I have served on various boards and committees over the past 20 years or so. I remember attending my first meeting as a tribal college board of regents' member back in 1987. I didn't have a clue what to do or what was expected from me. I asked a long time board member if there was "anything" which would help me understand my role better. His reply was something to the effect, "Experience! The more meetings you attend, the more you will learn what to do."
Governing boards and committees are still fairly "new" to Indian Country. Our tribal college was founded in 1974, and by the time I was appointed to its board in 1987, board members' roles and responsibilities were still largely a mystery. I ran for the public school board in 1990, and although that board had been in existence since the mid-eighties, looking back, I realize that board member roles and responsibilities were still not clearly defined. The tribal school board was founded in 1987, which makes that board only 22 years old.
As a result of this inexperience, tribal boards have taken unethical and in some cases comical action such as, hiring relatives, excessive travel, ignoring due process, meeting in the morning, adjourning, and meeting again in the afternoon so as to receive two stipends... etc., etc. These antics have given tribal boards their shady and sometimes comical reputation.
Having served on boards for over 20 years, I have seen many board members come and go. While a few of them are outright crooks, the majority of them are sincere in their desire to help whatever particular organization whose board they are serving. Many new board members are committed to "change the way things are done." While their intentions may be noble, many new board members do not understand their roles and responsibilities. As a result of their "commitment" to "change the way thing are done," they often cause more harm then good.
Some examples of a new board member's commitment to make things better are: get rid of "incompetent" employees, change job descriptions of key employees, require more reporting, stop or reduce travel, and stop or reduce board stipends, to name a few.
Let's use a new board member's commitment to reduce or eliminate board travel as one example of good intentions gone badly. Is their intention to reduce travel and eliminate board travel truly commitment? Is it ignorance? ... or is it politics?
We all know tribal boards are notorious for taking too many trips and paying themselves excessively. This has given new board members the impression that all board travel and any amount of travel is unethical. Is it?
Over the year, mainly due to the training I have attended, I have come to realize there is much more in being a good board member then not traveling or refusing stipends. First, I believe it is fair to compensate good board members with a stipend and not all board members abuse travel. Let me explain: Not all board members abuse travel. When I travel for a board, I make sure I attend the training because I find board training very useful, unlike some board members who travel but never attend the training; or, if they do attend the training they do not pay attention to the information being presented. I agree these board members should not travel. But punish them, not me, for their behavior. In addition, because I actually attend the training and pay attention to what is being presented, the training helps me become a better board member, mainly by helping me understand my role as board member. Therefore, when a new board member proposes to eliminate all travel, I feel I am unfairly grouped with those board members who abuse travel.
Second, I believe compensation for my time attending board meetings is also fair. Why? Because, I spend time preparing for the meetings. I read my packet thoroughly. I call the administration if I have any questions not related to items on the agenda; and I pay attention at the meetings, thereby becoming a better board member. Due to my knowledge of what a board member's roles and responsibilities are (mainly because of the trainings I have attended over the years), I do not waste time by asking questions that are not related to any item on the agenda. Because I learned Robert's Rules of Order, I know when to speak and how long to speak. My knowledge is valuable to the school and to the community that elected me. Hence I have no problem receiving a stipend.
Let me close with this: a board member's most valuable tool is trust. They should trust their administrators and fellow board members unless they are given a valid (not gossip) reason to do otherwise. If they do not trust the administration and other board members, then they need to discuss the reasons for this mistrust with them, the board. Trust is similar to (self) honesty. When board members come to a meeting with an ulterior motive (mistrust), they are basically being dishonest with other board members. This dishonesty usually leads to disrespectful treatment of employees and fellow board members, and unfounded accusations. We have lost many good competent employees and good board members have quit or resigned because of this dishonest behavior. It is no wonder our schools are in the shape they are in.