The Columbia Association board has gained two civic activists with experience and has a new chairman who has vowed a commitment to efficient meetings with a focus on getting key initiatives completed.
"I'd like to try to get us back into the governance process," said Tom O'Connor, who was elected board chairman last week. "I'd like to get us out at 10:30 at the latest."
The length of CA meetings has been a source of concern, because the group realized that meetings essentially become closed if they go so late in the evening that members of the public cannot realistically be expected to attend. The board recently voted to cap its 7:30 p.m. meetings at 11 p.m. unless a special vote is taken and two-thirds of the board agrees to go later. Staff members initially had suggested that the meetings end at 10 p.m.
O'Connor, from the village of Dorsey's Search, bested Harper's Choice representative Cynthia Coyle in a 6-4 vote. O'Connor replaces Barbara Russell, who retired last month after eight years of service.
Michael Cornell, from the village of River Hill, was elected vice chair.
With priorities ranging from the selection of a new president to fiscal accountability to transparency, members of the newly created board shared their ideas for the future at the group's first meeting Thursday.
Among the items that the board will need to tackle are the selection of a replacement for CA President Maggie Brown, whose contract ends in April 2009; interacting with General Growth Properties Inc. on plans to redevelop downtown, and storm-water management issues.
But the image of the board is another issue that some members believe needs to be addressed, saying that public perception is of a bickering group that is largely dysfunctional.
"I was at a few meetings where I was horrified by the lack of civility, but I didn't realize that it happened all the time," said Suzanne Waller, from Town Center, a new board member who served for four years previously during the 1990s. "I think we need to find a mechanism for honoring each other."
Waller also said she hoped to help inspire positive conversations about CA in general.
"I don't know of another association that contributes so much to its people," she said. "I think we might start, when we speak, to say something good, so we don't appear to be so bogged down and in conflict."
Miles Coffman, from Hickory Ridge, said he considers the selection of the board president to be the single most important issue facing CA in a year packed with pressing issues.
"Hopefully, we're making a move that lasts the next 10 years," she said.
Newly elected board member Alex Hekimian, who served on the board from 1996 to 1999, said he would like to see more emphasis on fiscal accountability.
"I am very interested in cost-effectiveness and making sure that residents' money is being spent appropriately," he said.
Coyle agreed that the budget needs to be watched closely and said she thinks some very simple improvements could make a big difference in how the board operates overall.
"One of the things that has concerned me since being on the board is that even though we have a manual the size of Texas, you can't find anything," she said, pointing to a binder several inches thick. "Let's get some numbers on the pages. Let's get some things written, so we don't have to rely on corporate memory."
Pearl Atkinson-Stewart said she, too, has concerns about finances, particularly around the cost of legal fees and about the openness with which CA conducts business.
"I would like to see us follow the rules and policies," she said. "I think we need to have fewer closed meetings. We should be as transparent as possible."
O'Connor noted that Robert's Rules of Order -- accepted regulations for running effective meetings -- are designed to encourage civility, and he plans to use them to keep things moving.
"At about a minute and a half, if you haven't gotten your point across, that's when you start losing people," he said. "I would like really to try to get out by 10:30 every night, so it's very important that the work is getting done at the committee level."
Although some board members have complained that they think the committee system is not working, in part because it slows down the process and makes things take longer, O'Connor has said that he is a strong advocate of the practice.