By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(March 14, 2019) In discussing what the next Ocean Pines Association management team will look like, board members last Saturday agreed to gather information on outsourcing, but also praised the current team of department heads now running the operational and administrative functions.
Early during the meeting, Aquatics and Recreation and Parks Director Colby Phillips provided an overview of several cost-savings measures being done operationally, while Finance Director Steve Phillips presented news on the administrative side.
Later, during the “new business” portion, board members approved a Slobodan Trendic motion to issue bid requests for “management services of the association’s operations by a professional community management firm” by March 16.
Trendic said the purpose of the motion was to obtain pricing information and cost-benefit analysis for outsourcing management. The goal is to have the proposals reviewed and ready for the April 6 regular board meeting.
He said the traditional approach of hiring a general manager had “produced various degrees of success,” but bylaws allow the board to employ a professional management firm and the current board wished “to determine if using a third-party professional community management firm is a better overall option for the association.”
Director Frank Daly said the approach was “a piece of the puzzle that has to be evaluated.”
“We were elected to solve management problems, not to ignore them and not to tolerate them,” he said. “And we have a lot of management problems that need [to be] addressed.
“I’m tired of seeing reruns of the same damned problem, handled the same way, with the same lousy results for 8,452 assessment payers,” Daly continued. “And if that means changing things, we should change them … simply tolerating a rerun of past failed situations is totally unacceptable and it dodges our responsibility as a board.”
Association Vice President Steve Tuttle said the motion felt rushed and he would rather see the current team members be allowed to try their hand.
“I’m not sure if we’re ready for this motion, frankly,” he said. “It just feels like, to have this done by March 16 … with our current situation is unrealistic. And we’re also in the stage right now where we’re trying to evaluate a number of different departments and how things are working and not working, empowering different people to take different responsibilities.
“I really feel like we need a bit more time to evaluate that whole process before we jump into putting out an RFP,” he continued. “If we put it out, I want to make sure we know … what we really want to do, and that if we get these responses we’re committed to making a solid judgment on that. Right now, I don’t feel like we have enough information … to step into that kind of process.”
Director Esther Diller said she was “extremely impressed with the team that’s in place … with Colby and Steve Phillips and the team underneath them.”
“I feel that they’ve done a tremendous job and are accelerating a number of projects,” Diller said. “That being said, we still have to look for a final solution, whether it’s outsource or whether it’s hiring a traditional GM.
“The traditional GM just doesn’t seem to be working for this community,” she continued. “We are a small city – we have to acknowledge that.”
Diller rejected the idea that the association could afford to wait for information.
“This is a process that’s going to take some time and we have to start now,” she said.
Director Colette Horn called the motion “intriguing,” because board members explored outsourcing management several months ago and “found that it was more costly based on the examination that we did at that time.”
She agreed with Diller that Ocean Pines resembled a small city.
“I know there are sources for HOA managers – people with that background and expertise – but I think what we need to be looking at is something different,” Horn said. “And I think that may solve some of the management problems that we’ve all struggled with.”
Trendic said the motion didn’t call for hiring outside management, but rather for gathering information.
“What we don’t want to do is what happened [a] year-and-a-half ago, where we had basically an ad-hoc management setup that proved to be very disadvantageous to the community,” he said.
On concerns about the aggressive timeline, Diller asked Association President Doug Parks if he could put together a request for proposals by March 16.
Parks replied, firmly, “Yes.”
He agreed with Horn that outsourcing had been explored and board members found “it comes with a premium cost … it won’t be a money-saving venture, at least with the [preliminary] information we have.”
However, Parks said he re-read the motion and that “as long as it’s framed in ‘we are looking for information’ [and] we’re not presupposing that a third-party management structure is the solution,” he was in favor of it.
“It’s very important publicly that we state that all we’re getting is information,” he said. “We haven’t decided that the solution in the long-term will be a new management structure that’s a third-party [model].”
Board members voted 5-1 in favor of the motion, with only Tuttle opposed. One director, Ted Moroney, was not present because of a scheduling conflict.
A related motion, an operational assessment study proposed by Daly, was tabled.
“Right now … an operational assessment is going on right before your eyes,” Diller said, specifically mentioning Colby and Steve Phillips. “There is no reason to spend association money on an operational assessment … when it is happening as we speak.
“We are seeing a lot of things get done and you have to give them a chance,” she added.
Several other directors, including Tuttle, agreed.
“I really want to give the current team leaders that are in place the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and gifts,” Tuttle said, adding an assessment could then be done in-house. “Whatever our ultimate solution is – whether we have a GM or we have another company that’s outsourcing, they’re going to come in and do an operational assessment … and so we might be just doing something that doesn’t really help us.
“I think we can take that information and actually do the assessment ourselves, working with the staff that we have, rather than hire an outside firm,” he said.