Condo Association Boards at Their Dysfunctional Best

Dilbert by Scott Adams

Upon returning from vacation, Amy and I discovered that we had a letter from the Board of our Condo Association. I assumed it must be the materials for the annual meeting, but inside was a far greater treasure - an invitation to a Special Meeting of the Board called through homeowner petition! The last meeting I attended resulted in a two-part blog extravaganza (part 1, part 2), so the conflict implicit in the Special Meeting would surely be worth the trip.

It did not disappoint. The petitioning homeowners felt that the Condo Association Board was not being open and fair with everyone. Which is always an interesting topic to discuss in public. The general sense of distrust seems to be the result of homeowners feeling as though they are not allowed to attend Board meetings, not understanding what the Board is doing, and not feeling that the Board is responsive to their needs and wishes.

Despite having some valid concerns about transparency, the ringleader of the petitioning group had trouble leading a coherent discussion. Making matters worse, he is actually a member of the Board and has apparently not tried to make the petitioned changes internally. The only thing that saved the meeting from complete chaos was the voice of reason in the form of the management firm. The two representatives were able to command the floor and insist that the meeting proceed according to the association bylaws.

The final result was that the handful of homeowners with concerns got to say their peace, and the Board committed to consider the requests on the petition. Once again I was pleased to hear during the Treasury report that the Association is well positioned financially.

But the formal business took a back seat to the absurdity of the whole proceedings. Amy mentioned a few times that she felt like she was witnessing a live Dilbert comic strip unfold. Some of my favorite moments:

1. Remembering that we elected the petition ringleader to the Board at the previous annual meeting, realizing that he was the one that launched the petition, and then further realizing that after 9 months on the Board he still does not understand the rules by which meetings are run.

2. Learning that the minutes from the annual meeting (last April) are still not available. The current minute-taking process is to record the meeting on tape and then transcribe the tape. Apparently only one person is capable of transcribing the tape and she has had a difficult year and has not yet gotten to that particular meeting.

3. “My name is John Doe, and I live in 4F.” All speakers began their remarks with this identifying sentence. Although a sensible thing to do in theory, the ringleader insisted on starting off with it each one of the 1.32 million times he interjected or responded. And each time one of the other Board members sighed in exasperation.

4. Hearing the recorder used for the minutes start beeping on three separate occasions. Based on the reactions of the Board members, the beep meant that the tape was done and needed to be changed. Minutes of transcript were lost each time.

5. Learning that the Board voted to kill the committee that the petition ringleader chaired rather than remove him as the chair. Another Board member actually admitted that they did it because they did not like dealing with the ringleader. The closed Board meetings must be a barrel of fun!

6. “Satellite dishes are beautiful!” The association has a policy of not allowing personal property outside on common property. Thus no satellite TV. And an impassioned plea for the freedom of (TV) choice.

7. “It’s the email’s fault! It’s the computer’s fault! ” A quiet aside by one of the Board members about why some information was not available. At first I thought it was a serious comment, but then she followed up with, “We have to blame the computers for everything.” Whew.

8. And last, but not least, the Board members selectively using the Roberts Rules to silence audience members (homeowners) when they were speaking out of turn. This tactic is a go-to move for power players and is especially effective when used against good-intentioned people who want to follow the rules.

Despite the absurdity and strong emotions, it’s possible that some good will come from what I’m certain will be known for all time as the “Special Meeting of 2009.” There should be some added transparency to the Board’s activities. And the Board should seriously consider some of the other proposals. I’m not sure if they will or not, but we can all look forward to the next Annual Meeting to see how things have developed.

That wraps up this edition of dysfunctional Condo Association meetings. Now we’d like to hear some of your stories. Does this all sound familiar? What has been your favorite moment? Please send them in without the name of the complex or individuals to protect the guilty…

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