Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I'd Rather Not Be Involved
In the fall of 2004 I ran for a position on our community home owners association board. I was one of the winners of that election and now, nearly six years later, I am still on the board. I am still here on the board not because I have done such an effective job, but because nobody else has offered to run. We have a severe case of apathy perhaps, or maybe just an unwillingness to be involved.
This seems to be a common problem in many communities, organizations, and other groups. Often a small group of people will do most of the work while everyone else tries to avoid getting involved. You may have seen this in your church, club, or whatever group you might be involved with. A handful of people run things, conduct events, and do the clean up. But when things go wrong, who are usually the most vocal complainers? From my experience, the loudest critical voices are the ones who didn't do anything. They are the ones who expected everything to come off perfectly and if it doesn't, suddenly they are the ones who could have done things better if they had been in charge. So why didn't they volunteer in the first place?
When I first threw my hat into the ring I did so mostly out of exasperation. After moving into my community in 1997 I immediately began attending every community association meeting because I wanted to know what was going on and wanted to have a say in any decisions that might affect me. At first it was an intimate group of affable individuals who were mostly in agrreement about community issues. The community was still under construction and the existing homes were new. The homeowners were very interested in maintaining the value of their investments. The community development company also had a seat on the board and helped provide us guidance through their experience.
By 2002 all 113 single family homes were completed and sold. The board was now under full control of the community. The association meetings continued to have about the same attendance of our original meetings when there were only about thirty or forty homes. Now however there was less harmony and a little more agitation being displayed at the meetings. Relatively few homeowners were coming, but some of the ones who were coming had very vocal agendas that they were trying to push. By mid-2004 there was some real anger rising that at times threatened to escalate into physical confrontation. That was the year I decided to run for a position on the association board.
My platform was not so much about what plans I had for the community, but primarily about bringing unity among board members, peaceful conduct to the community meetings, and harmony to the community in general. I formed an alliance with some other like-minded candidates. The strategy worked. The community overwhelmingly voted us in and ousted the militant board members who subsequently seemed to vanish from community meetings after we took office. We brought the peace and rationality that we had promised.
And so it has gone now for the past several years. Each election saw less candidates until it was eventually just the same ones for a couple of years. I have now been on the board longer than any one else. Every election I have been a shoo-in because we never have more candidates than needed to fill postions. Those of us running always have to coerce someone else to fill a vacated spot. Last fall when we had our election I had to plead with two members who wanted to leave to stay on for one more year. I can understand them wanting to leave because I'd like to leave too.
Our management company had told us that if nobody filled the empty board positions then the state would come in and take over our associaton. That sounded ominous, especially when you consider the financial condition of the state of California--the idea of them taking charge of our community sounded like a bad idea. Right now our association fees are $77 per month which from what I hear is really low when compared to similar communities. Our community is peaceful, safe, neat, and well-maintained. It's a nice place to live in a city that has seen vast improvement since I first moved here. The homeowners should be the ones controlling our community.
I no longer want to be involved in the leadership because I feel like I've been here long enough. I stay because no one else wants to become involved either. In fact board members don't hear much of anything from our neighbors unless there's something they are unhappy about. Then they are ready to track us down and demand action or to come to the meetings to scream at us about how we are not doing our job. Excuse me? We don't get paid to do this and most of us have jobs elsewhere. People love to complain about the way things are being run, but a lot of times those same people aren't willing to step up to take the reins of leadership themselves. It's so much easier to just sit back and let someone else do it.
I'm sure some of you have your own stories about neighborhood associations. In a comment to my post of last Saturday, Gregg at Gospel Driven Disciples said, Looking forward to the neighborhood association post since I was a two term president of a home owners association. I'd like to hear your take on this Gregg. How about some others who have served on boards or assumed any kind of leadership role in an organization: What kind of experience did you have or are you still having? Why do you think most people don't like to get involved in leadership?