It may seem strange to start the conversation about the 2018 Kentlands Citizens Assembly (KCA) elections before the votes are cast in the 2017 version, but my experience over the last three years indicates it is very timely when the subject is the office of President.
Why? Because time moves on and the KCA must choose a new President in 2018 because of term limits: § 4-102 of our bylaws reads “A person may not serve more than two (2) consecutive terms as President” and I am now (almost) halfway through my second term.
Early interest can provide learning opportunities to augment those already offered by our many volunteer committees. My door (well, email and cell phone) is always open to interested Kentlanders who want to know more about the office over the next year. Our interaction could be as large or small as the interested party would like; anything from a short telephone call to some real work. While this would probably be of little or no help getting elected, it might help anyone interested in running become better informed when making a final decision to run and better prepared for doing the work, especially in the early days of his or her term, after a victory.
What would the process include? Again, as much or as little as a person wishes, but those interested enough to invest the necessary time, “toil, tears and sweat” could attend some of the many meetings involved. He or she could see how some of the work that’s done behind the scenes is accomplished and become familiar with the many other people who make Kentlands Kentlands — including professional staff and volunteers — and learn some of the rules of the road. It might even be possible to experience the joy of doing some of the work from time to time, so please reach out to me if you are interested or even just a little curious.
So what kinds of things can a curious person learn? An exhaustive list is impractical, but four things stand out.
First is the complicated context in which each presidency exists. No two are alike. Each person who holds the office brings her or his own viewpoint, skills, strengths and weaknesses to a position that, in my view, demands both continuity and a willingness to change with circumstances. Presidential terms, even for a small organization such as the KCA, do not begin with the proverbial clean slate. Things that are happening today are affected by, and sometimes the direct result of, events a day or week or month or year or decade in the past. A classic example of this is our Reserve Study, an exhaustive look at all of the land, buildings, structures, utilities and equipment that Kentlands owns and a 30-year financial plan to maintain and replace them. It takes some time to understand the larger picture of what is involved, and a bit of up-front involvement makes the transition from spectator to participant a lot easier.
Second, while the KCA may be a “small” organization, its work is complex and involves an occasionally bewildering combination of volunteers, professional staff and contractors who keep the pool safe and clean, remove our trash twice a week, clear the mews of snow, and meet our community’s and our neighbors’ proverbial “thousand and one” other needs. Understanding who is responsible, what is going on and why this is important takes time.
Third, while there is much work the President must do, little of it comes with a clearly defined scope or a “right way” of doing it. Learning on the job is certainly possible, but having an awareness of “where we are, and whither we are tending” from the (relatively) comfortable seat of an observer would make knowing “what to do, and how to do it” far easier later.
Finally, there is the part of the presidency that does have detailed instructions. The office is defined by the KCA’s founding documents including its bylaws and Community Charter, and it is constrained by a sometimes bewildering set of laws and regulations. Learning a bit about those rules in advance makes navigating them when doing the job a lot simpler.
In summary, someone who is interested and willing to spend some time can do much to prepare him- or herself to succeed at the very rewarding, challenging, occasionally frustrating, often joyous, and sometimes painful job of the KCA’s chief executive. There is no substitute for preparation and, since part of a successful presidency is, for me at least, having at least one well-prepared candidate to succeed me, it’s already time to offer the lessons-learned over the last three years to all of those who wish to begin preparing themselves for success as the KCA’s next President.