Saturday, December 18, 2010

First day on the job, and questions about being the Chair in 2011

While we took our legal oath of office on December 3, you could say our first day on the job was Tuesday the 14th, the first Water District Board meeting for the new Board. You can watch this meeting and other meetings by going to the meeting video page and clicking on the date (you can watch it live as it happens, and usually within 24 hours afterwards the video is posted on that page).

Probably the most interesting and controversial issue was the decision over the rules governing who could become chair of the Board (Item 13 on the agenda). I co-authored a memo along with Directors Lezotte and Gage that went in the complete opposite direction of a prior initiative to extend the time required before a Board member - we eliminated the experience requirement entirely, and our motion passed on a 4-3 vote. We also set a rotation system in place that continues the current planned rotation starting in 2012, with 2011 being a transition year that doesn't follow rotation and simply has an election.

I can see the advantage of experience and reasons for wanting to wait, but I disagree in that experience should be an absolute requirement that trumps all other reasons why someone should be chair. If a new director is in line to become chair, that director can choose to skip his or her turn.

Even though we ended up on different sides of the vote, I thought Director Estremera had some interesting statements on the issue, where he said what was being done was simply applying majority rule. Of course, that's always true - a majority determines the rules and can change the rules, and the system we think should happen in 2012 or later according to rotation, could be changed by a future majority of Board members if they chose.

Thinking more broadly about the question of how to select the chair, I think there are two perspectives that apply. One is that the chair is the leader of the Board of Directors, and therefore should be the person who has the support of the majority of the Board. Alternatively, the position of chair is a duty and right that comes from being from a Board member and should therefore be shared proportionately between members, just like committee memberships are shared proportionately.

I don't see a reason why one of those two perspectives is the clearly right one, but you have to make some kind of decision. What we did, in effect, is set up a single, transitional year where the first perspective of majority rule is in effect (2011), followed thereafter by a rotational system. Given the large number of new Board members and our desire to make a number of changes, I think it's an appropriate decision and the best one, and obviously that's the reason I supported it.

I understand the reasoning behind other systems though, like a pure majoritarian system that Director Estremera was proposing. While politics sometimes offers "clean" decisions of clearly right and wrong positions, I think other times it's a matter of each person using one's best judgment. I have no problem with Director Estremera's best judgment that happened to disagree with mine in this case, and I look forward to hearing his ideas on other issues that will come to the Board.


UPDATE: Probably worth mentioning that opinions expressed here are just my own - I'm not trying to express the official opinion of the Board, and the last word on any opinions of other Directors, like my recollection of Director Estremera's statements above, belongs to that Director.

UPDATE 2: Per Diana's excellent suggestion in the comments: the 4-3 vote had Schmidt, Lezotte, Gage, and Judge on one side, with Estremera, Santos, and Kwok on the other. I should say there were two votes, the first voting down a substitute motion by Director Estremera with the sides I've just mentioned, and the second supporting our own motion. One of the three votes against may have dropped out in the second vote - I just listened to the video and that seemed to be the case.


  1. Brian, congratulations again. I was so happy to be there to see you and Linda and Don Gage sworn in.

    I hope you continue to blog about your experiences and views. While the meetings are indeed available on video, I have never been able to jump to different spots in the video, and have had to watch hours' worth of meeting to see particular topics covered. Plus, the supporting documents and presentations posted before the meetings are huge, multi-MB pdfs that make it impossible to link to individual charts. While this is technically public disclosure, it's really only for the truly geeky. The personal viewpoint of an elected Board Member who is committed to informing the public would be so much more valuable.

    I'd also like to see you post the names when you talk about 4-3 votes, although in this case, I'm pretty sure I know who voted which way.

    The SCVWD Board has been a private sandbox for way too long. It's time to shine a lot more light on it.

    Thanks again!

    Diana Foss

  2. Thanks Diana! Have you used different computers/browsers to watch the videos? I'm successful some of the time when I try it.