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05 September 2014

How may I serve you?

Institute Director Wolfe serves Director-Elect Janet Piccola
and member Betty Chavira at the Las Vegas Convention
At this year's annual meeting, CSI members will discuss a change in the way Institute directors are elected. I find the proposal interesting, as something similar was discussed by the Institute board in 2006, and probably before that. Briefly, the proposal would have all Institute directors elected by the entire membership, because directors are expected to act on behalf of the entire membership, rather than for the members of their regions.

I wrote about this issue in a Mr. Wolfe Goes to Washington articles in 2006. It was written before the passage of the governance amendment, so it talks of two directors per region, but the reasoning remains valid. I used yellow highlight to add emphasis that was not in the original article.

Election season is upon us, not just for public office, but for CSI offices, as well. Our elections won't take place for a couple of months, but across the country, CSI chapters are gathering to find new candidates to replace their retiring Institute directors. Despite the long history of this process, and the importance of electing members to our board of directors, I suspect most members don't know much about what their Institute directors do, or where they come from. I recall that I was a member for many years before someone explained the difference between a region director and an Institute director.

Each of CSI's ten regions has two Institute directors; each director serves a three-year term. One director from each region is a design professional; the other is an industry professional or an associate member. Each region holds elections for Institute directors in two consecutive years; there is no election in the third year.

This arrangement allows regions to elect one new Institute director at a time, thereby providing continuity that would not be possible if both directors were elected at the same time. It also provides an interesting rotation of representatives on the Institute's board of directors, with new people coming each year, and a continually evolving group of senior directors.

What does an Institute director do? According to CSI's Administrative References,
  • Institute directors are corporate directors of the Institute whose first priority is to establish Institute policy and to manage and control the affairs of the Institute. In this capacity, they serve the interests of all members of the Institute.
  • Institute directors are the managers and operating officers of their respective regions. They are responsible for administration of their regions and assistance to chapters within their regions. In this capacity, they serve the interest of the members of their regions. [This is no longer true.]
That's simple and straightforward; except for the additional region duties in the second paragraph, it sounds like the description of the duties of any member of any board of directors. Of course, reading only a few paragraphs further we find a long list of specific duties, but still, they are typical for the job.

Looking carefully at this short description, we can draw some interesting conclusions.
  • The Institute director's first responsibility is to the operation of the Institute's board of directors.
  • Institute directors do not represent their regions in the same way as members of the US Senate or House of Representatives; each director serves all members of the Institute.
  • Acting as officers of their regions, Institute directors serve all members of their regions.
As is the case with any board of directors, our Institute and region directors set policy, determine the course of the organization, and manage the budget. Because of this responsibility, members should not casually serve as directors, nor should regions take lightly their responsibility to nominate qualified members. For those who are interested, there are several references that explain the duties of the position: the Administrative References (on the Institute website), which include bylaws and policies; a summary of qualifications; a biography form; and a conflict of interest/confidentiality agreement.

In my first year on the Board, budget discussions have been less than uplifting. We all know the economy was on the decline even before 9/11, and the following years were hard on CSI at all levels. Membership fell, as did convention attendance and size; it doesn't take much imagination to understand the effect on income. The CSI show, once a primary source of income, is now close to a break-even event. In response, the Board and staff have taken sometimes drastic measures to control expenses, and have been working on new sources of income.

In general, I support the resolution, though I disagree with a couple of points. 

The resolution states, "the current process of election of individuals by only their region opens up the potential for a single large chapter in a region to overcome the otherwise collective voice of many other smaller chapters in a region to select the best and most qualified individuals." Presumably, the argument is that that would not happen if all members voted for all candidates. It is true that a single chapter can control the election in a region, but it also applies to at-large elections. A single large chapter, or a region acting in concert, could have the same effect on a national election, especially if voter turnout is low.

The recommendation to require a certain number of members of both genders is a common attempt to obtain different points of view, but it has two shortcomings. 
  • There is more to diversity than gender. We also have diversity of opinion that comes from what we do. Those we formerly called "industry members" may see things differently than those we formerly called "professional members", and contractors probably have a different opinion than owners. As written, the Institute bylaws are intentionally vague, leaving the nominating committee to "select candidates ... to ensure that the composition of the Board reflects the diversity of Institute membership." It is impossible for a board of directors to represent all members' perspectives, a challenge that will not be addressed by requiring a specific number of any group.
  • Quotas of any kind place a higher priority on attributes than on performance, potentially reducing the ability and effectiveness of the board. If the best candidates are all women, or all men, or all left-handed, so be it. At one time, almost all members of my own chapter's board were women. All were well-qualified, had experience, and executed their responsibilities with aplomb. Would we have been better served had we been required to have more men on the board?

It's up to the board to decide how to respond to the resolution, but it's up to the members to tell the board what it expects. Go to the convention, go to the annual meeting, and vote!

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