Building Consensus – Member Editorial

By Robert Bumgarner

Gordon Pelton’s article last month, Toward a Masterful Plan for Lake Wildwood, incorporated a suggestion from Bob Murray that Lake Wildwood is Directionally Confused.  By that he meant there has been insufficient effort made to integrate member priorities into the Master Plan and, thus, there is no prevailing sense of direction to guide Board actions.

Having lived here fewer years than many, Gordon and I asked Mike Dobbins why our association has difficulty executing long term plans.  Using our outdated Clubhouse as an example, Mike replied that several prior attempts to improve the building had failed because the membership had never been brought to consensus regarding the form or function of the building.  He further suggested that the hard work of our Board and its advisory committees seems to evaporate every year with the election of new directors, making it difficult to maintain continuity in the planning and execution of improvements.

Now faced with concerns about the condition of the Clubhouse and the golf course, the Board has set aside the Master Plan, bypassed the Planning Committee, and charged ahead with planning to raze and rebuild the Clubhouse.  Of course, this proposal would destroy 12,000 ft2 of usable space at the present Clubhouse and require membership approval for the $5 million to $6 million in funding needed to complete the project.  If history is any guide, the membership may balk at this idea.

There is a better way to determine what members really want and are willing to fund: Ask them!  The Board seems to recognize this need and has distributed a survey to sample member sentiment.  However, that survey does not ask members which specific projects are most important to them, how they should be linked to other projects, and what budgetary limits should apply to each project.  As a result, it will provide little meaningful guidance to the Board.

Ten years ago, Tahoe Donner Association, which was built about the same time as Lake Wildwood, faced a similar array of problems with aging amenities.  The administrative building was not ADA compliant, the golf clubhouse was wholly inadequate and offered only a small bar that served burgers, the exercise facility was located in one 1,200 ft2 room where weights and cardio exercises competed for space, the cross-country ski facility needed additional land to prevent residential encroachment, and the association did not offer a suitable restaurant for family dining.

I served as a member of the Communications Committee at the time, which was directed by the Board to conduct a survey-feedback project to build member support for these projects.  Phase One of the project involved two facilitated workshops that reviewed five proposals from the Master Plan.  Attendees were asked, “what’s missing, what should be changed, and how should we fund planned projects.”  The goal was to seek consensus among attendees, with the understanding that consensus meant acceptance but not necessarily agreement.  The process gave no one exactly what he or she wanted but, instead, provided everyone with something they could live with.

Findings from these workshops were provided to the Planning Committee for review and incorporation into the Master Plan.  Phase Two published articles describing each of the five proposed projects from the Master Plan, provided utilization data and financial results for each amenity, and analyzed competing offerings from other communities. Phase Three distributed a survey to every member, asking them to prioritize each project and to indicate whether or not they would be willing to fund them, as defined.  Phase Four balloted the membership on the assessments needed to fund planned improvements.

The result:  The golf clubhouse was razed and rebuilt with a restaurant and bar designed with help from the owner of Max’s Opera Café in San Francisco; a 3,500 ft2 addition to the exercise facility was built with separate rooms for weights, cardio machines, and floor exercises (a suggestion from the workshops); 32 acres of unused property was sold to pay for additions to the cross-country ski area; and the administrative building was upgraded.

Martin Luther King once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”   Our governing documents seek this result by directing the Planning committee as follows:

“In developing its products, the committee will create active methods of gaining wide community participation, being as inclusive and representative as possible.”

Before our Board spends $40,000 to $50,000 designing a new Clubhouse that may or may not be approved, wouldn’t it really be better to restore the Master Plan to its proper role as the source of an integrated vision for development and complete a consensus-building process similar to that used by Tahoe Donner to establish developmental priorities?


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