed to become a lockstep part of a new 4-3 majority, but the freshman board member has shown an independent streak during the first year of his three-year term.
“We do have a 4-3 situation on the board, but it’s not always 4-3,” Renaud said. “I’ve voted against the Stevens ticket on a couple of occasions. That’s what I’ve always told myself – I’m going to vote independently.”
Renaud admitted his role as swing vote occasionally means his phone rings off the hook before a major vote.
“I do get calls from both sides, and that’s the way I try to look at it,” he said. “On the budget, for instance, I’ve been trying to come up with a compromised budget. One side says, ‘do it this way’ and the other side says, ‘do it the other way.’ It’s almost like the Democrats and Republicans splitting up. It’s really something.
“I try to look at it as an independent and say, ‘Well, let’s come to a compromise,” Renaud continued. “Let’s work it together so everybody can vote for it, or at least have a majority come in and have a budget going. Hopefully, we’re going to get that done before the deadline, because it’s coming up fast.”
One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of a new budget is the controversial “five-year funding plan.” Stevens would prefer to keep the tool in place – at least for now – and rename it the “legacy fund.” Others, including Vice President Marty Clarke, would prefer to eliminate the fund altogether in order to lower the assessment fee.
“I think the five-year plan was needed when we had the yacht club come up [but] I don’t think it’s needed much anymore,” Renaud said.
Predictably, Renaud is looking for middle ground.
“I said, ‘let’s get rid of all the excess funds.’ We need to have a maintenance reserve where we replace the things we need – trucks and police cars and all those other kinds of things – and let’s have a future projects fund or whatever you want to call it for things that are coming up, whether it be a marina or a country club or whatever it happens to be. I believe we should have some funds that start to pay for these things,” Renaud said.
Renaud said he was previously a member of a homeowner’s association with dues in upwards of $5,000.
“I did some research and found out that was mainly because they didn’t save any money, they didn’t have any reserve funds,” he said. “When they wanted to build a new clubhouse or a swimming pool they just went and borrowed it from the bank. That’s fine, except what happens when you borrow from a bank is you’ve got to pay the interest, and once you buy one thing then the next thing you know you have to buy something else.
“We have lots of things we have to buy eventually, so I like the idea of making a reserve fund to pay for these things in the future,” Renaud continued. “Maybe we won’t have all of it, like with the yacht club for instance where we had to pay it over a five-year period, but it was a still a reserve fund where we put aside money every year.”
The balancing act, Renaud suggested, is figuring out how much the community actually needs.
“I think it’s a good thing to continue the way we’re doing it, but we don’t need to go overboard either,” he said. “We don’t need to have too large of a reserve fund, but we need enough to pay for the things we need like roads and bridges. That’s something we haven’t looked hard enough at I think.”
Renaud is also keen to develop a Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) plan for the community.
“I think Dave’s coming up with the right idea, looking at it and trying to restructure it,” he said. “The CIP was on a five and 10-year type thing and we don’t need to do that. We need to look at all the projects that have importance and then we say, ‘which ones do we need to do first and which ones can we do a little hear and a little there?’
“We don’t need to say that we have to finish this in five years and then go to something else in five years,” Renaud continued. “I think that’s too structured. I like the idea of working on drainage and roads and restructuring the country club at the same time. I don’t think we need to work on it in isolation like we did with the yacht club.”
In the same vein, Renaud serves on the planning committee that is exploring a new comprehensive action plan.
“We have a huge document that’s about 140 pages, which is way too out of line,” Renaud said. “My feeling is we’ve got to have an action plan that is very short, maybe two-to-three pages at the most, and we identify what everybody needs. This may take surveys and it may take time, but we need to find out what our population is, where we’re going, what do we need. That kind of thing is probably more helpful to us to plan these things and give certain priorities over others.”
On the divisive battle over management of the golf course, Renaud hinted that he was still on the fence late into the process.
“We had seen the presentations for Landscapes Unlimited, the Haley/Marshall group and Billy Casper, and up to that point I had not made up my mind,” he said. A couple of us said the same thing.
“I think what turned a lot of us around was the fact that [Landscapes] emphasized more about increasing our membership, which I think is important because we’re coming down to a point where, if we keep losing regular membership, I think we’re going to get into a situation where it becomes a problem for us as far as keeping up where costs were concerned,” Renaud said. “In my old sociology class, I found out you can’t reverse a trend. However, that being said, I think it’s worth a try.”
Renaud said golf membership was as high as 700 in Ocean Pines during the last decade, but fell to roughly 125 in recent years.
Landscapes provided the board with information that suggested the company had been able to turn other courses around when faced with similar circumstances.
“Where [membership] is now is very low, and most of them are associate members,” Renaud said. “I thought it would be worth our while to get somebody in there who has a track record of increasing memberships at the golf courses they service and make that true.”
With golf management out of the way, the board could return to the ongoing negotiations with Sandpiper Energy.
“My stand with that situation is that right now [Sandpiper] is intransigent about not signing this agreement to recognize our sovereignty of owning the land,” Renaud said. “My understanding is they have paid money to the county from a standpoint of putting in these [natural gas] lines and everything else, but they’re not looking to do anything with us.”
The rub, Renaud said, is that the county does not actually control the land.
“They don’t seem to have understood that,” he said. “I’ve looked at the historical things and I was shocked the contract expired in 2013 and it took them about a year and a half to understand that we did own the land. I think that’s ridiculous.”
Renaud said he thought it was problematic that Sandpiper was not actively in negotiations with the board.
“I’d rather see somebody sitting down and talking to somebody,” he said. “We’re never going to solve it if we don’t.
“The problem is now we’ve got this high gas price, $3.73 per gallon or somewhere in that range, and outside people are getting it for $1.99,” Renaud continued. “I think people are going to start looking at buying tanks and that sort of thing. As the clock ticks, they’ve got to realize natural gas isn’t all it’s made out to be.”
Renaud called his first term a work in progress and compared the challenges to working in the U.S. Congress.
“You have all these ideas of things you want to do and all of the sudden these things walk in your way,” he said. “I’m still learning. There’s an awful lot to know, and it’s so much more than I had even anticipated. I pick my shots carefully, or try to anyway, and weigh in when there’s something I think I really have knowledge on or an opinion for, and let some of the other ones fight the main battles. I make my presence known when I need to.”