Ten Lessons Sans Carols: #9 The Gift That Keeps On Giving–No

IMG_20140213_073332_878This year I served as president of my neighborhood association. I live in a small townhouse enclave, a place where people were so offended by the county’s pilot once-a-week trash pickup program, they protested by leaving in the street for days the heavy-duty 40-gallon rolling trash cans the county gave everyone as thanks for being part of the pilot. This is the same place where people regularly violate the legal covenants about parking and property upkeep, complain about and report their neighbors’ violations, and then refuse to pay the fines for violating the covenants themselves.

I didn’t start the year on the board. In fact, I declined a nomination at the annual meeting last November. When the president quit the thankless position this past April, I agreed to join the board after a hard press from two members. Our first order of business was the county trash pilot program, for which we were blamed despite everyone receiving from the county informational packets explaining what/when/why/who/where. The second board president quit at the end of July, along with two other board members and the remaining two board members pushed me to assume the presidency. I reluctantly agreed.

In response to heavy lobbying by some neighbors we proposed to amend the covenants regarding property rental. Among the changes was a provision to limit the ability of people who don’t maintain their homes to rent said homes (who wants to be known as the community where renters are forced to put up with leaky roofs and bursting polybutelyine pipes and nasty landlords who want to charge the renters extra to fix the problems that the renters didn’t cause? Who would buy into that kind of place?) Once the proposed amendment went out by mail to every homeowner in advance of the annual meeting, the very people who had lobbied us for the amendment suddenly decided to oppose the amendment and did so with great vitriol. Emails copied to every homeowner flew back and forth, calling us names and accusing us of everything from stupidity and greed to espionage. Mind you, the amendment didn’t contain any provisions that specifically helped any board member; it just helped the association as a legal entity protect the neighborhood as a whole.

At the annual meeting on December 17th, our attorney was shocked by people’s rudeness, hostility and unwillingness to listen to legal reason. So much for holiday spirit and people being kinder and more giving this time of year. We had a roomful of Grinches and Scrooges.

At one point, someone shouted, “Who put you in charge?”

“Um, you did,” our association manager said, “when you voted for the board at the last Annual Meeting.”

“Well, who gave them the power to propose amendments?”

“Um, the association’s Bylaws give the Board that legal power.”

“Well, where were we when they made these decisions?”

They came from somewhere, the words I spoke. I couldn’t help it.

“Good question,” I replied. “Where were you last year when we asked for people to run for the board and none of you stepped up? Where have you been this year when we again asked for people to serve on the board? Where were you when we sent out requests for input and participation and no one responded? Where were you when we asked you to meet with the board to discuss your situation with your abandoned property and you refused to show up? We’re asking you here and now to seriously consider the amendment and vote on its merits. If you don’t like it, don’t vote for it. If you don’t like the job we are doing, replace us. In fact, we beg you to replace us because we all quit. If you’re not willing to step up and serve your neighborhood, like we did—and we did so always with the goal of protecting the best interests of this community we call home and in accordance with the association’s governing documents—and you just want to complain, then do us a favor and shut up.”

We really did quit. It took fifteen minutes of stunned silence and a lot of badgering by the association manager for three people finally to self-nominate to serve on the board for this year. They were voted into office, effective immediately. Alas, the proposed amendment went nowhere and the meeting ended with people still complaining loudly as they left the building. Two days later, one of the new board members quit by email, already overwhelmed by the negativity of his neighbors.

I was asked to come back onto the board and I simply said, “No.”

When no one is saying yes to you despite your best efforts, it’s time to say no, too. Pride may want us to stand our ground and dig in, too, for some higher purpose we think we serve, but that kind of pride can be counterproductive when the issues aren’t of the magnitude of, say, civil rights. When the majority wants to wallow in the mud because it can, when the will of the people is Won’t, we have to take the hint, stand up for ourselves and our health, and step down.

Having done just that, I feel so much better. And no, I won’t retaliate by withholding my support for the new board. I wish them well and I hope they have better success than we did serving this community. Besides, I have better things to contribute than trouble. In fact, I am hosting the meeting next week at which we transfer all of the files and other board materials to the new board members and explain how things work. They already know how things don’t work so we can move right along.