A Look in the Mirror

At our annual Board meeting on January 9, the Montecito Association Board of Directors broke with tradition: we neither proposed nor elected a new slate of officers for 2007, voting instead to defer these appointments until our new board decides whether to re-organize our committee structure.

We were asked afterwards whether this seemingly abrupt decision was influenced by the recent spate of criticisms leveled at our organization. The answer is a resounding NO! But, truthfully, freighted with a little yes as well.

Here’s the story. Our Board of Directors, like many boards, has an executive committee, or excom, working closely with the president to develop agendas and deal with sensitive issues, such as personnel and finance. Our excom is normally composed of board leadership and other directors with skill sets the president feels will complement the team. In August, certain excom members proposed we study an institutional reorganization, arguing that we lobbied for review of the Montecito Planning Commission and Montecito Board of Architectural Review after they left the Montecito Association and became County agencies, so why not review ourselves as well? Were we efficient? Sensitive to our membership? Responsive enough? Truly exercising our mission as conceived by our founders?

No, we recognized, we weren’t as ship-shape as we needed to be. A paradigm had shifted in the Montecito Association, and our role in the community had changed, albeit subtly without our historic architectural review and land use committees – forcing us to evolve into more an adversarial than a deliberative body; thus decades-old committee functions begged the question of viability; new technology was both a challenge and an opportunity; and how does all this affect our “brand awareness?” a sop to current lexicon, but never truer. Questions needed to be answered, because the same challenges facing Montecito in 1948 exist today.

By early November, the first iteration of a reorganized Association was presented in conceptual form to the board. It was well received, thus the excom sub-committee developing the new format was energized to fully realize the plan and present it for consideration at the December meeting. If approved, the reorganization would redefine organizational and committee leadership roles for 2007.

But abruptly and unexpectedly, we found ourselves party to a public controversy; our procedures, our decades-long relationship to public agencies and our district supervisor, our integrity, even the rules governing our board elections were questioned and criticized. Naturally we reacted, but whether by a newspaper editorial or letters to our membership, what transpired first was a great deal of discussion and reflection about the charges being leveled at us. In other words, though angry and embarrassed, we nonetheless took the accusations seriously: had we somehow, whether consciously or not, lost sight of the Association’s historic goal of preserving, protecting and enhancing the semi-rural residential character of Montecito? Were we unnecessarily complicating an already overly complex County planning and permitting process? Were we making personal, arbitrary land use decisions rather than basing our recommendations solely on the Montecito Community Plan? Had we become a hindrance, rather than a benefit to the community?

Our deliberations throughout November and December included former board leadership, and many other Montecitans. What we learned was that, yes, on occasion we’d been overzealous, overreaching and had at times overcomplicated the land use process. We further validated the idea of re-organization by discovery of organizational inefficiencies, and worse, our failure to better communicate who we are, what we do, and how the land use process in Santa Barbara County functions to our constituency.

In early January, our annual board election was held, and the Association membership elected new directors to take the seats vacated by Hugh Boss, Jean von Wittenburg, Harry Kolb and Susan Keller. An orientation was scheduled for the new members, and suddenly it was the second week in 2007 and the board had run out of time to fully discuss and ratify the proposed re-organization.

Which brings us back to the annual board meeting on January 9, and why the board neither proposed nor elected a new slate of officers. Though admittedly imperfect, we do listen. We hear the criticisms, we take being stewards of $6.5 billion worth of real estate seriously. Very seriously. And – though we believe we’re effective advocates for Montecito – we feel we can do a better job. The reorganization, should it happen, will be unveiled at our February 13 board meeting, where we’ll re-convene the January 9 meeting, conclude business, then the newly 2007 leadership will conduct business as usual, not the least of which will be the announcement of our (until now) confidential relationship with Caruso Affiliated, the new owners of the Miramar Hotel whom the Montecito Association will proudly introduce to the community at a special reception at the community hall on Friday, February 16, from 4 pm to 5:30 pm.

A lot is happening. And all for the good.