The OCA Board
Posted On November 28, 2003
This is an updated version of an article I wrote about the Board a year ago. It's the club's annual election season again, so this is a good time to revisit this topic, especially if it encourages members to run for office, or just to get more involved with the operation of the club.
"The Board" is something that people hear mentioned a lot but often don't know much about. Since "the Board" has been a major part of my life in the club for the last three years, and has added to my overall club experience in ways I never anticipated, it seems only fair to share this very interesting body with the rest of you. This article is mostly based on my own observations, but I would like to thank my fellow board members, particularly Bob Buchheim, Tim Hogle and Russ Sipe, for their very helpful comments and additions when the article was first put together.
What exactly is the OCA Board?
Though most people aren't this direct, over the time I've been on the Board people have asked me questions about it that boil down to this, or made comments showing they have a lot of misconceptions about what the Board is and how it works.
Have you ever wondered who Orange County Astronomers belongs to? The answer is: the members, and nobody. As a non-profit corporation, we don't have stockholders and we don't have an "owner." We members are a group bound together by our interest in astronomy. In order to promote that interest, we as the club have acquired assets (such as the Anza property), incurred expenses (such as buying books to keep our Library up to date), and made commitments (such as the insurance required by our permit for use of the Black Star Canyon site). The Board of Trustees - members elected by the membership - is the governing body of the club. It has primary responsibility for managing club assets, and for ensuring that any expenses incurred or commitments made are in the best interests of the membership.
If you check the back of any issue of the Sirius Astronomer, you will see the then Board members listed - there are four officers (President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary) and seven Trustees. Any member in good standing who has been in the club for at least a year can run for a Trustee position, and any member who's been a Trustee for a year (any year) can run for President or Vice President. The officers for 2003 have been: Barbara Toy, President; Joel Harris, Vice President; Charlie Oostdyk, Treasurer; and Bruce Crowe, Secretary. The 2003 Trustees have been Bob Buchheim, Tim Hogle, Tony Obra, Gary Schones, Russell Sipe, Dave Radosevich, and Liam Kennedy (now retired from that position). You can email the entire Board at once by using the address email@example.com .
Board terms are one year, and nominations for the next year's Board open at the November general meeting and close at the end of the December general meeting. They can be made at these two meetings or by email to the Board between the November and December meetings. Voting can be done by snail mail (ballots will be available on the website, and will also be sent with the January Sirius Astronomer), or at the general meeting on January 9, 2004.
So, what does the Board do?
The Board decides club policies and procedures, deals with problems facing the club, and deals with funding, monitoring and assisting various club projects. A lot of our work is very practical, such as organizing clean-up days at Anza, getting septic tanks pumped, arranging for the storage container by the club observatory, dealing with delivery problems with the Sirius Astronomer, figuring out how to fill positions that have been left vacant (such as the editor of the Sirius Astronomer, the Anza House Coordinator, the Loaner Scope Coordinator and the website management , to list some recent examples), and other day-to-day business that keeps the club functioning. We also have to approve (and usually fund) any significant project done in the club's name, so we get a ringside seat for most of what goes on here, such as the Anza broadband project, the AstroImage conferences, the building of the MOCAT observatory, and repairs and modifications to the Kuhn. And the Board itself initiates projects as needed, such as the current effort to develop a comprehensive site plan for the Anza site.
And how do things actually get done?
Realistically, the Board as a body can only obtain information, discuss issues, decide between alternatives, authorize action and allocate funds. We use email a lot between meetings to discuss issues and share information, but actual decisions are generally made only at formal Board meetings, as any action without meeting needs unanimous approval by all Board members. The formal meetings are set every other month, beginning in January. We sometimes have to call an emergency session, such as when the Kuhn broke down a year ago, or a special workshop session, such as when we met to go over the results of the survey we did in 2001. Members can attend any Board meeting except executive sessions (which are very rare), but, since they are held in private facilities, anyone who wants to attend needs to let the President know in advance.
The way things actually get done is that whoever is authorized by the Board does them. These can be the club members who bring a specific proposal to the Board for approval, or members who agree to take responsibility for a project that the club needs to accomplish. An example of a project being presented to the Board is the AstroImage 2002 Organizing Committee and its proposal for a very ambitious - and, as we saw that following August, very successful - conference. Once it was authorized, the committee members themselves did the work to put the conference together, periodically reporting back to the Board on the status. An example of members agreeing to take responsibility for a necessary project is the refurbishment of the Kuhn telescope's drive system. Dave Radosevich and John Hoot had the necessary expertise, and at the request of the Board agreed to take on this critical project.
But, by necessity, we have a "working" Board; most often the people who do the actual work are Board members who understand a particular need, and are willing to put in the special effort needed to meet it. Gary Schones, for example, got us the much-needed storage container near the club observatory, arranged for its installation, and even built shelves inside it, which then allowed us to clear out the observatory warming room and observation area and make the observatory much more usable As another example, Liam Kennedy got the Anza weather station and WeatherCam working after the project was dormant for several years, and - a separate project - he located a provider and negotiated the contract for broadband Internet access at Anza.
What about those stories of battling factions on the Board?
Fortunately, that is ancient history, though there are a lot of people who remember more contentious times. To help keep meetings more orderly, Russell Sipe, while he was president, instituted such things as regular use of Robert's Rules of Order and a more businesslike focus, and that has continued in subsequent presidencies. As one result, Board interactions in recent years, and certainly in the three years I've been on it, have been characterized by a high level of courtesy and professionalism, and by a general focus on issues more than personalities. That doesn't mean we don't have differences of opinion - we do, and there have been some pretty hot arguments on occasion. One of the Board's real strengths throughout the time I've been on it is the wide range of backgrounds and expertise represented among the Board members, and, not too surprisingly, we don't always see eye to eye on the issues we consider. The resulting discussions usually give us all a more complete understanding of the issues in dispute, so we can reach a better overall decision. Interestingly, even where people start out with very different views on an issue, we almost always reach a consensus by the time the issue is put to a vote, and most of our decisions have been unanimous or close to it.
Do the meetings run really late?
It's true that meetings at times are long (though far from boring), especially if we have a lot of member presentations on top of a full agenda, or if we have several complex or controversial issues that need a lot of discussion. We need to give each issue the attention it deserves, and sometimes that simply takes time. We try not to waste much time, and I have tried to follow Liam's practice of setting a target ending time and monitoring how much time is taken on individual issues, which helps keep the meetings focused and moving faster. We also moved the meetings up an hour, so they start at 5:30 p.m. now, to make it easier to finish at a reasonable hour. The meetings are usually on Sunday evenings, and most of us have to go to work the next morning, so we have incentive to finish up and get home to bed. The current aim is to finish by around 9:30 - but it's amazing how fast that time goes by!
Do you have to be part of the "inner circle" of the club to get on the Board?