In the aftermath of this summer’s explosive grand jury findings, VTA has been taking a long, hard look at its current governance setup.
At the latest Ad-hoc Board Enhancement Committee meeting, members of VTA’s Board of Directors fielded a wide-ranging discussion about how to best address not only the findings of the grand jury, but also practical improvements that might be adopted to improve the efficacy of board members individually and as a group.
The meeting delved into how the board’s hands are somewhat tied due to the way newly-elected officials are appointed by their towns and cities to VTA’s Board of Directors. Or, as committee member Jeannie Bruins put it, “the dealing of the cards.”
Sometimes VTA gets lucky and ends up with good, active new members and sometimes, not so much. As it stands, the 18 members on the board are elected officials appointed by their jurisdictions, with a fifteen city councilmembers and three members of the Santa Clara County Supervisors.
“(VTA) has to play the hand it’s been dealt,” said Bruins. “We need to look at the different (appointment) methods that are currently being deployed (at other agencies), getting to a point where there’s a preferred process and a way that we go about this and get something in place before the next round of board appointments. To me, the appointment process is the beast at the root of what we’re talking about.”
The meeting also revealed a sneak peek of an upcoming internal VTA governance assessment, which will start in the next couple of weeks. The report will provide the Enhancement Committee with “potential enhancement options to improve the Board’s overall performance and effectiveness.” It will be led by former VTA Auditor General Pat Hagan.
Some of the more pragmatic improvements pitched in the meeting included a focus on encouraging members to stay engaged and informed by participating in local transit conferences and training sessions. That effort will be led by San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and VTA CEO Nuria Fernandez.
“We do have briefings and communicate with staff… but there should be a more formalized, structured training program for board members. Particularly for onboarding, but (also) continued training and development,” Jones said during the meeting. Officials are also hoping to improve meeting practices, including creating standardized memo packets with improved executive statements and nixing redundant presentations.
But, as committee member and Sunnyvale Councilmember Glenn Hendricks pointed out, the grand jury’s critique that there was a “lack of experience” among board members, isn’t one that can be easily fixed with the board’s current pipeline of appointees.
“If the appointing agencies are sending us English majors when we’re trying to do math,” he said, “I don’t care how much training we’ve done.”
Contact Brendan Nystedt at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @bnystedt on Twitter.