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Community boards need expertise of local business managers, owners

Published: Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 5:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 11:06 a.m. CDT

To the Editor:

Our community needs business owners and corporate executives to serve on elected and volunteer boards. Their business training and experience enables them to not only recognize problems, but also to find the solution.

I have often said that I know nothing about sports. I can be at a basketball game and the guy next to me will jump out of his seat screaming “Did you see that foul?!” I not only didn’t see it; I have no idea what he is yelling about.

We would have similar reactions, only in reverse, when I see a bad financial sheet or a bad management decision.  It’s not about I.Q. … It’s about training and experience.

I believe every corporation should include in the job description of their C.E.O. or managers that they must serve on boards in their community in which they live and/or do business.

When I was young, all the community boards were made up of local business owners.  A 1950 Chamber of Commerce pamphlet listed 100 businesses in downtown Morris. Almost all were locally owned and they knew their customers personally. The owners responded to the needs of their customers by serving on all community boards, including school boards.

Today there has been a consolidation of businesses and industries resulting in fewer and much bigger corporate-owned businesses, with management that often do not serve on the boards in their own community.

They are equally knowledgeable and trained as the business and industry owners of yesteryear. The problems that our community boards face today are far more complex and management skills are even more needed today than in years past.

For at least 30 years, when I was in business, I served on an average of three different community boards in any one year. Every time I started on a community board, I quickly found that the board had a major problem at hand and together we took the necessary actions to solve the problem.

First Example: The Illinois Valley Sheltered Workshop (now Illinois Valley Industries), which provided a place for persons with mental and physical disabilities to socialize by doing craft-type projects.

When I first went on the board, I found that the private donations and state aid had all but disappeared and the workshop was in a position where it may have to close.

The Illinois Valley Sheltered Workshop board, in order to generate the needed revenue, voted to build a large building on Third Avenue in Morris and obtain contract work from companies. This provided a paycheck and pride of accomplishment to its members.  It also provided the needed money to pay overhead expenses.

Second Example:  About 1970, Morris Hospital was first notified by the insurance industry that they would no longer pay the hospital the usual fees for their services, but rather a much lower payment. The result was a major financial loss to the hospital that threatened its very existence.

The hospital board, in order to lower its cost of providing its services, established the outpatient facility. This resulted in the Morris Hospital being able to survive the drastic reductions in payment from the insurance industry.

Third Example:  About 2003, Morris School District 54 eliminated many teachers and programs. As a non-board member, I spent months studying the school’s financial figures.  I then helped organize an advisory group of individuals who made recommendations of corrective measures to the school board.

The following year all teachers and programs were reinstated.  The tax rate was also reduced by 18.54 percent the first year and reduced by 27.64 percent in the third year; back to the normal rate of prior years.

Every board that I served on had a need to solve major problems and, because of the many dedicated business people, a solution to the problem was found.

Our community boards have never been confronted with bigger problems, especially our schools.  The need for business people to serve on our community boards — especially school boards — has never been greater. 

If you are an owner of a locally owned store or industry, your community needs you!

If you are the C.E.O or manager of a corporate-owned store or industry your community needs you!

Do not use the excuse that you do not have the time.  Make the time for the community in which you and your family live!

Our community will only be as good as you make it by serving on community boards… or as bad as you permit by your inaction.

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