Three and a half hours.
That’s how long I spent at our homeowners association meeting last night, between the meeting itself and the commentary afterwards.
My attendance at said meeting was precipitated by a knock on my door this past Saturday night whilst having the in-laws over for dinner. One of my neighbors wanted to warn us to move my in-laws car, which was parked on the street in front of our unit. Parking is not allowed on the streets, as they are very narrow. Unfortunately guest parking is very limited, and as long as people don’t make a habit of parking in the street it’s always been generally overlooked.
We are in the situation, however, where a new board is in power (the old president -a very effective president – had some medical problems and wanted to step down), and they are wanting to flex their mighty muscles to show residents and the past board that there is a new sheriff in town. Apparently this neighbor had just stopped a towing company from towing a car out of his own driveway. It’s a car they do not use and is properly covered with a car cover. It had the gall to get a flat tire, which is against the rules. No warning letter was sent, just the tow truck.
You just cannot do that.
The neighbor had to pay sixty dollars for the tow company to release his car (which is now going to have to be reimbursed by the board). According to this neighbor the tow driver told him they were 4 other vehicles to be towed from driveways, and he was also contracted to come back at midnight to tow any car on the street.
The next day another neighbor (one that was on the tow driver’s hit list) knocked on our door asking us sign a recall petition, which would attempt to dump 3 of the 4 members of the board. I’d not been to a board meeting for several months, and the neighbor filled me in on all the errors that the new board was making. She told me that the old president had agreed to get back on the board, another ex-member wanted to also, and the wife of the neighbor whose car was nearly towed (never a member) would be President. A coup, as it were.
Husband, a fierce defender of individual rights, thought everyone on the new board should be drawn and quartered. He wanted to sign so badly his body was nearly convulsing. In a cruel twist of fate it turns out that I am the only one on the deed (I bought when I was single), so I am the one to sign, or not.
And I chose not. Much to Husband’s chagrin.
I didn’t sign because the emotions were so high, and I didn’t think I could completely trust the information I’d been given. I also think that a new board is going to make mistakes, and that doesn’t mean you burn them at the stake. Hopefully they are coachable, and can learn from their errors (sorry, it’s a wonderfully frugal thought, but a board member should not be cutting down trees himself, as there are huge liability issues!). And I wanted to go to a meeting to get my own take on it. I already knew I wanted the old president back on the board because of her expertise, but I wasn’t sure that everyone on the new board needed to go. And I just didn’t think there had to be a war to make things better.
And that’s basically what I told the old president when she knocked on my door, petition in hand. I explained that tempers were so high that I thought it would accomplish much more if I walked into the meeting neutrally. And she ultimately agreed.
So the meeting started, and there were accusations and grievances and angry words and even one idiot who started throwing profanity. Things were deteriorating quickly, and I threw out a few, “Can we stop shouting, please?”s that ebbed things for a moment or two before things heated up again.
Finally I got up and spoke for about ten minutes about working together and how things aren’t always as they appear and how there’s always going to be “selective enforcement” of rules because no one can see every breaking rule all the time, and it’s always going to look selective to the ones who are caught. I reminded them there no one involved is evil, that what everyone wants is what’s best for the community. I talked about how tough times are and how tough they are going to be (what with 5% of our community in foreclosure), how we didn’t have to war with each other, etc, etc.
Really, I was quite brilliant.
The entire tone of the meeting shifted. The anger was still there, but now they were talking to each other instead of screaming. The prevailing defensiveness stopped. They were listening. Things were accomplished.
Damn, I’m good.
After the meeting I was asked several times by people on both sides to be on the board. Thanks, but I’d rather pour acid in my eye. Fifteen years as an insurance agent dealing with thirty-five different condo boards on a daily basis cured me of any desire to ever serve in that capacity. Ev-er. Ever.
So, there will still be a recall meeting. And grievances will still be aired. And I do hope the new president steps down, because you cannot simply answer “I don’t know,” and “”Because I felt like it,” to nearly every question presented to you. The rest of the new board seems fine, they just need the assistance of someone experienced to help them.
My work here is not done. Ban Ki-moon and I know and understand that. Tomorrow is another day. Diplomacy is king.