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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? 


  1. I think many times people go on the approach "Oh, someone else will step up and do a better job than me".

    Hope you can relinguish your duties and move on.

  2. This was really an interesting post. I read every word, even though I usually skim longer posts lol. And I also have no interest in politics, but you made it sound so compelling that if I were in this situation, I think i'd rush right down and volunteer for the board. Or send my husband lol.

    It's a shame that more of your community aren't willing to take on some of the burden. Don't you think that's selfishness? And it's exhibiting itself in all facets of our culture, which is why it boils down to "let the government do it." I admire and respect what you are doing. I'll bet many of the community do too, even though you don't hear them, you just hear the whiners and complainers.

  3. Our community doesn't have one, which is good I guess, although there are subdivision laws and rules to follow.
    Everyone wants results but no one wants to take action. Sad human behavior I guess.

  4. I suppose most people like to get involved to help the community, also it perhaps gives them something to think about especially if that person lives alone. Getting involved helps in that direction.
    When my children were small both my husband and myself belonged to the school's PTA, raisning funds for a swimming pool and school trips. It was most enjoyable but after a few years we too felt enough was enough, other things came on the scene , the children were getting older and doing their own thing so we bought a touring trailer and off we went each week-end fun seeking.

    I enjoyed your post as usual , if you think that enough is enough then why not look for some other thing to get involved you will enjoy.

    Have a good day.

  5. I have been involved in several leadership positions in churches over the years. Apathy in churches is legion. I would estimate only 10 to 15 percent were willing to get involved.

    And yes complaining seems to be the national pass time of the human race.
    The Israels were constantly complaining to Moses about everything. Nothing much has changed in over 3000 years.

    When I was in my 20s I was a supervisor of a meat packing house for 7 years. When my employees complained, I simply told them is they didn't like their job they were more than welcome to quit. That usually shut them up. Not so in the volunteer world.

  6. Thank you for remembering my comment.

    We moved into a brand new housing development that did not have a neighborhood association.

    Shortly after moving in we in the neighborhood began hearing rumors that on the vacant land directly behind our cul-de-sac housing track, a 7-11 type store wanted to build. There was one street into our development with several streets and about 50 homes once you got inside.

    Someone thought something should be done and so they left flyers on all our doors about a meeting to form an association to "fight" or stop commercial buidling on the land.

    My wife and I attended. It was a bit disorderly and rambuncious with tempers flaring about traffice, noise, crime, loitering, littering, alchohol, and etc.

    Being an administrator, with organizational skills, etc. I was going nuts over the disorderliness and the proverbial treadmill we were on so I said, it seems that there are four things you need to do and here is what you should do them to get rolling.

    Some smart aleck said, since you have a plan and can lead, you are now the President and let's get rolling. Well, they did have actual nominations and elections then, and yikes, I was elected.

    I had to develop the entire thing from the ground including going to the City Council and having a hearing before the Mayor and etc.

    We formed the association, we were sucessful in stopping the store from coming in.

    Others things would come and go and we tried to handle them. But when the second term came up everyone had ideas about what they wanted and what we should do but no one wanted to do them. My second term was by default, no nominations,no one to run against me.

    Soon after that attendance dropped, energy dropped, people expected I would just get r done.

    Third term came and it was going to be the same. But I had toyed with the idea of moving and I said I can't serve, as I will be moving out of the neighborhood.

    They didn't get anyone for the President, the VP shortly resigned for I think health reasons.

    The association limped along then stopped. We moved after living there 5 years.

    After we moved we visited some neighbors who had become great friends. The told us the association died. It ceased to exist.

    Guess what? Rite Aid bought the land and put in their store. The traffic is horrendous, the problems we feared surfaced.

    The expereince turned out to fit the 20/80 rule. 20% of the people (if that was even the right #) did 80% of the work.

    I think it is sad when everyone has an agenda, everyone wants results, yet no one wants to expend the energy to make it happen.

    I don't think I would be on a board like that again.

  7. Your description could just as well have been our homeowner's association. And we only have 21 homes in our little community. Frankly, it makes me want to move to someplace where there's no HOA to deal with. As to why people don't want to assume leadership roles, I think folks just don't want to take responsibility.

  8. I tried to leave a comment earlier and it may have malfunctioned. If this is a duplicate then please ignore it.

    My wife and I moved into a brand-new neighborhood. It had one street leading into the development with branch streets with approximately 50 homes. This new development did not have neighborhood association.

    Shortly after moving in however, we began to hear "rumors" that a 7-11" type store wanted to build on a vacant piece of land directly behind our development.

    As neighbors began to worry about increased traffic, noise, crime, loitering, littering, alcohol, and endless other worries, someone decided that something needed to be done. Flyers were passed out to each resident about a meeting to form a neighborhood association in order to fight the incoming "store."

    My wife and I showed up. The meeting was jammed packed. However, with tempers flaring, it was disorderly, unorganized, and going nowhere fast. I am an organizer, administrator, and a let's get r done type. So, I quieted them down and said it seems like there are at least four things you need to do and here's how to do them. Some smart aleck yelled out, great, you are now the president and let's get r done.

    Well, they did move to organize, nominate officers, have an actual election, choose a name, and proceed. Guess what? No one would accept nomination for president and they insisited I accept. I thought ok, how tough can this be?

    We had to form from scratch. I had to develop our by-laws, go before the City Council & Mayor, etc.

    We got up and running and sucessfully stopped the building of a commerical enterprise on that vacant land.

    Then the steam seemed to start leaking. Energy declined, input, ceased, participation waned.

    By the second term of elections there was no one who wanted to run anything and I was "elected" by default. We handled a couple more issues, but no one wanted to be involved or take care of business.

    Then the third term arrived. I did not want to continue in a position that was unsupported as evidenced by the declining interest and lack of participation. It looked as if a third term was going to "forced" on me. I had toyed with the idea of moving, so I said I can't, I will not be living in the association. So I didn't run, though I attended the meetings. After living there 5 years we did move.

    The Presidency was not filled. The VP resigned, I think for health reasons. The association came to a halt.

    We would go back and visit neighbors with whom we had become close friends. They shared that the association stopped meeting. There were no officers and the neighborhood was quiet.

    But about two years after we moved, and the association died for lack of participation, Rite Aid bought the vacant land. They built there store. The things the association feared came about and now the development "copes" and lives with the problems. Granted, the problems are less severe and usually a different type than a "7-11" or that type of store would have brought.

    Forgive me for being verbose, but I said that to say this. I don't know if i would do that again. Everyone has ideas, everyone wants to voice them, everyone wants to be heard, but very few want to get into the trenches and make it happen. It was the old 80/20 rule, 80% of the work was done by 20% of the people involved.

    It is amazing that so much gets done in this country by so few, regardless of whether it is a neighborhood association, club, church, city government.

    Involvment is the key not angry accusations or condeming criticism because something isn't being done. We had some good people living in that development who had good ideas, but didn't want to be part of the solution.

    Someone onces said something along the lines of, evil prevails when good men do nothing. You have all heard it said, "Be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

  9. rLEE-b ~
    I have never lived under the authority of a homeowner's association. And in fact, when I go house-hunting, making certain that there is no HOA is my first order of business.

    I understand the reasons that Homeowners Associations are set up, and it sounds good on the surface, but I've heard so many horror stories about them over the years that I choose the alternative.

    I'd rather take my chances against some screwball moving into the neighborhood, painting his house purple, and setting up an automobile repair business on his front lawn than pay a monthly fee to an HOA to be tyrannized by continual 'small potatoes' rule enforcement by little people on power trips.

    I'm not saying all Homeowners Association Boards are like that (and certainly not you), but I've heard WAY TOO MANY STORIES of this sort. I'd rather take a gamble and roll the dice. (And so far - knock on my noggin - my gambling has paid off.)

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

  10. There's a saying that 20 % of the people do 80% of the work.

    Hope you can get out of your committment soon.

  11. I think leadership is an innate quality, and also, that everyone can't be the'd have no followers and nothing would ever get done.
    You pretty much answered your own questions, I think. :) It's like wealth... approx. ten percent own ninety percent of all the money. Or as you said, approx. ten percent donate most of the charitable contributions or work efforts.
    I agree with you about complainers. I hate it when people do nothing to contribute, but are constantly complaining.
    Unfortunately, it usually takes near disaster before more poeple step up to help.
    I don't think I answered you questions, but... :)
    Best wishes to you with your future decisions.

  12. By the way, I the Kahlua Chili recipie came up in queue today. If you would still like to see what is in it pop on over.

  13. I've never heard of a neighbourhood association :)

    I think most people's lives are very busy and full & it's hard to find more time. When my kids were in sports, I tried to do my share, but sometimes it's really tough.

  14. Thanks for the responses and for the stories about some of your own experiences. I think most people, including me, want somebody else to take care of things, but are willing to step up when the situation absolutely demands it.

    As Ron points out, the willingness to volunteer goes back thousands of years. We want someone else to lead, but they'd better do it right.

    Gregg, thanks for your account of your personal experience. The funny thing about your story was that you guys wanted to form your association to galvanize the community with a common cause, but once you accomplished your goals people lost interest. In our case, it was something that was set up by the developers, I guess as something attractive to potential homeowners.

    I had never lived in a community with an association before so I didn't really know much about it. If I move again I would probably avoid a community that was governed by an association.

    Thanks again for some really great comments!

  15. Your situation would make a wonderful romance plotline! It's the sort of thing that could pit a h/h against each other yet have them working for the same goal. Thanks for posting!

  16. Busy, lazy, oblivious. It's pretty universal. Hubby is in a sporting club. He won reelection again... unopposed. I've had similar experiences in volunteer organizations.

    I think there are many people who would step up if they (1) knew there was the need, and (2) knew they could get out when they wanted.

  17. Lee, caught up with your posts are a prolific blogger!
    Being involved can be a blessing or a curse...and I've been there done that!...and what you say is so so true. If you do a good one will stand against you and you are stuck with it....and knowing a little of your nature, you would be giving it your very best. Don't know what the solution is Lee, but somewhere along the line I had to say NO...and mean it!

    If you have time I'd like you to comment on my most recent blog about Obama

  18. Oh wow--I've enjoyed skimming some of your posts! You are an interesting person! This post spoke to me as we too were on the board and tried hard to get it all together--but then when it's time to step down, no one else will come along. This past Dec, we fired the management company and now our community is without one.
    Anyways, thanks for visiting my blog! I look forward to reading more from you:)

  19. Terri -- no management company? Yikes! Seems like that would even be a bigger nightmare for the board. Our management company acts as a go between so that theoretically board members don't have to deal with the everyday complaints and problems.


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