Kenwood Press

Serving the communities of Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont

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Guest Editor: 08/01/2010

Forum Oakmont – Does Oakmont need an Ombudsman?

Life in Oakmont is paradise. Days are spent playing tennis on newly surfaced courts, throwing balls on Italian bocce lanes, bowling on immaculately cut greens, and golfing on two tree-lined championship courses. The streets are broad and always clean, and bicyclists have discovered them as one of their favorite destinations. For the sun and heat lovers there are pools and saunas, and for the hobbyist, 120 (!) clubs to spend the hours from dawn until dusk and into the night.

But attend an Oakmont Village Association Board meeting or read some letters to the editor, and you find out that problems do exist even in our beautiful corner of the earth. Human nature remains the same everywhere and disputes crop up, however unbidden and unwelcome.

For instance, a group of people decides to plant a garden, but neglects to inform the relevant agency – the Architectural Committee in this case – let alone asking for permission or adhering to strict guideline in its construction. Misunderstandings arise and unhappiness follows, voiced in person to the Board of Directors of OVA and in messages to newspapers.

Small issues develop into major controversies when they could have been prevented with the introduction of an official ombudsman. Wally Schilpp, a long-time resident and tireless volunteer in our village, has informally held this position for over a decade. During these years, his early intercession has kept many a grievance from becoming difficult to overcome by both management and the OVA Board.

The word “ombudsman” comes to us from the Scandinavian countries, where since the early Middle Ages mediators arbitrated feuds between rival clans. In America, the office found its famous beginning with the student rebellions in the 1960s. Today, ombudsmen are engaged in politics, industry, business, schools and civic entities.

The person charged with the delicate task of negotiating divergent points of view has to be, above all, a good listener with empathy for both sides, in order to gain the trust necessary to be heard. Regardless of his or her own opinions, an ombudsman must be discreet and wholly impartial. Psychology plays an important part in bringing together two or more adversarial participants, as do time and patience. But solving a conflict to everyone’s satisfaction is vastly preferable to a stage when dissensions reach the authorities, in our case the OVA Board.

My own brush with the issue came early. Homes in Oakmont tend to be on the dark side, and having grown up in the mountains of Switzerland, where the sun sometimes does not reach the valley floor, I needed light, writ large. I followed the technicians who installed my sun tubes around the house and decreed that I needed nine of them. Unfortunately, the paperwork showed only five, a generous maximum at that time.

Naturally, I was found out and ended up in executive session with the Board, an occasion not altogether pleasant. Four tubes had to be ripped out of the roof! I protested, and Wally suggested the saving solution. I was able to keep the lights until I sold the house, and today, of course, we are talking differently about energy savings.

Management and Directors have their hands full running the village. A volunteer and full time mediator, designated by the Board would be in the interest not only of these two entities, but benefit the citizenry at large.

An ombudsman for Oakmont is an appointment that should be made without hesitation or delay. I certainly can vouch for it, in case I need one more light tube.

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