Published on: December 1, 2009
Last year my December column shocked a number of people when I suggested that Boards craft rules permitting reasonable holiday decorations. Many thought that it might have been the spiked eggnog I had been drinking just before putting pen to paper (Yes, I still use those time honored instruments.) Others suggested I was just mellowing with age (Yes, like a fine wine – Apple, Ripple, etc.) Whatever the cause, it struck me last year that some warmth and individuality were appropriate for these communities which have become the centers of many of our lives – both as the focus of our livelihoods, or the place where we live. This year, likewise, as we approach the holidays my thoughts run to a similar topic – community versus individual.
In recent years much media attention has been focused on what are portrayed as individuals and individual rights being trample by community association boards. These accounts more often than not fail to tell the whole story and, likewise, fail to recognize that many, if not most, who purchased in planned unit developments, condominiums and cooperatives do so in large measure to be ensured that a certain physical and behavioral environment will be assured. Though we can debate at great length whether and to what extent a Board should appropriately be involved in behavioral issues, it is certainly beyond debate that Board’s have proper roles in dealing with the physical environment. Similarly, Boards, by their approach to matters affecting the Community will have a substantial impact on setting a “tone” within the Community. It is to this tone that my thoughts turn this holiday season.
Over the years I have observed various situations in which there exist fractured communities – that is, communities divided over one or another issue. At times these divisions have taken on proportions wholly unwarranted by the issue at hand. Often these divisions relate to expenditures of significant sums for repairs or improvements. Other times developer issues are at the root of the schism. In recent years divisions have appeared between the early purchasers in a stalled project and the new owners who have bought after construction was resumed, largely over the differing views resultant from these different histories.
What befalls a Board in such situations, as well as the professionals who serve the Community, is the difficult task of working to restore or obtain a sense of harmony within the Community. No, I am not suggesting that any Board, or any professional, can create a Community where everyone agrees about everything. The human species is incapable of that. What we are capable of doing, however, is reaching a Common Ground upon which the Community can solidly, and comfortably stand. It is to that goal which a Board and its professionals can work.
How then is such achieved. First and foremost, there must be honesty, integrity and openness by the governing body and in the governing functions. Open meetings, published agendas and a consistent flow of information go a long way in establishing this. Secondly, and of equal importance, a Board must ascertain and then act in furtherance of the Communities’ will. This, as you might say, is no easy task. However, it is often where many Boards can worsen a division within the Community as opposed to mending it. Board Members must, I suggest, avoid championing one side or another. Rather, they must ascertain the desires of the “Community” and work to meet them.
This is not to say that Board Members are not entitle to have personal opinions. Nor does it mean that they can or should at all times strive to meet everyone’s desires. What they must do, however, is to make honest, good faith judgments of what is best for the Community as a whole and work to achieve that end in a manner and at a pace which will not unduly or unnecessarily divide the Community.
Is this easy? Certainly not. Does it involve hard work and long hours? Yes, it does. Is it necessary? Certainly, if the goal is to create and maintain a harmonious community as opposed to a fractious group bound by fact and law to deal with one another. As we prepare to celebrate a holiday season expressing our humanity one to another, let us look to our Associations and work to bring that same spirit to bear on the issues which face us as Community Associations.