Another great board meeting last night. The Board may disagree on individual issues, but we get along very well and the meetings are productive, cordial and even a lot of laughing goes on. Here are my notes from the meeting. As always, if I am wrong about something, please correct me and always feel free to comment and add on if you were there or ask questions about things you want to know more about.
Executive Session: Most of the items we discussed were actually voted on in open session. Why do we discuss them in closed session then? We want to get advice from our attorneys about some things so we don't say or do something stupid in public. Or we might discuss how much we want to pay for something but not say so in public to tip off vendors as to what we're willing to do or not. I share with you everything I am allowed to share.
Architectural Review Appeal Hearings: We heard from two neighbors who were appealing decisions made by the Architectural Review Board. (By the way - we're accepting applications for the ARC so if you wish to serve let us know!) The first proposal to extend 25 feet into the slope and approve an outdoor inside bathroom (yes, that's what we have to call it) was deferred until Jan and Bob take a look at it. I am in support because (within reason) it's your property and you should be able to do what you want so long as it doesn't impact your neighbors and contributes to improving the property values by making the area look good. Others think that decaying barns and weed strewn hills are "natural" and "equestrian" and shouldn't be touched. We agree to disagree on this.
The second appeal was denied. Because we are involved in a lawsuit with this property owner I will refrain from commenting further. Lawyers and all that you know...
I understand that some residents feel intimidated to speak at the open forum now because I am reporting what they say here in the blog. They feel it is negative, especially when I comment on their comments. I'm sorry they feel that way. But I think it is important for everyone to hear what they are saying especially when they propose that all of us subsidize the Equestrian Center because they don't want to pay the real costs involved. Everyone should know that we are being asked to bear the costs of people with million dollar homes, who pay tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on horses and all the related costs but can't afford to pay to maintain and improve the Equestrian Center and the arenas. What's more galling about this is that many (most?) of the boarders we'd subsidize aren't even residents! Ok, enough haranguing of the "Desperate Horsewives." They are all very nice people who mean well, they are good neighbors who done wonderful things for the community. We just happen to fundamentally disagree over who should pay for the equestrian center, that's all.
Gail Croul - Gail is suggesting we bring in a yoga and Pilate's teacher to give classes down in the equestrian center. She provided background on the teacher and suggested this would be another means of helping to bring in revenue to pay for the Equestrian Center and to help bring together equestrians and non-equestrians. I agree and hope she is successful. Look for announcements in the Pony Express.
Mike Bland - Mike spoke about the speed limit problem. (The City Council is being forced to raise the speed limit in parts of Nellie Gail where there are no homes, but are horse crossings and parks). He and others are seeking creative ways to get exemptions that take into account the special conditions. Marlene Sandler has also been working on this and we have asked staff and these neighbors to keep us apprised. Three of the City Council members live in Nellie Gail, we thought we could depend on them to help track these issues and watch out for our concerns. Where are you guys?
Side note - Mike and his wife Jean are very involved in the effort to get a pro-humane shelter in Laguna Hills. I'm asking them to provide me with some material for the blog for those who want to get involved. There are some on the City Council who have been less than helpful shall we say on this issue. If you saw the recent newsletter from Laguna Hills please be aware they don't present the full or accurate picture... Their numbers of animals turned in includes dead animals including over 100 dead birds and possums...
Tom Epperson - echoed the concerns about speeding but also noted that Nellie Gail changed its meetings to the same night as the City Council. We fixed that last night and are moving our meetings to the third Wednesday of the month for now. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
Business Meeting: we approved the minutes and the reports from the Tennis and Swim centers. (You're thrilled to know that, i can tell...)
A. Annual Meeting - we're starting to plan for the annual meeting where we approve bylaw changes and elect officers. We are drafting new election rules this year to address things like ensuring that the deadline for filing is really a deadline and not allowing candidates to apply afterwards like last year. And make it crystal clear that using the Pony Express to campaign for candidates is against the law (ahem, Jan....) An attempt to change the quorum to 25 down from 50% was turned down last month so we still have to churn out the voters. (We've only met quorum once ever and that was last year. So why we didn't change it I'll never know....)
In addition we're considering and will vote on next month five different proposed bylaw changes to put to the residents to approve. Those are:
1) Staggered terms - We will change the terms to two year terms and stagger them so that not all of the board is up for election every year. This year, if approved, the top three vote getters will get 2 year terms and the 4th and 5th top vote getters will get a one year term. Then every election that follows will be for two year terms. Got that?
2) Term Limits - We will propose term limits for Board members to ensure that sheer apathy or use of proxies doesn't ensure that we allow someone to serve past their logical expiration date.
3) Elimination of Cumulative Voting - Cumulative voting means that if there are five slots open and you have five votes you can give all five votes to one person. Most elections in the real world are one vote for one candidate. This bylaw change would eliminate cumulative voting in favor of one vote for each candidate.
4) Elimination of Proxies - Proxies allow candidates to go to neighbors and say "Allow me to decide who needs all five of your votes so we can continue to control the Board." The original intent was to be like absentee balloting saving you from having to attend a boring meeting. But it has become a way (combined with cumulative voting) to allow one small active group to thwart the wishes of the broader community. eliminating proxies and cumulative voting will make our elections like those for any other election while still allowing you the comfort of voting from home.
5) Vacancies in office - The lawyers are proposing some changes to how we fill vacancies. We will get details later.
Now, of course I have my obvious bias on these. There are pro and con arguments, but since the Association decided not to keep Minutes that would reflect all the information at a Board meeting I take the positon that if I am doing the work I deserve to use the platform my own way. ; ) Perhaps this will encourage the Association and the other Board members who oppose these to post heir own arguments or the pros and cons of each as provided by the attorneys. To be fair, if they provide me something in soft copy to cut and paste I will happily post those here for everyone.
B. Budget - It's budget time. Now e get down to the nitty gritty of things. Does the Equestrian center really pay for itself? How do we fund all of these pay increases and benefit increases we've approved (including giving more money from the Association funds to subsidize Louis staff at the pool since he won't pay enough to them himself). we will also look at those contracts to see if we can't get a better deal out of the people running their businesses out of our association facilities where we pay all of the costs such as maintenance while they simply give us 5-6% of the gross. (Really, that's the deal we have...)
We will hold budget workshops in March which will be announced.
C. Change in Board Meeting Schedule - As noted above we changed it.
D. Web site - Glory be we will hopefully start tackling the web site. it's an embarrassment at best. It makes it look like Nellie Gail shut down around February of last year. As one example of the quality, under Hot Links in the Vacation folder we have one link - it's a map of Honolulu it says, but it takes you to a broken link in Mapquest. Try the search engine and enter "equestrian." You find a notice of a special board meeting and a list of links to neighbors in the online address book. So sad. But i am working with Glenn to get the company to change what we can for now and with luck we can get some budget funding to toss it and get a better web site. if any of you have background or ability and are willing to help improve this, let me know!
E. Conditional Use Permit (CUP) - We have to get our CUP amended because we are out of compliance with local and county agencies for having more stalls at the equestrian center than we should. Yes, it should never have happened, but let's move forward. It is going to cost up about $14,000 to get in compliance so while we have the hood up we're looking at getting approval for any other changes we might want to make down the road. We will hold a public workshop, so if your dream was to get a karaoke bar built at the Clubhouse now's the time to speak up. What we approved last night was $5200 for architectural drawings that will be required for the City in the process. We could try to do them ourselves but run the risk of them being incomplete or done wrong and that could cost us more in time and money. One unnamed board member was complaining about having to pay this money. I couldn't help put tell this person that this is what residents go through from our own ARC and Board when they want to make simple changes and the ARC insults their drawings or are forced to get professional drawings. I love it when governmental bodies get a taste of their own medicine. It would be my fantasy that this would make them more reasonable in their demands of our own neighbors but I'm not holding my breath...
Also, some have asked to see a copy of the CUP. It was last filed in 1996 when the barn was put in. And the county or the city has lost it. Our government in action. I am happy to share with anyone a copy of the materials I was given by the GM. (Those that the Board agreed to release which was everything but a letter from our attorney).
F. Mickey Hayden Contract to Manage the Equestrian Center:
Motion to Approve made by Bob and Seconded by Jan. Measure passed 3-1. I opposed this.
My view was that he has a conflict of interest because he is to be the referee on conflicts between residents and trainers. so the guy in the conflict is the referee to resolve them? That's a recipe for disaster. And we've seen from the other centers that these folks push their costs for their business onto the Association. And Mickey will decide if and when we need more/different jumper trainers. Gee, isn't Mickey the jumper trainer at the center?
People say Mickey is honorable, dependable, trustworthy and a great guy. I don't know him so I'll take people at their word. But, Mickey won't be there all the time and he is hiring someone else to do most of the job. The woman's name is Linda and gets high marks from others. So maybe it will all work out after all. I will hope for the best and support this now that it's been voted. This is a test case for seven months so we will see and re-evaluate then. Also, we have a 30 day cancellation clause if this is a total disaster.
G. Cell Phone Tower Proposal: We had a company approach us to buy a permanent easement for the cell phone tower. The amount offered would not have generated enough interest income to replace the revenue we get from the lease. So the offer was rejected. (I'm glad. I've opposed this from the beginning for this very reason).
H. Reserve Study Proposal: Glenn (and Mickey) determined that our reserves don't accurately account for the real costs such as the arena bases. The reserves call for footing (which is really a maintenance item not a capital item) but not for bases and other costs. So we approved a contract for a company to review and improve our reserve study. We took the cheapest option because law requires us to do a full reserve study every three years. But to do the budget this year we have to have a better idea of what we need to budget reserves, especially the equestrian center.
GENERAL MANAGER'S REPORT
A. The proposed rule change on the middle arena schedule will be sent out soon. (By the way, I asked why we didn't have to send out a notice for a change as big as turning the equestrian center over to an outside vendor to manage, but the attorneys say that this issue isn't covered by the law that way... go figure....)
B. Pony Express - Glenn is looking to improve the look and content of it and make it more informational including things like public safety columns form the sheriff and fire departments.
Jan asked when Lt. Doan will come give us a talk about crime stats and the like. It was going to be in February. We are looking to schedule that after the budget season is over.
C. Fred (our attorney) said there is a new state law that limits the Board discussing or even really mentioning any item not on the agenda. The intent of the law was to avoid the Board bringing up an issue, having most of the discussion and then holding the vote the next month to technically be in compliance while having the effect of not letting residents who want to hear the discussion from being present for it. So now we have to send Glenn an e-mail, he can look into it and if he can address it he can respond to all of us. If not then we have to wait until the next Board meeting where we will no doubt have questions Glenn can't answer delaying the issue for another month. Thanks Sacramento!!!!
D. Laguna Hills is finally going to do the landscaping improvements that Nellie Gail Ranch has asked for for years. Apparently residents think weed strewn unlandscaped "open spaces" are ideal for us in Nellie Gail; but not good on Oso Parkway...
E. The Code of Conduct and Ethics was presented as a draft for us to vote on next meeting. I asked that it be posted on the web site and sent by e-mail to everyone along with the missing turtle notices. I'm told that Jan doesn't like the proposed code of ethics because one provision says that Board members shouldn't develop personal relationships with staff and vendors. There were two reasons I put this in: 1) An exit interview with one staff member found that most of the staff think the biggest problem in Nellie Gail is Board members getting involved with and favoring certain staff members. These staff feel that they can go around the GM to the Board when they are unhappy causing an undermining of authority. 2) The military and many large companies have similar policies to avoid situations where liability can be a concern such as sexual harassment, discrimination and other potential lawsuits. Also, vendors who may be competing for contracts (and some day we might actually do more of that) might view close personal relationships as a conflict of interest leading to lawsuits of unfair business dealings if the winning personal friend vendor might have gotten preference or an unfair advantage such as inside information on the bids of others. No one is saying that this is happening now, and the current board might be pure driven snow, but future board members might need this "guidance" shall we say. Please let the Board know you think it is time we adopted a strong code of conduct and ethics!
F. Policy for Charging Trainers and Clinicians - Jan Curtis brought this issue up last month asking that we develop a new policy because we didn't seem to have one in her opinion. I got saddled with this but decided to be a good sport. I asked Jan for every old policy, background, document etc. She told me there wasn't much but would get me what she could. I held a meeting in my home, posted a draft on the blog, circulated it to a wide swath of residents for comment. I got many good notes and feedback from many of them. Last night when this was brought up as a draft noting that we will vote on it next month, Jan piped up to ask for the copy of the old policy. When Glenn noted that he might not have one or an indication which is the current, Jan noted that she did and would get it to him and the Board "as an alternate policy." So I'm thinking, you said there was no policy, you didn't have anything -- now you not only have the old policy you want it to be the alternate to the policy that you yourself asked for at the last Board meeting?!?! I was ready to go off on her right there. But then I realized that once you get to be of a certain age, it is easier to get confused. She might not even remember that it was her who asked for a new policy in the first place so I guess we need to be understanding and more patient. She has told others this is her last year on the Board and after 17 years we should allow her some dignity and indulgence. But we need to check first in future before we grant some of her requests. I have to say this makes me nervous about a whole lot of other information and background she's shared with us which we used as the basis for some of our decisions. If she was this confused about this policy.... Perhaps some of the other long time residents can help create an archive of written documents for historical purposes so we aren't dependent upon memories of our well meaning elder residents when deciding such important issues. Jan is a wonderful long time resident who has done much good over the years. We revere her contributions, but we need to be pragmatic about how much we can depend on her and prepare for a new generation of those who will carry on her work and legacy once she is gone.