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And You Are Now On The Board…
It is the end of the Association’s annual meeting and you have just been elected to the Board. Do you know your duties and responsibilities? Do you know the needs of the multi-million dollar corporation you’ve been put in charge of? How do you ensure consistency in application and effectiveness of the existing policies, maintenance plans, long term fiscal planning, etc. and where do you start?
These are the questions newly elected Board members and Associations find themselves asking when annual meetings are held and the membership elects “The Board”. One must find a perfect balance between continuing down the path toward the vision the Association previously established and trying to find ways to build community, increase property values, maintain the existing assets and be fair to all residents (owners and renters).
The administration of community associations, as a whole, is a unique industry with its own set of governing documents and policies, as well as laws at the local, state and federal levels. A community association is also a diverse neighborhood where residents have different backgrounds, ideals and expectations. Board members are often burdened with the responsibility of ensuring the Association complies with applicable laws, acting as a mediator when it comes to neighbor disputes, and being experts in plumbing, roofing, insurance, financial planning, and other matters which impact the community. That’s a tough job especially if the Association is self managed; yet being on the Board can be one of the most rewarding ways to volunteer your time (yep, you don’t get paid for being on the Board).
There are a few practical solutions to make the transition between Board members easier:
Answers to most questions can be found in the Association’s governing documents; however, there are also general industry standards and other laws which apply to community associations. Community Associations Institute is a great resource for volunteer leaders and provides networking and educational opportunities. Community Association Volunteer Leadership, as a one day workshop, is just one of the many educational seminars offered by CAI that will immerse you in the basics of Condominium and Homeowner Associations. CAI also offers publications, available through its website, that are a valuable resource to current and future Boards;
Staggered Board Member Terms
Many Association Bylaws include a provision which provides for staggered Board member terms. The most common provision is where each Board member is elected for a set number of years, with positions expiring in different years. Some of the positions could expire in odd-numbered years and some in even-numbered years (for example, if you have five Board members, three could be elected in 2011 and two could be elected in 2012). This approach carries the wealth of information and knowledge from one Board to the other through members who remain on the Board, allowing the newly elected members to learn how the Association operates;
Develop a comprehensive Standard Operating Procedures / Board Manual to cover items the Association handles on a regular basis. It does not have to be extremely detailed, but should include enough information for someone to quickly understand the Association’s operations. What happens when a new resident moves in? The intercom has to be updated, appropriate documents must be collected (e.g. lease agreement if a unit is rented), new residents should be given a tour of the community, etc. The manual generally includes a maintenance plan, emergency procedures, vendor list, annual budget and financials, reserve study, prior meeting minutes, governing documents and Association policies, insurance, and other information pertinent to the Association’s day-to-day affairs. If the Association is self managed, the document will allow Board members to easily carry out routine tasks and make decisions in the future. If the Association contracts with a professional management firm, it will bring clarity and consistency to the Association’s affairs.
The wealth of knowledge that an Association accumulates over the years is almost impossible to document. A good share of that knowledge is lost every time a new Board member is elected, however this loss of information can be mitigated through Board member education and communication, staggered terms and the development of a comprehensive policy manual.