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The Engine Powering Your Transit Authority’s Governing Machine

January 21, 2020 0 Comments

Over the years I’ve often heard transit boards described as “policy-making bodies,” which doesn’t begin to convey the complexity of governing work.  It makes more sense to think about your authority’s board as a kind of governing machine that continuously produces governing decisions about such governing “products” as your authority’s updated values and vision statements, the new strategic plan, and next year’s operating plan and budget.  Your governing machine also produces a steady stream of governing judgments answering the classic governing question, “How are we doing? – on the basis of such information as your authority’s monthly or quarterly operational and financial performance reports.

Of course, the work of governing is anything but mechanistic.  It’s  much more art than science, especially because your board consists of living, breathing human beings who frequently interpret the information they hear and read quite differently.  But sticking with the machine metaphor, you should keep in mind that the members of your authority’s board can’t begin to keep the governing machine running effectively alone; they have neither the time nor technical expertise.  So truly board-savvy chief executives are keenly aware that they and their top executives must devote significant time and attention to powering the governing machine, and they well know that this means much more than merely feeding written documents into the machine.

This is why Andre Colaiace, Executive Director of Access Services, a $200 Million nonprofit corporation providing paratransit services for transit authorities in Los Angeles County, recently spent the better part of a day with his top executives, firmly establishing the executive structure and processes required to support the new standing committees the Access Services Board had unanimously voted to create, following up on a daylong Board-Executive Team “High-Impact Governing Work Session” a couple of months earlier.

For example, Andre will convene his Executive Team regularly, as the “Governance Coordinating Committee,” to develop preliminary versions of standing committee agendas and to oversee preparation of information for upcoming standing committee meetings.  Andre has also designated a top executive to serve as “Chief Staff Liaison” to each of the standing committees, making sure that the committees receive the information required to carry out their charge fully and that committee chairs are well-prepared to lead committee deliberations.

You can expect to see a video podcast by Andre and his Board Chair, Dolores Nason, in the near future, describing implementation of the new Access Board committees.  Also, you might want to take a look at Chapter Seven of my and Dave Stackrow’s new book, Building a Solid Board-CEO Partnership (www.governanceedge.com), which takes a close look at executive support for board standing committees.

Doug Eadie
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