The driving forces who helped bring about the Regent always intended it to be an event facility.
Lately, however, it has been more like a schoolhouse. The scrutiny of the building and the fractured feelings of folks who believe the facility needs to grant greater access have created a teachable moment for the Brandon Community Advantage Center Board and anyone else who cares about our community.
Lesson 1: To whom much is given (when it comes to tax dollars), much is expected. A publicly financed project comes with a much higher degree of accountability — to the community, the media and the government agencies that helped fund it. Now that this is clear — as if it wasn't before — the Regent board needs to prepare to deal with every inquiry and meet the challenges of its mission. It can start by ensuring the facility can serve as a shelter. Hurricane season starts June 1.
Lesson 2: Remember the mission. Businesses craft mission statements because they help frame decisionmaking. This may have not turned into such a black eye for the Regent if board members had asked, "Does repeatedly turning away nonprofits because they aren't meeting our pricing structure jibe with our mission?" Yes, the board needs to generate enough funds to be self-sufficient and offer discounts, but it also has to be sensitive to the needs of our most needy organizations.
Lesson 3: Stay engaged. The board and the executive director must fulfill the mission, but the public must remain involved and engaged. If it's truly "our building," we have to attend meetings, ask questions and bring concerns to the attention of people who can address them.
Lesson 4: Martha Stewart Living chandeliers are not breathtaking. The Regent's hardwood floors and marble-based facade make it a nice facility, and it should be to fulfill its purpose. But anyone who has taken a tour knows it's an event center, not an opulent palace.
Lesson 5: Transparency is thy friend. As the Regent board strives to operate with greater openness, it may find that taking a government in the sunshine policy comes with challenges. Yet it also will discover that open meetings and documented decisionmaking will be assets when it comes to dealing with scrutiny. It also will give the public a chance to express concerns, lend input and help the board stay on point.
Lesson 6: Make some friends. Any new project needs to focus on outreach as much as operations. In some cases, the Regent wisely lent a hand to nonprofits such as the Boy Scouts' Gulf Ridge Council, which will host its annual dinner at the center. In other cases, it didn't acquiesce when it should have.
Lesson 7: Brandon is a hand-shaking, back-patting community. Executive director Kristin Kerr can reduce some of the criticism she has received by strengthening her community connections. Some labeled Kerr, who came here from Michigan, as an outsider from the day she was hired. Getting out to more chamber functions, civic organizations and community gatherings matters, especially here. I wonder if someone on the board told her that.
Lesson 8: Politicians will be politicians. Queried about some of the more elaborate features of the Regent and the possibility that community investment tax dollars may have been used on administrative costs, county Commissioner Al Higginbotham claimed he was misled and called for an investigation. How sad. We pay Higginbotham nearly $100,000 to represent the area and be a steward of our tax dollars. With the county investing $2.5 million in a project in his own district, he had the time and resources to monitor the expenditures. If he was doing his due diligence, nothing about how the money was spent would come as a surprise.
Lesson 9: Get good advice, and heed it. One of the reasons the building came to fruition is because some of the driving forces — Earl Lennard, Ron Pierce and Rachel Burgin — understood how government operates and the standards that had to be met. Much has been made about the pay Lennard and Pierce received, but a $7 million project needed paid consultants. The board will be wise to continue to seek advice from those with government experience.
Lesson 10: The Regent can't be all things to all people. Yes, it's a tax-funded building, and that makes it "our building." But there are other tax-funded facilities that can accommodate smaller meetings. In my mind, it's an event center first and foremost and needs to host major events and large meetings. The board needs to be open, operate in the sunshine and remember its mission, but if it turns the Regent into a free-for-all, it won't meet its goal of being self-sufficient.
That's all I'm saying.