The Death of Civility – Why Do Community Association Board Members Serve?
I have been to a number of community association meetings in the past year, and too many of them were contentious, confrontational, loud, rude and generally ugly. I have written a number of Codes of Conduct for adoption by boards of directors to address behavior ranging from being unprepared for the meeting to falling down drunk to screaming obscenities. Boards have to deal with negative interactions with anyone from other board members to association members to the drunken boyfriend of an owner to the renter who has been there for years; and the behavior seems to occur relatively randomly and in any combination of participants. Association meetings can be as much fun as reality television.
Given the social conditions, what motivates someone to serve on a community association board of directors these days? I’ve been working with community associations for more than 33 years and I have given a lot of thought to this question.
Here’s what I have so far, and fair warning – there are sweeping generalizations involved in these descriptions. And, I am only talking about board members in this piece.
Ideal directors love where they live and want to help their communities. They take their duties seriously without being heavy-handed. They solicit input from the members and do their best to follow the laws. They ask the association attorney if they are not sure. They let the association manager do his or her job, without micro-managing. In short, they do their best. And in reality, this list describes most board members.
What about the directors who are disorderly, disruptive or confrontational; who fight with the other directors and get into shouting matches with the members who come to the meeting? Why is he or she on the board?
Let’s roughly categorize types of board members from whom we experience “bad behavior:”
- Resume or Bio Board Members – These folks get on the board so they can put it on their bio, or because their company encourages volunteering. They generally don’t attend every meeting. They may not be conscientious about reading the board packet before the meeting. They don’t volunteer for any committees or projects.
- Career Board Members – Sometimes you have directors who identified themselves by the job/work they were doing. When they retire, they feel lost, with no identity.Then, they run for the board to fill that void. This may be the problem director who acts unilaterally, without board involvement or support.
- Pet Project Board Members – These are directors who have a particular project they want accomplished, so they run for the board to push it through. They generally are not interested in anything else, and do not have much else to contribute. Sometimes they will resign before the end of their terms, if they accomplish the goal or if it looks as if they won’t be able to get it done.
- Avocational Violation Board Members – Occasionally, a member who has received a number of violation letters decides to run for the board so he can continue to do whatever he wants. He things he won’t get any more letters if he is on the board.
- “In the Know” Board Members – Some people love to be “the one who knows.”They feel empowered if they can answer a question or share the inside information. A director like this may not understand the boundaries of confidentiality, or the elements of fiduciary duty, and this could cause liability for the board and damages to the association.
- “Defending My Honor” Board Members – These directors have short fuses and tend to go off the deep end at the slightest provocation. And they take any disagreements or adversarial comments very personally, considering them to be a slur on their individual honor or integrity or competence.
- Overly-Enthusiastic Board Members – They volunteer for every project, want to chair committees, and micromanage the manager to the verge of creating a hostile work environment.
How do you deal with these myriad challenges, without getting sucked into the drama, and still get the business of the association conducted, all while maintaining your sanity? Stay tuned for the next installment.
Ellen Hirsch de Haan has over 30 years of experience practicing homeowners and community association law. She regularly teaches classes on the subject to further educate homeowners and property managers alike. Ask to join our email list to learn more by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.