It didn’t take long for the Friends of GVR-dominated board to bare its teeth. But it didn’t come during Wednesday’s meeting, it arrived in an email that evening to all board members.
Near the end of the two-hour meeting, the board tossed a few questions at CEO Scott Somers.
Bart Hillyer, a new member and one of three among the minority GVR4Us faction, asked about staffing numbers. Staffing is almost always the most expensive part of running an organization, and Hillyer saw some rising costs that concerned him. It’s a legitimate question.
Somers didn’t know the up-to-the-minute number but said if the board wanted it, he’d provide it.
Some board members told Hillyer that those questions are being discussed in a committee and that staffing information is readily available elsewhere. In the back and forth, Hillyer said that a CEO should know those numbers. (Note: Somers knew the numbers as of his hiring, but apparently wanted to be more accurate in his answer to Hillyer.) Some looked at Hillyer’s comment as a slap at the CEO; Hillyer told me it was a general comment, not directed at anybody.
Regardless, those were the words that launched an email that evening from board president Mike Zelenak to Hillyer, with the rest of the board copied.
It read, in part, “If your (sic) genuinely interested in serving GVR best interests I would caution you to avoid insulting or attacking the CEO in the tone you did this afternoon. Many people commented on your exchange with Scott as very unprofessional. It would also be viewed as a ‘member’ code of conduct violation that could put you at some risk of losing GVR access privileges.”
That’s a not-so-veiled threat, and this board has used it before: Toe the line or we revoke your GVR card. Two board members had this held over their heads a couple of years ago. Be reminded of two things: If your card is revoked, you can’t hold office. And, if Hillyer resigns or has his privileges revoked, next in line is another Friends candidate, taking the board majority to 10-2.
I asked Zelenak on Friday if the email was akin to using a hammer to swat a fly — and why the threatening tone?
“It really wasn’t meant to be a threat, I just wanted to remind him that these things can be perceived that way,” he said. He added it isn’t his call alone to determine who loses privileges.
But when you sit as part of a big board majority… sure it is.
It’s a judgment call, but I watched the meeting and Hillyer’s tone was steady and his question valid. Yes, Hillyer’s a free spirit — as Zelenak called him — but it was way too early for the president to bring out the big guns, especially with a new board member.
Then Zelenak made a rather sweeping judgment in his email: “You seem in many ways relatively disinterested in the process of governance that this board is pursuing. If you wish to work together your (sic) welcome to join in. If you decide to go your own way, we’ll (sic) that’s your choice of course.”
Zelenak is suggesting Hillyer never really wanted the job, which is insulting given the effort it takes to run for office.
Hillyer understands his words may have been misunderstood and wrote to Somers, noting his support and making an offer to resign if the CEO was offended.
What’s disconcerting in all this — besides pretty much everything — is an attempt to undercut the will of the voters by using a back-door strategy to dump a board member. What’s breathtaking is that it’s happening so early on.