Ed Gurowitz: Comparing the IVGID board and U.S. Senate
March 14, 2013
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — I had occasion last week to sit down with a newcomer to Incline Village who wanted to discuss the local political landscape. This gentleman is no stranger to politics — he is a retired professor of International Relations at a major university, a position he took following a career in Washington, D.C., working in the Pentagon, the State Department and the Congress.
Our conversation was wide-ranging, covering everything from local to national issues, and we were both struck by what seemed to us to be parallels among those levels.
Take the gridlock in the Senate caused by the filibuster rules — most recently we saw Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) waste 13 hours of the Senate's time to no good purpose. He spent the time talking mostly about the issue of drones. Now this is an issue that deserves considered debate, but the context for Paul's semi-coherent rant was the President's nomination of James Brennan as CIA Director, and the sole purpose of it was to delay Brennan's confirmation which eventually passed 63-34 vote after a vote of 81-16 to end Paul's filibuster.
IVGID board meetings don't allow for the possibility of a filibuster as such, but we've seen again and again how one or a few individuals both on and off the board can bring the board's ability to transact the district's business to a grinding halt. Most recently, in the meeting week before last, two trustees' objection to the general manager's long-standing policy of copying the chair on any correspondence he has with trustees was the occasion for stopping the meeting for an hour amid insinuations of open meeting law violations and general nefarious skullduggery.
I'll grant that the GM's using blind copying (bcc) rather than open copying (cc) was an error of judgment, one that he was quick to apologize for. Notwithstanding that, the policy makes sense on a number of levels, not least of which is the GM's partnership with the board chair and the board's oft-avowed commitment to transparency.
The attorney who was present as the board's counsel did not offer any indication that this was a violation of Nevada's complex open meeting law, and the matter could have been put to rest in minutes with the GM's apology and a request that in future these communications be openly copied. Instead the conversation was contentious and often on the edge of belligerence — all in all another unprofessional performance by this board.
Legislative deliberations, from the Senate to the IVGID board are, by custom, polite to a fault. Often in the Senate we will hear one senator refer to another as "my friend" while excoriating that person in the most vitriolic terms. Proponents of this pretense of civility argue that it keeps things from getting personal, and I'm willing to allow that that might be true.
An unintended consequence of this custom, however, is that it mitigates against anyone openly pointing out that the emperor has no clothes or that something someone is saying is factually incorrect. It also makes it very difficult for leadership to keep things moving efficiently.
It's still early days for the 2013 board — in practice that means that inefficient and ineffective practices can still be nipped in the bud before they become ingrained and harder to change. Doing that, however, will take real leadership on the part of the chair and those trustees who have the courage not to be intimidated by those who aggressively push their point of view as if it were divinely inspired, whether that is the small, non-representative number of members of the public who have been working to cow the staff and trustees for several years now or it is another trustee who insists on his interests overriding those of the other trustees, the district, or the public.
Just as the Senate, tiring of Sen. Paul's nonsense, voted 81-16 to end his tirade, the chair and the other trustees need to speak up and intervene when one or two individuals try to dominate the conversation at the expense of getting real work done.
Ed Gurowitz has lived in Incline Village since 1995 and is active in the Democratic Party. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. His photograph is courtesy of Danielle Hankinson Photography.