My first real job – the start of my career – was as sales manager for a wholesale hardware company. I knew nothing about sales or managing but I must have impressed the owner somehow and I got the job.

I stayed there for five years and learned more in that time about running a business than in all the years since. The owner was a brilliant businessman. Quirky, sometimes, but brilliant.

There was the time when he emerged from the men’s room in the warehouse and hollered for the entire crew to circle around him because he wanted to explain that a new roll of toilet paper should be inserted with the first sheet hanging down in front, not in the back.

Another time, I saw him putting scratches and dents in the side view mirrors of a brand new delivery truck – brand new, day one – so that they would be less attractive to a thief.

For every quirky story, there are ten of genius. On my first day, he held up a blank sheet of 8×10 paper and said, “This is our memo form. It’s also our invoice form, our receipt form, and our copy paper.” It was his way of telling me that the company had been in business for over 20 years because he did not spend money on window dressings such as paper with logos.

At the same time he told me about the form, he also said, “We don’t have meetings here. Anything over 5 minutes long is a meeting.”

The meeting notification was his way of letting me know something I would discover in a very big way many years later: Most meetings are worthless.

I thought of my old boss and the meeting policy as I reread the district’s notification of tonight’s important meeting. Here are two of the three paragraphs:

“Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) will host an informational meeting on March 27th regarding the creation of a Human Relations Task Force to create a greater level of cultural understanding and acceptance that appreciates and celebrates the diversity throughout our community.

“While details of the task force are yet to be determined, students, staff, parents, community members, and community organizations are invited to the informational meeting.”

(I left out the paragraph about the pending partnership with Orange County Human Relations – not relevant to this post.)

This is being positioned as an “informational meeting,” which means just what, exactly, I don’t know. My spidey-sense tells me that they are trying set low expectations by designating it as “informational.” To me, that means that they plan to tell us what they intend to do and there will not be an opportunity for the community to make recommendations or ask questions.

I hope I am wrong. If ever there were a time in the district’s history when they need to hear from the entire N-M community it is now and at every step of this process.

The district has a history of hosting meetings with little or nothing to show for them later on. I have reported this for years: Meetings that have no agenda, no goal(s), and no follow-up. Then there are the meetings in which community input is sought but disregarded. Those have also been reported here.

Among the district’s Belief Statements, there is this entry: “That we serve our students and our community best when we work together as a team.”

And in the District Priorities, there is this: “C1. NMUSD will build and foster meaningful partnerships and shared commitment with stakeholders including students, parents, employees, employee associations and community partners in the development of the whole child.”

Tonight’s meeting tackles the start of the process of an important segment in the development of the “whole child.” Properly structured, the meeting could be made far more valuable if community input is allowed – and NOT via comment cards – and that some ongoing communications channel is established so that community input on this vital topic is not just a one-time thing.

Without that, it may as well be five minutes.

Steve Smith

P.S. This important meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the Sanborn building at district HQ.