It wasn’t but two or three years ago that I had a conversation with a fellow resident of my neighborhood as we painted picnic tables in a park owned by our HOA where I was decrying the lack of participation in our volunteer events. Looking back, I now realize just how naïve I must have come across to this guy who has been involved with every imaginable program from Scouts, to school activities, HOA committees and fundraisers and even local politics. This man explained to me that within a community, the people who are going to volunteer or get involved will do so when the time is right for them, and they will step back when time does not allow as much participation. There are countless numbers homeowners who have started with school PTA, been room parents and soccer coaches, then Scout leaders and the like. When time has allowed – generally marked by the age when their kids don’t require as much supervision – they have gotten involved in other activities that were not youth centered.
For many folks, as long as they are working to make ends meet, there will not be the time for outside activities. There are only a certain number of hours in the day and spending several hours on a precious weekend painting over someone else’s tagged fence or picking up some other jerk’s trash in a park – a park that you don’t otherwise use – is just not the idea of relaxation you had. But as we get older and perhaps the work schedule becomes less hectic, there are occasions where one can make the time for getting involved in volunteer activities, and though the numbers remain small, those that participate usually end up enjoying it.
And like when I was the new person who found the time to get out and volunteer and suddenly wondered where all the other volunteers were, I have to confess that I had a similar naïve reaction when I first began to take interest in my Association’s board meetings. I had never met a single person on the board, I could not pick the association’s community manager out of a line-up, and after hearing some of the discussions I wondered what made the people there qualified to run the association.
If for no other reason than sitting in the audience at these meetings as opposed to sitting up with the board members, I felt certain camaraderie with the long line of residents who, more often than not, spoke angrily to the board about what the association should be doing with their precious assessment dollars.
I also learned that there are generally two types of people who approach the board. The first is the “usual suspect”. This is the resident who is fairly well-versed in the running of the association, knows everybody involved, and in spite of understanding why things are the way they are, doesn’t like it so they are going to take every opportunity make the case that the board must be doing something wrong if the world is not perfect.
The other (and of course, I am generalizing here) is the person who is showing up to a board meeting for the first time, knows exactly what the problem is and knows exactly how to fix the problem, and if the board can’t see his point of view, they must all be idiots!
When you are new to these meetings, it is very easy to side with both of these folks. For the most part, all the board does is sit back and listen to the complaints, accusations and recommendations, perhaps taking notes or shuffling papers, but without committing to much more than “looking into it”. If the “usual suspect” guy has all these complaints and accusations, you have to wonder why the board doesn’t layout their case and put the matter to bed. And if the person shows up to their first board meeting with an exact cause to a problem and the perfect answer, why doesn’t the board immediately adopt a policy that corrects everything?
My wife and I have made it a habit to attend the board meetings every month, in fact, unless I was out of town, I have attended every board meeting that our association has held since at least mid 2007. While there have been many thoughtful residents who have appeared before the board to offer unique insights and valuable recommendations, there have been even more people who are one hit wonders. They show-up, have no understanding of the board meeting format, assume that the entire show is about them and their specific problem and then suddenly get upset when faced with one of the many realities of life in an HOA. As a community service to you fine readers, I thought I might help the newcomer if I offer a few hints based upon what I have learned over the years.
- You are limited to three minutes. Most people go beyond that and the board usually is flexible, but don’t be upset when after ten minutes you are asked to wrap it up.
- You are not a guest on The View; you are offering three minutes worth of input to the board and are likely not to get any response from them short of, “Thank you.” Don’t expect a debate or a long drawn out discussion on how best to solve world hunger.
- Preparing notes is a good idea, but if you bring a five page manuscript, why not just e-mail it to the board and make copies available to the people in the audience? Remember that three minutes you have? You aren’t going to fit your novel into it.
- The fact that you don’t use the pools, you don’t play tennis or basketball, you don’t go to the parks or participate in any of the activities the association offers doesn’t change the fact that you purchased a home in a deed restricted community with mandatory HOA assessments. And no, you are not the first person to suggest that we have different levels of assessments for people with kids, people who are on fixed incomes or people who promise not to gain any value whatsoever from living in a deed restricted, mandatory HOA community.
- Do a little research. Before you approach the board with your great ideas, why not run them by the community manager or other staff member? When you stand before the board and suggest things like forming a garden club or a neighborhood watch group, you’ll understand why people in the audience giggle when you find out that we already have a garden club and a neighborhood watch.
- Understand that there is an agenda. That means that, if you speak before the board about an item you are just bringing up for the first time, the board will not be acting upon it at that meeting. If you had done a little research, contacted the community manager and worked it in advance (not 15 minutes before the meeting – but at least a week ahead of time), your item might have been on the agenda.
- Have a little perspective about your phenomenally small annual assessment. In our HOA, the annual assessment is $222. We have two pools, three parks, tennis courts, volley ball courts, two sets of basketball courts, soccer fields, two lodges, recreational activities for every age group, social groups, 24/7 security patrols, and the list goes on. When I ask you to put that into perspective, consider that $222 comes out to less than $20 per month. You couldn’t get a guy with a “Will work for food” sign to mow your yard for $20. Do a little research and see what amenities you get (again, whether you intend to use them or not) in any of the HOAs in this city.
- The HOA is a business. The business has insurance, employees, lawyers, electric bills, water bills, equipment and the infrastructure needed to operate. The board members sitting in front of you are not among the people who collect a paycheck each month. Instead, we are neighbors who more often than not have been the ones who also found time to paint tagged fences that don’t belong to us, pick-up trash in parks we don’t use and attend meetings when we could be at home watching Spurs games.