Written by Richard Thompson
The natives are restless. The smell of tar wafts again through the night air and somewhere another chicken loses its feathers. The HOA board prepares for impending doom.
Board recalls don’t happen out of the blue. Like Mt Vesuvius, they give off warning signs. There’s rumbling and venting going on. Disgruntled phone calls, rants at board meetings, terse letters tacked on the door. The issues include such classics as:
1. That $&%#@! special assessment!
2. Those blankety blank rules!
3. My tree didn’t get pruned!
4. Why did your units get painted first?
5. Time for the Gang of Five to go!
1. Embezzling (stealing money or getting reimbursed by the HOA for unauthorized perks like meals, trips, etc.)
2. Engaged in fraud or conflict of interest (like accepting vendor kickbacks or steering a contract to your brother in law).
3. Failing fiduciary duties (like performing adequate maintenance and repairs of the common elements, lack of rules enforcement and aggressive collection on delinquencies).
4. Substantial inaction (doing nothing).
But the underlying reason is usually that the members feel they are not being heard. While the board is elected to get things done, it is also supremely important for the board to listen to the membership. Sometimes these folks say things the board doesn’t like to hear. They can be critical and they can be obnoxious and sometimes 100% wrong. But allowing the members to vent and participate is one of the smartest things a board can do.
If the board doesn’t provide a forum for member communications and feedback, the members will develop their own like gossip, rumors and online blogs. Here are some board strategies to head off these self help methods:
1. Open Forum. Add a 15-30 minute Open Forum to every board meeting. Allow up to five minutes per member to let them rant, rave, opine and inquire. This is not a time to transact HOA business but to clarify positions and provide information. If a member wants to address the board for business, put them on the regular meeting Agenda.
2. Get it in Writing. Talk is cheap. If a member has a passionate issue or complaint, politely request they put their thoughts in writing so the board can consider all the ramifications. Writing takes effort and most won’t do it. But it’s a great way to determine how deeply felt the issue is. Once put in writing, the board should respond in writing. This mechanism provides a clear record of board actions to member issues. It’s okay to direct the solution to someone else. If it’s not yours, don’t accept it. Hand it back or hand it off.
3. Appoint a Committee. The board is handed a task by a member who has a “great idea” such as adding a community garden. Problem is, these great ideas are often undeveloped, require research and funding. Rather than the board taking on a great idea, appoint the person proposing it to chair an ad hoc committee to investigate further. Nine of ten such committees will probably fade away due to the work involved. The board can deal with the one that remains.
4. Become a Diplomat. One of the greatest joys and greatest frustrations is the differences between people. Successful marriages usually have two opposites which balance and supplement each other making the sum greater than its parts. All of your HOA members have strengths and weaknesses. Using diplomacy will encourage them to use their talents for the common good. Rather than let them criticize from the sidelines, ask them to join the game because they have value to contribute. Remind them that, “we’re all in the same boat”. It’s true and often wins over adversaries.
Recalling the board is the final straw of a frustrated electorate. But once the board is given the boot, a new board has to fill the void. Where were these people at the last election when the call for candidates went out? A new board only provides new grist for a the recall mill. Avoid total recall by giving the membership more input and control.
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