Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Village Idiom

I saw a Facebook post from the Wilde Lake Community Association this afternoon.  Apparently, “the nomination period for the annual Wilde Lake Village Elections open today.”

Having served parts of two terms on the Wilde Lake Village Board (WLVB) let me fill you in on what to expect.  If you are considering running for such a position, this post is for you.

First, although many Columbia-based elected officials once served on a village board, it is not an elective governmental office such as the Howard County Council or the state legislature.  It is a “Community Association” which is essentially an over-sized Homeowners Association that has some facilities and runs some programming, which are executed/overseen by a handful of paid staff members (primarily a Village Manager) and a volunteer Board.  If you want a good handle on how they spend their time and resources, I strongly recommend attending village board meetings…or at least reading through the meeting minutes and agendas (most, if not all, of the Villages post these documents on their community association websites).

Think of it as a private organization that serves a quasi-public function in terms of putting on/sponsoring community events.  For the Wilde Lake Community Association (WLCA), for example, the mission statement speaks about how it was formed “to organize and operate a nonprofit civic organization, exclusively for the promotion of the health, common good, and social welfare of the owners of property in, and the residents of, the Village of Wilde Lake.”

That mission can cover a fair amount of ground, ranging from hosting village gatherings like the annual picnic held at Wilde Lake in the autumn to serving in an “enforcement” role regarding the “exterior appearance and maintenance of properties in the Village.”  The covenants…”learn (them), know (them), live (them).”

It has been my experience that at least 80% of Village residents don’t know/don’t care about goings-on at that level. This statement isn’t designed to fault them.  People are busy and they have other things happening in their lives.  And even with the close working relationship between the Columbia Association (CA) and the various village community associations, many area residents simply don’t have the time or energy to invest in finding out about what their local village board is up to, programming-wise. 

Case in point, in my first tour of duty, I had this idea called “Active Wilde Lake” that was intended to provide new opportunities for residents to engage with Board members to talk about village-related issues.  We had hundreds of fliers printed up, and I spent a fair number of hours walking door-to-door distributing them, particularly in neighborhoods that I thought were somewhat less likely to be wired into Village happenings, including Faulkner Ridge (my neighborhood) and Bryant Woods.   How many people participated?  Two.  At best, it was a modest success.

In my second term, I was tasked with expanding our Neighborhood Representative program, which basically involves getting local folks willing to serve as information conveyers regarding hyper-local issues and events.  So I called many of them to find out what works and what didn’t regarding How to Get Folks More Involved.  I also developed a survey instrument designed to obtain insights on Village priorities, etc… I recall having about five minutes to present the findings at the end of a particularly long Board meeting.  At the time, I was dealing with a new job that was demanding a great deal of my energy and my dad had recently passed.  I needed to simplify my life, so I left the Board.  Expanding the pool of Neighborhood Reps beyond the Regulars, from what I hear, remains an ongoing challenge.

So why get involved?  If you want to get more engaged in your local community, and have the time to dedicate to it (ideally at least a couple of hours per week, between the official Board meetings and activities connected to community programming or related events), then why not?  You will meet some interesting Columbia-folk and have a better handle on how the CA and villages operate. Is it for everyone?  No.  In my first term, I decided to visit some other village boards, to see how their meetings ran.  I saw some Boards that seemed quite well-aligned in terms of focus and general camaraderie (the Kings Contrivance Village Board being one example) and others…somewhat less so (no comment).  Will you hear odd questions?  Yes. In one meeting, someone needed clarification on how a parking garage works.

You have to have at least some commitment to the concept of community service.  Liking your neighbors helps.  If you are getting into it as part of some personal/political advancement scheme (I have seen this and it is painful to witness), people are going to figure that out quickly.

Hope this post helps.

In solidarity.

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