John Volz: What constitutes an effective board of directors?
Over the past few months, I’ve written opinion pieces that generally address what many perceive to be the Nevada Irrigation District’s shortcomings.
For the most part I have focused on the issues, not on solutions or a vision for the future. Solving problems and creating change start with an organization’s board of directors. Accordingly, I think it’s time to address what an effective NID board of directors should look like (incidentally, the principles I’m suggesting are applicable to all public agency boards, not just NID’s).
The areas of focus of an effective board generally fall into four categories:
Set the organization’s strategic direction
The primary responsibility of an effective board is to establish strategic goals and objectives, to make and approve policy within that strategic framework, to work together to assure that policies are followed, and to advocate for the organization within the established framework. Policy is not always complex: a board must have policies related to such seemingly simple things as approving the purchase of materials and vehicles. But other policy-related issues, such as property acquisition, environmental impact, and citizen grievances, can be much more complex. If a board has a well-established policy framework, however, decision-making about all issues, both simple and complex, becomes much easier.
Establish, support effective management and board conduct
The board is responsible for supporting and reviewing the general manager’s performance in accordance with established direction and policy, as well as for promoting and funding professional development for staff. As part of a team, board members cannot act independently; they must consider group dynamics while respecting the viewpoints of individual members.
All individual board members are responsible for the overall board’s conduct, behavior, and professionalism.
Hold the organization accountable to its constituents
Board members must represent and be responsive to the interests and concerns of the constituents who voted them into office — including overseeing the provision of essential services and assuring financial accountability. It is critical that the community perceive the organization as conducting its business responsibly and effectively. A responsive board treats all community members with respect and dignity, even in the face of conflict or criticism. Rather than view conflict and differences as trouble, the board should use these as an opportunity to search for common ground that leads to solutions. When it comes to the community, the board should maintain a no secrets/no surprises approach to operations.
Serve as leaders who look out for the interests of their community
Board members should be the voice of their community. One of the key benefits of having a local district is local control. For example, the NID board has the opportunity to set precedent for new ways of thinking about conservation, current infrastructure, and future infrastructure. It must be vigilant and cautious when considering alliances with outside interests.
To best serve our community going forward, the NID board should focus on protecting our watershed, providing water and infrastructure for its citizens, maintaining water rights, and acting as stewards of the environment.
John Volz is a candidate for the NID Division 2 Board of Directors. He lives in Chicago Park.
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