One of the first questions I ask legislators, candidates seeking a job with my firm and vendors who sell services to community associations is: Have you ever served on your community's board of directors?
How can any of us really know what a volunteer director job entails if we have never filled that role?
I served on my homeowners' association board for two years and that was almost ten years ago. Prior to me, my husband served on the board and prior to that, other residents who were lawyers were recruited to serve on the board in the hopes that a legal background would somehow assist the board. I am not sure how much that theory was borne out in reality but my experiences from my time on the board have stayed with me and I believe have made me better able to relate to my association clients and their daily issues.
Our HOA board meetings were all held in the various directors' homes and they were not well-attended. Occasionally, a resident with a specific request such as an exterior modification would attend and then leave after his or her item was discussed. Usually it was just the five of us alone discussing what needed to be done. The director hosting the meeting usually laid out coffee and refreshments. Although we were in comfy surroundings, we were there for business purposes and most of the directors were all very well prepared. My first year we had a director who really did not understand that the "job" entailed actually reading the minutes, attending meetings and performing the tasks assigned to him so he quickly tendered his resignation when he realized that our self-managed community (we did not have a professional manager and still do not to this day) meant managerial and operational tasks fell on the directors' shoulders.
I was the only woman on the board and more than two decades younger than my male counterparts. Some memories of my time as a director are fairly vivid:
- I was initially asked to become the secretary(with one director suggesting it was a natural fit given my gender) but I declined that offer.
- One director was focused mainly on planting live oak trees in every home's front yard, claiming we had a landscape maintenance easement to do it. When I countered that the easement did not quite give us the liberty to undertake this project to the extent he desired nor was the entire community in support of it, this director suggested I resign from the board. I again politely declined that offer.
- We had a resident who was unhappy with a violation letter he received requesting he put a door on his mailbox. He parked a car that was meant for the junkyard on his swale in protest. Eventually he moved his car and his mailbox to this day remains without a door.
- We had zero delinquencies during my entire 2 years on the board.
- We spent less than $1,500 in legal fees during my entire 2 years on the board.
- We threw four well-attended social events each year which continues to this day.
- We directors did not all agree with each other but we did listen to each other.
- Our board meetings tended to last well over 2 hours and that was with no one in attendance!
When my term was up, I did not run for re-election. I suppose working in the community association industry made it less appealing to go home and work again as a volunteer director. Even so, I am grateful for my time on the board. It made me much more empathetic to the problems and complaints I hear on a daily basis from directors, managers and residents.
So what did I learn during my 2-year tenure on my community's board of directors? I learned that some of my fellow directors had engineering, managerial, entrepreneurial and other skills of which I had no idea previously. I learned that most of my fellow directors were very nice people who were serving on the board because they felt it was their duty to "give back" to the community in terms of their time and skills. I learned that there are bullies on boards just as there are bullies in the schoolyard and they should be dealt with the same way. I learned that serving on the board can be boring, exciting, frustrating, gratifying, enlightening, mystifying, easy and difficult depending on the circumstances.
I am grateful to those who serve their communities well and for the right reasons.