Monday, January 6, 2014

Buy 'Em a Cup of Coffee

During the latter part of last fall, I got an e-mail from a community member in Montpelier letting me know that someone was frustrated with some of our user fees for renting space in our buildings.  I asked this person to have the potential renter to connect with me so I could  review the rental form to see if I there were any potential cost savings.

The individual did connect with me and I was able to review his needs for the buildings and the times.  As it turns out, this particular individual and his group were interested in renting space for a substantial amount of time on the most expensive renting day, Sunday.  On Sundays our buildings are completely lacking in students and per our Negotiated Agreement, we must pay any Facilities Employee double time for their work.

I followed-up with this individual and offered to waive the event fee (minimal in light of the overall bill) but unfortunately given the time and day that he was interested in, there was little I could do.  I didn't think much of it until I heard back from him and we went back and forth a few times electronically.  During one of our final exchanges over e-mail, I sensed the tone was going south.  I offered to meet in person at one of my favorite local places, Capitol Grounds.

We bought some coffee, sat down, and I listened to the needs of this individual, his group, the project, and the reason for the rental.  It's a fascinating project and one that I wanted to find a way to support.  One of my goals as Superintendent is to be a good neighbor in Montpelier - supporting local events and ensuring that our buildings can better serve the public.

In talking through more of the specifics about the event, and the timing, we started to discuss alternate ways to utilize the building.  Specifically, we were able to find times and days that were not as expensive to rent our space, when people were already staffing our buildings, that would also work for this group.   In short, we found a way, over a cup of coffee, to make it work together.  I did not need to haggle over the details of Negotiated Agreements for renters' fees and he did not need to ask me for anything I could not give.  We were able to work within the existing MPS framework, meet the needs of this group, and ultimately share our space in a way that will be beneficial to the Montpelier community and beyond.

I am the first to admit that social media and technology play a role in what I do as Superintendent.  In fact, they are important tools in my work.  I am proud of that.  That said, nothing can take the place of a firm handshake, looking someone in the eye, reading body language, hearing intonation in a person's voice, and working together face-to-face when the opportunity presents itself.  This never would have gotten done over e-mail.  We needed to sit down and solve this problem together... in person with a cup of coffee.