The Art Jury Appointment Do-Over

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Five women and one man volunteered to replace terming off Art Juror Ken Markstein. At the regular December board meeting, Board President Bill Weber, after stating that all six were well qualified, appointed Sharam Sobhani, which immediately drew rebukes from directors Laurel Lemarié and Bill Strong.

Lemarié stated that proper process was not followed since the Board committee (comprised of Weber, Rick Sapp and Bill Strong) was supposed to present a list of nominees to the President, so Lemarié asked who were the other nominees? Weber declined to name them.

Due to pressure from both Lemarié and Strong after the meeting, it was discovered (by simply asking him) that while Sobhani owned Covenant property, he did not reside here.

There is a list of Art Juror qualifications as per a 2017 Board resolution. Applicants must reside in the Covenant (not just own property) at the time of nomination, must not have a new house construction or addition in front of the Art Jury, and must have attended at least one Art Jury meeting prior to being nominated.

Apprised of this, Weber rescinded his Art Jury appointment. At this point he could have selected one of the other five applicants. He chose not to, thinking that only two of the five remaining applicants were qualified according to the above criteria (the Covenant requires at least three candidates to be nominated for a single vacancy).  Weber instead called a special “open” Board meeting, with no proactive notice to the Association membership that took place a week after the regular December Board meeting. No one except Board members, staff and the Association lawyer attended since no one else knew about it.

At the meeting, Weber immediately introduced a motion to extend the Art Jury nomination process until January 31st. After almost an hour of discussions and arguments, the motion passed 4-3 with Comstock, Sapp (calling in from Spain), Gruzdowich, and Weber voting for. Directors Strong, Lemarié, and Kent wanted Weber to pick an Art Juror from the remaining five original volunteers, but were out voted.

Double Super Secret Art Jury Nominees

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let me tackle the subjects one by one. First, why the Art Jury nominee name secrecy?

Before 2019, the Board proposed Art Jury candidates to the Board President, from whom the President would appoint the Art Juror(s). This was documented in the minutes like so. 2017 minutes:

As you can see highlighted, nominees were documented. In the 2018 minutes, likewise:

Nominees were also documented in the 2016 minutes. A funny thing happened when Rick Sapp became Board President. No longer were we told who the Art Jury applicants were. 2019 minutes:

2020 minutes:

So what gives? The 2017 board resolution about Art Jury selection plainly states that nominees are given to the President during an open meeting, meaning not on some secret slip of paper – in an open meeting, ergo we, the membership, must be told who the nominees are as was done historically. Other than Sapp becoming President, and Gallagher and Weber following his lead, nothing has changed regarding this process.

In subsequent discussions with Weber, he said that he will abide by the 2017 resolution going forward and ensure the list of nominees is shared with the membership when he makes his Art Juror selection after January 31st.

The Applicants/Volunteers

Weber still won’t tell anyone who the nominees are so I did some sleuthing to find out. By long standing Association practice, the nominees should be known to all members, so here they are in alphabetical order: Alexandria Klipstein, Brie Bornstein, Janet McVeigh, Keli Wozniak, Sharam Sobhani, Sharon Ruhnau.

What jumped out to me from this list is that it contains a former Art Juror and a former Association Board member. That Weber didn’t select either one, twice, is interesting to say the least. In the special meeting, Sapp was heard to say “We need new blood on the Art Jury”. Sapp is in his sixth continuous year as a Board member, which normally have three year terms.

In talking with five of the six applicants, a few things became apparent.

First, the Association has fallen down on its job of communicating the basic eligibility requirements of Art Jurors. Some applicants were not in fact eligible based on the 2017 board resolution criteria. When I talked to them, these applicants had no idea they weren’t eligible since it never came up in interviews. In addition, some applicants didn’t know how time consuming the position was – essentially 3 or 4 full time days every three weeks, and requiring enough stamina to endure two full days reviewing highly technical documents.

Second, it seems some members of the current Board interview committee had other criteria they were using, like profession. In particular, they didn’t like real estate agents. Seems some Board members have an antipathy towards real estate agents when it comes to appointing Art Jurors. If that’s a strong bias, volunteers need to be told that – why waste everyone’s time.

Third, the meetings were intimidating. Many applicants weren’t told that they’d be meeting with no less than five people on the other side of the table firing questions at them (in addition to the three Board members, Art Jury President Bill Danola and Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki were on the interview committee). A few applicants reported interesting questions like “Do you have any problem saying no to someone?” or “Can you kill someone’s dream?”.

Fourth, no one had the courtesy to call all the applicants to tell them what is going on. At least two applicants had no idea a candidate selection had been made (and rescinded, and a new call for volunteers made…).

Fallout

Weber told me that he considers only two of the six applicants to be eligible to be selected as an Art Juror in the next go around based on the 2017 resolution criteria. He wouldn’t tell me which two. There was some confusion on Weber’s part about residency requirements, so Weber might not be correct here.

The lack of communication regarding this process is already having repercussions. Some applicants are “disgusted” by the whole process and one of them wrote a scathing and well researched memo to the Board complaining that Weber should have appointed an Art Juror out of the remaining five applicants.

One volunteer said she was disillusioned by the process, thinking she was helping the Association by volunteering and instead got a dismissive vibe in the interview.

All volunteers are worried about negative repercussions by having their names attached to this situation, with Sobhani in particular wanting it known that he has no hard feelings about what transpired.

Personally, I think this is a slap in the face of the five remaining applicants. I think Weber’s engineering mind is lacking a little bit of empathy here and not realizing how the five applicants take this new call for volunteers. It is perfectly natural to think that he doesn’t want to appoint any of the original five, his protestations notwithstanding.

Board, Heal Thyself

Weber is contrite in accepting responsibility for the several mistakes that were made in this process. But I can’t help but think how this situation is emblematic of wider issues on this and other recent Boards.

Recent Boards simply ignored provisions in their own 2017 resolution, when former Presidents Sapp and Gallagher didn’t inform us of nominees. Contrast that with the Art Jury which makes note of, and tries their best to follow, every single Board resolution that impacts them. One Board member commenting on this episode said the Board should compile a list of resolutions that affect themselves and make sure they are followed. Yes, that would be the responsible thing to do.

In general, the Association has been backsliding when it comes to accountability and transparency for the last five or so years. We went from a Board President actively looking into ways we could record Board meetings for members to replay at their leisure, to an edict that no member may ever record a Board meeting. Our Board minutes have devolved into single line comments on expansive and important items. Members are not emailed of upcoming hastily convened special meetings, resulting in no one knowing about them. I documented these and other failings in this article a couple of years ago which also discusses misuse of executive sessions, and secret and undocumented committees. Click here for a related poll on some of these issues.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not alleging any illegal secrecy. But there is wide gap between illegal secrecy and transparent/open governance that the Association has fallen into. We aren’t some public stock market corporation which collects shareholder strike suits like furniture collects pet hair. No one is suing the Association for minor transgressions. So being more open and transparent has no costs, yet delivers much membership benefit and dispels damaging speculation.