Cambrian: Opinion

Cambria CSD board needs better yardstick in evaluating general manager

Amanda Rice
Amanda Rice

Cambria must commit to some epic building and development. We must build a genuine communication infrastructure and develop community trust through real accountability. We must build this together, as neighbors, in an environment of transparency and respect.

We must also address the longer-range vision for Cambria and how we get there from here. Right now there is antagonism and stubbornness where instead authentic dialogue should be nurtured. Instead of clearly and consistently communicating a vision for our community, the Cambria Community Services District board has failed to have the discussion, even among its members, about how this general manager and board will protect and enhance our town. So it makes some sense that smart folks use a seemingly random set of district actions to judge how we are doing. The facts sometimes seem intentionally cherry-picked, sometimes the result of incomplete or out-of-date information.

For me, the best perk of being a director is people voluntarily approaching me wanting to talk water, fire, focus or local politics more generally. They sometimes approach apologetically, not wanting to “bother” me. (You never “bother” me.) I like hearing the insights, complaints, suggestions and, especially, the creative solutions. Cambria’s issues are simple, but they have gotten tangled around our many conflicting policies and authorities.

The loudest concerns now echoing in off our forested hills are about our general manager — the only employee the board is responsible for hiring (other than the auditor). I am not alone in my frustration about board President Gail Robinette pulling the GM’s proposed contract from the agenda shortly before the April meeting. What better time to have the conversation about what we should expect from him? That is what public meetings are for. Dialogue, deliberation and decision-making.

A contract, like a bridge, should connect the reasonable demands on each side. The deliberations must include more than his compensation, they must identify what we expect in exchange. It is about the work he will do, not his work in the past. We must be clear as to how we will measure his success and what the consequences are for both success and failure.

For me, that is the only real discussion of value at this point: What’s our yardstick? One measure is grounded in a general job description. But the contract contains only vague performance measures. There is no specific basis for ending the agreement without significant costs to the district. There is no cost to the GM for leaving and no incentive for improving his performance, certifications or licensing. It fails in almost every way to protect the district and reward good performance.

Directors’ most important role

Our most important role as directors is ensuring our public resources are being well-managed consistently with board direction. The board does evaluate the GM annually. In closed session. Outside of public scrutiny or praise. You are left to assume all is well, based on the only evidence we give: an increase to his compensation with no clear return on that investment.

It is unfair to measure a GM’s value on the success or failure of the board’s policies. Ultimately, the success or failure of policies rests with the board, the community and other factors outside of his control. Instead, the general manager must be evaluated on how well he is managing our diverse resources — environmental, human and fiscal. We must measure his performance within the context of the bigger picture and best industry practices.

▪  Is he exhibiting the skills, knowledge and experience required of a successful general manager, without respect to time or place?

▪  Is he adapting as needed to better serve this particular community?

▪  What does our asset management plan look like?

▪  Is the budget structurally balanced?

▪  What plans for succession and staff training exist?

▪  What policy deficiencies has he brought to the board to address?

▪  Can we meet the minimum requirements for grants and low-interest loans?

▪  Is he building relationships and clearly communicating successes, progress, needs and deficiencies?

And for the board’s part, we must be builders of community vision and dialogue, committed to developing a district that will protect our village and ensure the resilience of our shared infrastructure. We must continue to demand better, constantly watching, listening and evaluating along the way. Or face replacement when you vote in November.

Amanda Rice writes online at Contact her at 805-909-0814 or directorRice.ccsd