Sunday, October 27, 2013

Should community association boards speak to the media?

I am often contacted by members of the media to discuss various association topics. These can range from the serious (secondhand smoke) to the comical (DNA testing of doggie poop).

After my part of the interview is over, I am inevitably asked by the reporter if I know of any community which fits the category we just finished discussing. Typically, I do know of a handful of communities who have either experienced the problem we discussed or contemplated/implemented the solution I suggested. I always tell the reporter I will contact these communities and see if they wish to participate in the story. Sometimes a director or manager will want to weigh in on the story but many times they are reluctant to do so.

This is one way that associations get in the news. The other way is usually when they are being sued for wrongdoing and a reporter wants the board's side of the story. The two big questions are: should association boards comment and if the answer to that question is yes, who should do the actual talking?

Some boards are wisely hesitant to comment on news stories if they believe it may portray their community in a negative light. Certainly the typical reaction to a story about a community embroiled in controversy is not going to be a selling point to potential purchasers. Conversely, a story showing a community that came together to assist a neighbor in distress or battled a problem such as a cell phone tower installation might garner that community some positive attention.

Media reports can impact a community's property values and reputation both positively and negatively; it all depends on the nature of the story. Sometimes even very negative stories require a community's input as no comment may be much worse than a thoughtful, deliberate response. Also, there is value in sharing some hard-won wisdom with others who are going through similar circumstances.

Once you decide that speaking to the media for a particular story is in your best interests, you must decide next who should do the talking on your community's behalf. Most communities do not have trained spokespeople on hand so this choice can be problematic.  Your choices in this regard include a member of the board, the association's manager or principal of the management company or the association's attorney. 

If the story is focused on proposed, pending, existing or completed litigation, it is absolutely vital to speak to your attorney before giving any comment. Speaking to the media may jeopardize a pending or contemplated case as well as violate a confidentiality agreement post litigation. For all other stories, it is best to pick the person who can articulate the association's position in a concise, positive manner.

Just remember, there really is no such thing as "speaking off the record" so if your board does decide to participate in a media story and you are unclear about what is being asked and how you want to answer, ask for your interview to take place, in part or in whole, via email so you can spend some time deliberating on your answers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Have you ever been the victim of a crime in your community association?

Over the weekend, I finally watched a movie called The Bling Ring. It is based on a true story of a group of fame-obsessed LA teens who robbed the houses of various celebrities.

While it was not shocking that these teens might have been disaffected, lacked parental oversight and behaved badly, what was unbelievable was that one celebrity after another had left a door open to the house, had not turned on their security alarm system and had wads of jewelry and money either under their beds or in unlocked safes. HUH?

In true Hollywood fashion, the bad guys were eventually caught although their actual time served was a little light-handed. Watching the teens in the movie scale walls and fences and open unlocked cars parked in neighborhoods, brought up memories of the one time I was the victim of crime inside my own homeowners' association.

I live in a community which has both a wall and a manned guard gate as well as video cameras at our entrance. Still, we have not been without security incidences over the years but most of those were related to owner error as I am about to relate. Given the difficulty one has in entering a community like mine, it may be that residents get a little looser with their own security measures. Cars may be left unlocked, garage doors stay open during the day or at night and a door or window remains unlocked.

A few years back, a number of cars in our neighborhood, including mine, had items removed from them one night. All of those cars were left unlocked, including mine. I had no one to blame but myself when I realized that all of my CDs were gone. Our board did everything right by getting the word out that the incident had occurred and reminding residents to lock their cars as well as their homes. Of course, one always assumes that these incidences are caused by other people and not the folks living in our own community but the reality is that crime occurs inside your ranks as well.

Have you ever been a victim of crime in your community association? If so, did your own error contribute to your loss as mine did? Were you lulled into a false sense of security that walls, gates, guards and cameras provide at times?

There is a happy ending to my own story. A few days after the incident, I noticed my CD case tucked into a bush in one of our common parks while I was out walking my dog. Apparently, the thieves were not so keen on my musical taste so they threw away the spoils. I had my Chicago and Journey CDs back where they rightfully belonged!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Do you attend community association trade shows?

Trade shows have been around since medieval times when they were known as trade fairs and merchants and craftsmen rolled into town to display their latest goods and offerings.

These days, most industries have trade shows and they have become a big business. Last week I attended the first of more than a half dozen shows that will occur just in the southern part of Florida before the end of this year. It seems as if every year brings more and more shows with exciting venues and innovative agendas.

I enjoy attending the shows as it gives me a chance to catch up with colleagues, see old friends and clients and naturally, check out what the competition is doing. Still, I wonder how many community association directors and members attend these shows and what factors go into their decision to attend.

When your board is debating whether or not to attend a trade show, which of these factors matter most to you?
  • Venue location. Do you like the ritzy locations like resort hotels, casinos, convention centers and the like or would something smaller suit you better?
  • -Parking. Some shows require parking in a garage and paying to boot. Is the convenience of parking a consideration?
  • Do you find trade shows held during the week more convenient than those on the weekend? What about morning and early afternoon hours vs. an early evening event?
  • Educational offerings. Does it matter if classes are offered for board certification and continuing manager education? Some shows have them while others don't.
  • Raffles and giveaways at the booths. Be honest, do the goodies get you there?
  • The company you keep. Do you want to see the principals of the vendor companies you use, the staff members or the particular manager or lawyer you use behind their booth?
Vendors pay a lot of money both in set-up costs and manpower to attend these shows. From a service provider's perspective, how much time do you spend at shows speaking with your target audience and how much time is spent speaking with fellow service providers? Fellow service providers can also provide some wonderful networking so time spent in those conversations is time well spent in my opinion.

From a board member's perspective, how many of you attend association trade shows and have you ever hired a service provider based upon their booth, materials or presence at a show? Lastly, how many trade shows would your board attend in any given year? Do you love them, hate them or have no feelings one way or the other about them?