I know it’s a little silly to discuss elected officials in a column I have to write before the election that won’t be printed until after it, but here goes:
I’ve been reading a lot about this educational seminar in Reno, Nev., which several Park District commissioners and staff attended. I’ve read the letters on both sides of the issue. I agree that those who serve on a volunteer board need training.
It is not required to have a college degree or even any experience in government or board governance to be elected. In fact, a crash course in Robert’s Rules of Order is not even required. I serve on a volunteer board of directors myself, and there are many times we have had to explain how things work.
Whenever we embark on some new mission, like strategic planning, we talk about how we will figure out how to do things right. Government is even more complicated. Property taxes in Cook County are not easy to understand. Tax caps make it even more
That being said, any organization in which money is tight, or money is supposed to be spent for the public good, has to be frugal.
Even at my last full-time job (at a company that was quite profitable) we were only allowed to attend conferences within driving distance. As many as four people could attend, as long as we could all fit in one car, and the gender mix was such that we only needed two hotel rooms: one for men and one for women.
The board on which I serve now, Camp Fire USA’s Metropolitan Chicago Council, is filled with people from many different careers. We have students, accountants and full-time moms. Not one of them majored in social work or not-for-profit management. We use various strategies to keep ourselves abreast of the latest in not-for-profit strategies.
We have asked experts to donate their time by speaking to our board. We do pay a fee to our National agency, and they provide some staff to help us, so we invest real money that way.
We are very careful, though: Our executive director needed to learn a new technique for working with community partners. She planned to fly to Minneapolis to learn it, so we discussed her trip at a board meeting. It turned out that one of our generous board members had racked up quite a few frequent-flyer miles from business travel, and he donated those so our director’s airfare would cost our council nothing.
There is also a very popular fundraising model we all wanted to learn, but the materials cost money. Instead of purchasing them for everyone, we waited until the founders of the model announced a free workshop in Chicago. We are going to attend that instead.
There are better-government organizations in Illinois, and I’m sure they would be happy to educate newly elected people about their jobs.
I’m sure there are books and Web sites to help Park District commissioners. I’m certain they benefited from the training in Reno. But would it have been possible to send one or two members, and then hold a retreat or meeting where they presented their notes to the others?
I am all for education. I am in favor of people knowing what they are doing when they are spending my tax dollars. I am just not in favor of people having fun while spending my tax dollars. Elected office is supposed to be a public service.