By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Sept. 20, 2018) Ocean Pines General Manager John Bailey earlier this month celebrated the one-year anniversary of his hire. His first official day was Sept. 11, 2017.
At the time, Bailey was the third Ocean Pines general manager in two years, following Brett Hill, interim general manager from Aug. 26, 2016 until Sept. 11, 2017, and Bob Thompson, who served from August 2010 until Aug. 26, 2016.
Moving to Ocean Pines after managing several associations in Virginia, Bailey said, “This was a position that was on my list that I would like to pursue. When it came open, my brother-in-law actually told me, ‘Hey, JB, it’s open!’”
Bailey first applied for the position in October 2016 – something he said not many people know.
“I was not looking. I applied for one job. I updated my resume for this job and this job only, and I’m very blessed and fortunate to have come out at the top of the heap at the end of that whole process,” he said. “It was a big deal for me and my family, and hopefully a big deal for Ocean Pines.
“It was very exciting to be here and the community has been very welcoming,” Bailey continued. “We live here on the north side. I’m 1.3 miles to work, 0.7 miles to the golf course and 1.7 miles to the yacht club. So, it’s a pretty good deal. Having moved from Fairfax, Virginia, the commute is great.”
On a good day, it takes him about four minutes to get to work. On a bad day, during rush hour or if he’s stuck behind a school bus, it takes all of six minutes.
Though the commute is short, the list of problems Bailey inherited was not, and many described his first six months on the job as damage control.
“If you think about what the association had been through, there was a certain amount – and still is – of things to get through,” he said. “That part was a little more frustrating than I anticipated.”
Among his first obstacles was tackling a fiscal-year budget a year after the association posted a more than $1 million deficit.
“Jumping straight into the budget was interesting,” Bailey said. “A budget is always the best way to learn about a community from a management perspective. And then there’s the process of operational review – how we do what we do. And that’s a process and that takes time.
“But, being here a year now, I’ve seen the compete calendar and I have better insight on most, if not all, of our operational processes,” Bailey continued. “But, there’s plenty to work on.”
He pointed to a favorite catch phrase of Director Frank Daly, that a “damnable culture of indifference” led to deferred maintenance throughout the association. He’s a big fan of the line.
“Unfortunately, some folks have taken that the wrong way, that nobody cares around here – and that’s not the case,” he said. “The residents care, the staff cares, the board members all care. A lot of times, when stuff needs doing and there’s a monetary requirement with it, we have collectively decided just not to do those things.
“That leads to lack of maintenance and that leads to not doing capital projects, and that leads to a lack of interest or focus,” he continued. “Why pursue this if it’s just going to be shut down all the time? Everybody can get into that mode.”
Changing that, Bailey said, means changing the culture.
“All of those problem areas in the past led to the distrust, the lack of interest, the lack of support for what the association is trying to accomplish. When you have all that, not only do you have to fix stuff, but you have to fix the culture – and the culture takes longer.”
Many items previously put aside are now being addressed, Bailey said, which should help in improving the budget process and producing a long-term strategic plan. But, there are still plenty of obstacles.
“Our past has been so colorful and interesting, that it’s hard to get people to focus over here [in the present],” he said. “We set some baselines with these big pillars of association management that we had to get right – the budget, the reserve study, trying to deal with drainage, bulkheads, roads, addressing the deficit – and the other signal, if you would, was getting the yacht club [profitable].
“Success and results ultimately change the culture. When you have people smiling at the yacht club versus, ‘oh my God, I’m never coming here again’ … that begins to change that culture,” Bailey continued. “It’s little baby steps, but if we can continue to build on the financial success and build on operational successes, then you change the expectations.”
Bailey said his biggest success was getting a contract signed with the Matt Ortt Companies to manage the yacht and beach clubs – despite having a short timeframe in which to do so.
“I knew that would have huge impact on the community – and we can be happy, in the end, because it was a strong and healthy impact on the community,” he said. “It’s exceeding my expectations.”
He said his biggest failure was “not being able to help the board bring about a steady flow and plan to what we are doing.”
More to the point, Bailey said, “In my opinion, we have a lot of arcane procedures that unfortunately institutionalize work and politics.”
As an example, he said there is an association resolution that specifically spells out the order of meeting agendas.
“If the board wants to add something to the general agenda, like a second member comment period … language would first have to go to the resolutions committee and then be voted on by the board,” he said. “It’s an agenda, for crying out loud. It’s not an act of Congress.
“We definitely do things different here in Ocean Pines. Every HOA is different … [but] I’ve never seen things this arcane,” Bailey continued. “I think we need to review all of our policy resolutions and streamline them for efficiency and effectiveness.”
Bailey also hopes to help reintroduce homeowner education that he said has gone by the wayside.
“I believe we stopped educating our membership about a decade ago,” he said. “We have lots of folks move into the community every year and we don’t educate along the way about principal things of the association.
“A better understanding … will lead to a change in our culture – which changes the people’s expectations,” he added.
Unlike Hill and Thompson, Bailey came to the job with HOA management experience. Both his predecessors were board members when they got the job.
“In my opinion as a professional, you never have a board member become a GM and you never have a GM become a board member,” Bailey said. “You just don’t do it, because it leads to a political mess. It’s not a rule. It’s not illegal. It’s just stuff you don’t do.
“That’s not Bob’s or Brett’s or Jim’s or Mary’s or anybody else’s fault – they served their purpose for a period of time they were in that position. I won’t dare to say I would have made a different decision, because I don’t know all the spokes that came into that decision wheel,” he continued. “I do appreciate the opportunity and I’m not perfect by any stretch, but I do bring certain experience and education to the table.”
Through everything, Bailey said he still has the same optimism and enthusiasm that brought him to Ocean Pines in the first place.
“I get this all the time: ‘I don’t know how you do what you do,’” he said. “It does take a certain, not just the education and experience side of it, but it also takes a certain type of personality, and I think I’ve been blessed with that type of personality. I’ll take the heat and I’ll take the praise.
“There are times when I get thanked for stuff that I had nothing to do with and I’ll take it, because I’m getting blamed for things I had nothing to do with too!” Bailey added with a laugh.
What does he like the most about Ocean Pines?
“My wife and I live at the beach. On a bad day, the worst-case scenario is a quick run to the inlet to see the ocean. It’s my spot of peace, in knowing that the world is a big place and that God is always the one really in control,” Bailey said.