For many years, I sat on the board of a not-for-profit organization which provided infrastructure to start-up charities and provided governance counsel to charitable and municipal organizations. While serving in that capacity, I realized that the past several years have resulted in a paradigm shift in the governance practices of all organizations.
The shift has been towards greater transparency and toward a reliance on new information technology. Those organizations who embrace both components of the shift will prosper, those who ignore them do so at their own peril. A recent example of an organization whose opacity got them into trouble is Wells Fargo.
Our family moved to Valencia over twenty years ago. During that period, the City Council has done an admirable job of making Santa Clarita a wonderful place to live. But Santa Clarita is now the third largest city in the county, and as a larger, more mature city, the issues we will face going forward will be much more challenging.
Consequently, it is time to consider how the City’s governance practices measure up to the new paradigm. As the Signal noted in a recent editorial published on October 11th, the City Council “members appear reluctant to give some issues a full hearing and seem at times resentful of their own constituency, prone to squabble over small issues and too willing to close ranks.”
Since my retirement, I have closely watched the City Council meetings on television and it seems that most items are vetted privately with the majority of the council membership choosing not to have an open dialog in a public forum. In other words, the process generally lacks the transparency demanded by governance standards of the 21st century.
However, there is one council member, TimBen Boydston, who seeks a more public vetting of issues. Mr. Boyston was the only council member who opposed the electronic billboards. He was the only council member who opposed the subsidy of the Laemmle Theatre which will compete with other non-subsidized theaters. He was the only council member who asked tough questions about the $600,000 embezzlement from the City’s treasury. He is the council member who best understands the emerging homeless issues we will face going forward.
Mr. Boyston listens to the community, identifying and advocating positions for our common good. He has been the most transparent of the Council members. He deserves our vote.
One of the traits of a successful organization in the 21st century is its ability to be nimble. Nimbleness includes the identification and resolution of issues before they get out of hand. It also means having the most complete information needed to bring problems to their optimal resolution. These traits are the hallmark of an organization that will flourish.
The key to meeting these challenges is harnessing information through new technologies and adopting contemporary governance practices. Successful organizations will be the ones who integrate their accounting and information systems using forward looking technology to identify issues before they become problems and to provide insightful data to help resolve problems. The tech industry refers to this emerging technology as data metrics.
To maximize its effectiveness, the City Council has to be part of this process. I recently attended a seminar where a speaker from the RAND Corporation discussed that it is imperative for municipal governments to develop these capabilities in order to not only survive, but to thrive.
To date the City Council has shown no desire to move in those directions.
Today, Santa Clarita is nowhere near implementing the requisite technology. According to its website, the City’s CFO position is a part time position. The City’s accounting department is understaffed relative to its size, which likely is the primary driver behind the internal control deficiencies that failed to prevent the recently discovered embezzlement. While the City has grown tremendously in the past twenty years, its financial and information reporting systems apparently have not kept pace.
The only candidate who truly grasps the implications of these issues is Alan Ferdman. Mr. Ferdman’s career background in connection with financial and information systems technology coupled with his commitment to transparency and understanding of local issues make him ideally suited to address problems with the City’s existing accounting infrastructure and to implement policies that are In accordance with the paradigm shift in governance practices.
This year’s City Council election is extremely important to Santa Clarita. We can vote to remain in the past, or to look forward and take the first steps towards implementing a future in which we will thrive.
Jim de Bree is a retired CPA who resides in Valencia.