I have served on many public agency boards and chaired committees and entire commissions. I have also served on several nonprofit boards of directors. As a lawyer, I have advised for-profit and nonprofit boards on corporate governance.
From those experiences, I can say that trust is the most important ingredient in the relationship between an organization or agency’s board and its staff. It’s important for directors to trust but verify, meaning it’s important to have diverse staff sources of information so that no one person or small group of people is controlling the flow of information to the board. A few times I have had to discipline or terminate staff members who lied to a board I have served on. That job is never pleasant, but at times it is necessary because boards cannot properly function, and government decision-makers cannot be held accountable, in the absence of accurate, timely, truthful information.
The recent failure of the San Diego Association of Governments to update its revenue projections before asking voters to increase the sales tax under their purview raises serious questions about the relationship between SANDAG’s board and its staff.
Staff knew their revenue projections for both existing tax revenues and the proposed Measure A were materially incorrect at least four months before the SANDAG board voted to place the proposal on the ballot. Reporting also suggests, though it has not yet been confirmed, that no one on the board was told about this revenue projection shortfall.