The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Op-Ed: Cronyism Returns to the RSFA

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Last week's monthly Board meeting proved the old adage "one step forward, two steps back." While the vote for the RSF Connect project was celebrated as a victory, the Board's predictable appointment of one of their own to fill my Board seat is an epic failure for governance. So much for "progress." 

When our family moved to Solana Beach, per the Covenant bylaws, I was required to resign.  Unfortunately, this left zero voice on the Board for the most underrepresented demographic in the ranch -- families with children in the home.  While approximately one third of our members fall into this segment, and, in fact, a majority if children are counted, not one is now on the Board.  This shocking lack of diversity permeates the Covenant’s other committees and boards as well. 

Like-minded Retirees

Following my resignation, I was contacted by several Board members who asked me to suggest members from the younger demographic who might be interested in serving.  My prior experience led me to be skeptical of their sincerity, as they have repeatedly rejected extremely qualified younger members in favor of like-minded retirees like themselves.   In an email response to the RSFA President's request that I assist in nominating someone, I wrote:

"My generation is keenly aware of the demographics and voting patterns of the Board and community.  The sad reality is the younger generation has little voice..."

Only after receiving assurances from several Board members of their genuine interest did I undertake an effort to enlist a young person. Most all those I reached out to said, in effect, “no way.” I wasn’t at all surprised. But finally I found someone who was extremely well qualified who agreed to contribute his time.

Stanford graduate, very successful financial adviser, active in the community as a youth coach and chair of the RSF Community Center Finance Committee, three kids in the RSF school - a perfect representative from an extremely underrepresented group. Plus, an active member in the Golf Club, now seemingly a requirement to serve on the Board.

So whom did the Board select? Another retired 70+ year old male Golf Club member, cementing the insularity and complete lack of diversity that has been the hallmark of the RSFA for far too long.

Pay Up and Shut Up

The new Board now is comprised solely by Golf Club members, two of whom are former presidents of the GC and one of whom is married to the current Golf Club president, unprecedented in RSF history as far as I can tell. Fewer than 25% of households are golf members, and fewer than 15% of new owners in the past 5 years have joined the club. Also, it has now been nearly two years where we have had only one woman on the Board, even though many have volunteered, including two in this latest appointment process. Pathetic.

Once again, the RSFA has silenced the younger demographic in the community, and no doubt that silence will continue, as the RSFA has again sent a message loud and clear: “Don’t bother to volunteer if you are not just like us, we pay only lip service to caring about what the younger generation thinks.”

While they profess to want a vibrant, welcoming, community, it seems like they want us to pay up and shut up, enlisting only retired senior citizens to serve on the Board who will toe the party line. Talk about taxation without representation. We pay our Covenant dues like everyone else, and, yet, have no voice. It doesn't take Nostradamus to predict this will be extremely counterproductive for the older community in the long run.

Harvey Weinstein's Hollywood secret was better kept than the Ranch's elephant in the living room, namely the Golf Club's long-term decline in revenue and membership. Perhaps it can keep on pretending it's not desperate for funds and new members when it has all of our dues to prop it up. But even though the Board knows all too well that the Golf Club can only be revived by attracting younger members, what does it do? Offends and rejects a prominent supporter in the younger Golf-Club crowd -- an act that has not and will not go unnoticed.

Young Families and Children Not Welcome

Unfortunately, this demonstrates for the umpteenth time the Covenant is not a place that is welcoming to young families and children.

Surely the Board will justify its decision by metaphorically patting us all on the head and running us along with unfounded explanations, like younger members with kids and a career don't have time to do "the work" required. But we all know that this is simply a rationalization for certain Board members' desires to micromanage our very professional and hard-working staff -- the ones who are paid and perfectly capable to do the work. Helicopter bossing and breathing down the necks of Association employees is not the Board's role. But if you pack a Board with retired folks who have little else to do, that's what you get. No doubt additional fallout will be losing good staff, as few true professionals will work long term under such conditions.      

The Board had a choice between Elon Musk and Jack Welch. While both are extremely accomplished executives, Jack has lots of free time and Elon is extraordinarily busy. While we already have a majority of Board members like Jack, the skill set and insights of Elon are unique and far more relevant in the modern world. Nevertheless, what should have been a serious assessment of what this new appointment could have brought to the table predictably turned into a high school popularity contest: Because the Board socializes in the same circles with Jack, and Jack is in the same age group as the Board, and Jack belongs to the Golf Club, Jack's the winner. What a joke.       

The Board's process here is a slap in the face to every young family in the community and a giant setback for our governance. If this were a public corporate board, the lack of diversity would cause an outcry from stakeholders. All Covenant members – old and young – have a personal and financial stake in this community. All of us are shareholders, and all of us should be represented on the Board.

This is not leadership, it's cronyism.

Mike Licosati
RSFA Board Member 2015-2017
Solana Beach, CA