Note: This week’s column is by Florida condo and HOA attorney Donna DiMaggio Berger. She is a frequent speaker and writer on HOA law, and her blog can be found at www.condoandhoalawblog.com .
When you first learn that you will be serving as a new member of your community’s board of directors, you are likely to be offered either congratulations or condolences. What you are not likely to be offered is much in the way of guidance for your new “job.”
You probably achieved your director’s seat in one of the following ways:
1. You were recruited/urged to run for the board by your neighbors or current board members.
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2. You were appointed by the existing board to fill a vacant seat.
3. You ran for the board because you were eager to correct perceived deficiencies in current association operations.
4. You are one of the rare few who embrace service to others.
Regardless of how you came to serve, there are right and wrong ways to begin your tenure as a community association director.
Ask questions. Rather than making assumptions, ask questions about why the board is doing certain things and enforcing or ignoring certain policies. Of course, questions should be just that, inquiries with the genuine purpose of obtaining information, not veiled accusations or overt criticism. There will be time for change and possible censure later after all the facts are gathered. For now, just try to figure out why your board does what it does and based on what authority.
Do your homework. The work begins, not ends, after you join your board of directors. First and foremost, you must be prepared to attend your board meetings as well as any membership meetings.
However, your work as a director doesn’t end there. For self-managed communities you could be looking at quite a bit of legwork to perform the necessary duties of operating and administering the community. Even if your community is professionally managed, you should not expect to abdicate your responsibilities as a director to a manager or to your fellow directors. You will need to read reports, minutes and a host of other materials pertaining to your role as a director before you are expected to weigh in with a decision on them.
Immerse yourself. There are lots of free and good classes out there that will help you better understand your role as a community association board member. Attend a class, read a book and read your governing documents. If you are the ambitious type, you might want to also consider reading the statute that governs your particular type of association. But do not expect to interpret everything on your own – that is your association attorney’s role.
Take your role seriously. As with any representative form of governance, people are relying upon you to make sound and reasonable decisions on their behalf. The members are also allowing you to spend their hard-earned dollars so understanding what it means to be a good financial steward is a critical component of serving on your board.
You cannot fulfill your fiduciary obligations if you do not show up, are not adequately prepared and do not take your role as a director seriously. Remember, even if you think the role is a cakewalk, you might learn a hard lesson to the contrary in court.
Remain objective. Put aside your personal issues and hotspots and focus on what is in the best interests of the community. This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons to embrace but is likely to be the most important. You cannot truly represent your community if you are focusing on what matters to you to the exclusion of what matters to the majority of your association members.
Last, be proud of the fact that you chose to serve as a community association director. Winning that seat is usually a vote of confidence in your skills. Remember, your voice and your vote count, so use both wisely.