(a true story of a small POA in rural Utah)
Everyone wants a good place to come home to and when you live in a common interest community, you probably assume your elected trustees will insure that. Our POA made such assumptions once, but those days have changed. Our Association was rural, and informal, until some newcomers arrived who volunteered for the board. They wanted to help enforce covenants, collect back dues, and protect property values. Sounded good to us and before we knew what happened, our community was at war. "Neighbors helping neighbors" became "neighbors going after neighbors" and it only took ten easy steps to accomplish this.
1. On your first day in office stand up and announce, "This is not a democracy and we don't have to run every little thing by you people." When the outcry begins, bark at the members to "shut up."
Best practice: On your first day in office stand up and announce, "I am committed to the best interests of our community and will solicit input at every available opportunity." Set personal preferences aside and show equal respect for each resident. When they don't deserve respect is when you most need to show it.
2. Make sure that no independent observers watch the vote count in the election. Toss out any ballots you think are invalid, without letting voters know which ballots were counted and which were tossed. Disqualify anyone from running if they don't agree with you.
Best Practice: Make sure all elections are done with clear guidelines and a transparent process so that no questions about procedure or fairness can possibly be raised.
3. Be sure to conduct all business behind closed doors and when members of the Association point out it is against the By-laws, ignore them and hold another closed session to talk about the "troublemakers."
Best Practice: Using the national Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act (UCIOA) as a template for what you do. Be sure to have open meetings of the Board of trustees, even if your governing documents do not call for this. Exceptions reserved for executive sessions are clearly outlined in the UCIOA, which can be found on the Internet.
4. Double the yearly dues in a closed session even though the By-laws clearly state you must give 30 days notice, solicit discussion from members, advise of the risks, and vote in open session. Ignore all those pesky checks and balances and announce you will slap liens on all property if the raised dues are not forthcoming.
Best Practice: Discuss budget issues and hefty raises in assessments months before they are enacted. Explain the reasons why you must consider raising assessments, solicit discussions and alternative solutions. Move slowly. Allow property owners a chance to absorb all the ramifications. Vote in open session before proceeding. This way, even if members don't like the final outcome, they won't feel blindsided by their trustees.
5. Still ignoring the By-laws, hire an over priced property manager with the increase in dues. Make certain he lives in another county at least two hours away, has no staff in his office to answer the phone, and is often rude if he does decide to return a call.
Best Practice: Always use the "mother measurement" when hiring a manager or other specialist that will deal with your residents. If you would welcome this professional working with your mother, consider him or her for the position. We are dealing with family's homes and lives. They deserve as much respect and consideration as our Moms. Once you have several professionals who have measured up to Mom's standards, your next job is to get competing bids.
6. By Board resolution in a closed session, make a new list of rules with penalties and late fees that can quickly leap to $400 a month for non-compliance. Charge 18% interest and when it is pointed out that state law only allows for 10%, say that you did this under advisement of an attorney and don't back down.
Best Practice: People don't like change and your Association is no different. To prevent the "rules are made to be broken" attitude, always publish proposed rules ahead of adoption so people can think about the benefits and drawbacks. In an open hearing, remain open minded because there may be consequences you have not considered. Use the "reasonable man" test for all rules, fines and enforcement.
7. When the "troublemakers" follow procedure and get on the agenda to propose reviewing and clarifying the By-laws that you won't follow, hire an attorney. Don't hire a local attorney. Have the manager find someone no one knows. Have the attorney write an opinion that essentially says, even if the By-laws are changed, the Board can still make unilateral decisions without your vote.
Best Practice: Never forget that "Governance is about respect for procedure."1 If your governing documents permit residents to propose change and they care enough to read the documents and try it, never shut them down. You may see the bigger picture, but if they don't see it and you block their efforts, retaliation and apathy will ensue. Find alternative ways to explore the issues and never be too "VIP" to try mediation. Avoid using your attorney to control resident's behavior. Controlling your residents may not be the answer, it might be the problem.
8. Cancel Association meetings with one day's notice and when members hold the meeting anyway, watch from the sidelines and glower. If the members have had monthly meetings for 20 years, cancel all Association meetings but the mandatory annual one so that you can conduct business behind closed doors.
Best Practice: Meeting makers make a more harmonious community. However, much confusion is created when people don't understand what type of meeting they are attending. Is it a Board meeting that members attend and simply listen or is it an Association meeting where owners can explore topics, reach consensus and resolve issues as a community? In your Association Handbook clearly explain the types of meetings held in your community, proper procedures, and when and where they meet. Then stick to it.
9. Cut off all lines of communication for Association members. Take your contact information off the web, discourage anyone from contacting the Board personally and instruct them to go through the manager. Don't allow discussion groups to link to the web site, don't allow anything but "approved" notices on the bulletin Board and threaten to sue anyone who challenges your authority to do this.
Best Practice: Although you won't want your web site, newsletter, and bulletin board to be rant venues, you don't want to present Potemkin's Village, either. Make sure your communication lines are not such that everyone is entitled only to your opinion. Allow people to express opposing views in every form of communication you offer from website discussions, to "Point, Counterpoint" contributions in the newsletter. Also allow residents to post flyers about official and unofficial Association concerns on the bulletin board. If you have nothing to hide, you don't have to control "them."
10. Bully other Board members who might question not following the By-laws and are concerned about the lack of empathy and respect for their friends and neighbors. This is especially effective if you can make them think you are better educated. Don't ask them to read the Association documents or state law; you tell them what they say.
Best Practice: Respecting your fellow Board members is as important as respecting your residents and it cannot be in the form of, "I respect your opinion. I just don't want to hear it!" If owners are hesitant to see things your way, even though you are better informed, remember that this is not a one man/woman show. Back up your opinions by citing the governing documents and legal code without being condescending. Remember, any time you have to force the solution, it is not the solution.The newcomer board never suspected how their actions and disregard for our documents would anger so many members. In the end, they did us a service. We know now not to "assume" a Board will take care of us. We banded together in a way that has not been seen in this valley for many years. More than 10 times the members come to our meetings than used to attend the monthly meetings. We are pulling together, working together and demanding our voices be heard together. So in the end, the Board that looked like they were going to tear us apart, actually pulled us back together. And for that, we thank the Board, one neighbor to another.