Ground Control to Major Tom


In this week’s Board meeting, two people stood up and gave impassioned speeches about topics that were very important to them. I’ve seen enough of these member input sessions to know that, pretty much universally, this is a very difficult thing for members to do. You’re speaking off the cuff, you have no idea how hostile your audience is, and you have a strong emotional connection to the issue. It’s probably the most stressful thing you would do all year. 

Members will only do this when they feel they’ve run out of other options, because why would you put yourself through that?

Here’s the thing: most of the impassioned member input speeches I’ve listened to could have been avoided if the member could have talked to a Director or two from the Association Board, Golf Club or Tennis Club. These directors typically know something about your issue, or if they don’t, can help you with it. And an exchange of information helps everyone. We are a good community and people generally become Directors because they like helping out.

But here’s the other thing: how the heck are you supposed to contact a Director? With the exception of the Golf Club, which publishes a directory with contact information for all members, including, of course, Golf Club Board directors (with the exception of Treasurer, Doug McEachern), contact information for Tennis and Association Board members is nowhere to be found. 

About two years ago, when researching some topic for an article, I wanted to talk to then Board president, Ken Markstein. I phoned the Association offices and asked for Ken’s contact info. The receptionist proceeded to grill me. “Why do you want to talk with him?”, “Can I tell him what it’s regarding?”, “I’ll get back to you…”. It was farcical. I never did get Ken’s contact information, but at least Ken called me back later that day. I now understand how reporters develop thick skin and pushy attitudes.

The Association’s answer to facilitating communications seems to be a general purpose email address. Director Rick Sapp showed me one day that emails sent to that address do in fact get circulated to Board members via a dropbox mechanism. And that’s nice, but it is no substitute for a conversation. Conversations usually diffuse hot button topics as well as clearing up misconceptions and providing knowledge that either party didn’t know they didn’t know.

Can We Talk?

Look, it isn’t a requirement that Directors talk with their club or Association members. If they want to cloister themselves and only opine during official Board meetings, that’s within their purview. But to bring this back to Board meeting member input sessions, I’ve observed that a lot of grief and consternation could be avoided if members had had the opportunity to discuss their issue with a Board member ahead of time. 

If the Association makes it easier for members to talk to Board members, would they get inundated? I doubt it. People generally have a keen sense of embarrassing themselves and are unlikely to make themselves look like a fool by complaining about some triviality. Members realize that Board members have busy lives and can’t devote a huge amount of time to Association business. But an offer for a coffee meet up might not be amiss nor a quick call alerting them to a impending issue. 

I don’t know what the right mechanism is to facilitate better communications. And, as I said, not all Board members may even want to talk to, well, you. But for those that do, it would be nice if there was some known way to contact them.


By the way, the headline refers to the song Space Oddity by David Bowie, partial lyrics below:

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead,
there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you….

Here am I floating
round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.