Tag Archives: Voting

Homeowner Association Boards (HOA)

blog post on the tyranny of homeowners association boards sparked a chord of frustration and disdain in me this morning. The blog post was by Jonathan Nettler, “The Tyranny of America’s Homeowners Associations,” on the Planitizen website, “a public-interest information exchange for the urban planning, design, and development community.”

Nettler’s post selectively quotes a post by Kaid Benfield, “Coercion by Contract: How Homeowners Associations Stifle Expression, Sustainablity” on the Natural Resources Defense Council site for staff blogs, Switchboard. Benfield’s original post is much more  balanced than Nettler’s quote that portrays condominium boards as equal to Nazi’s in style and substance. It was Nettler’s distortion that was frustratingly passive aggressive.

Who Rules Homeowners Associations?

The problem with associations of homeowners, when there is one, is not the board, but the homeowners themselves. HOAs are self-governing. The state in which they are established generally has few regulations, usually limited to disclosure and owners rights. These are totally minimal compared to what homeowners themselves establish. The board can only enforce the regulations the homeowners have approved.

New homeowners agree to follow the HOA regulations when they sign their contracts. One presumes that these are adults who are beyond the age of consent and can read. They rule themselves.

Self-Governing Democracies

One of the tragedies of life is the lack of understanding of self-governance. In the years between 1850 and 1950 when people were struggling to build new democratic governments out of the aftermath of revolutions, the right to self-governance was hard-won. The refrain of progressive education in the early part of the 20th century was the importance of universal education in order to maintain a democracy. Civics was a required study on high schools. I don’t remember the statistics but this is no longer true.

Self-governance requires knowledge. The skills and understanding have to start in the family, the neighborhood, the schools, and villages. Whether a homeowners association is responsive to the needs of residents, depends on the residents, and on their ability to self-govern.

Do Condo Boards Have Any Power?

A homeowners association board only has as much power as the homeowners give it, and the only people on the board are the ones the homeowners elect. Objecting is hard but it’s the only way to confront the issue of badly performing board members.

Board members are people who have the same skills and deficiencies that each of us has. They are not miracle workers. They need help and support too.

The Buck Does Not Stop at Voting

Voting is not enough to ensure that our associations are democratic. Voting is actually nothing. What is important is the day to day understanding of what decisions are being made, how they are made, and evaluation of their results. It’s a living process, not a voting booth process—though attention to voting would be a start.

After serving on a condo board, I understand completely why board members become Condo Commandos: the behavior of homeowners. They don’t participate, don’t educate themselves, and don’t pay attention even to the financial health of the communities in which they have invested both financially and personally.

Self-Governance Requires Self-Education

It takes lot of work to make the decisions board members have to make. It can be overwhelming to do all the research and study that each decision takes. On top if it, to have to gently coax homeowners (or jerk them up by their collars) to make them pay attention is more than most board members have time for.

Being a board member means giving up many evenings and weekends to do the work required. Homeowners have to do the same in order to develop and protect a community they would be happy living in.

Each homeowner, like each citizen, has to self-educate if they want to self-govern. They need to help board members make good decisions. What many people do is leave the decision-making to someone else then sit around and complain about tyrants.

Is Voting Meaningless?

This post is not intended to discourage voting. It only addresses the fact that our votes are not as powerful as they are often portrayed by political parties.

The peer-to-peer election process is not about voting. It is designed to identify the best available person to do the job. Those with the most reliable information about the job and about the people qualified to do it are responsible for nominating and electing the best person. The preferred method of deciding on that person is consent by all those present but voting is also an option. Crucial is that the people who are electing the person have something at stake. Their own jobs will be on the line if the peer they chose doesn’t perform their job well enough for the whole electing body to perform well.

The Right to Vote Is Meaningless Without the Right to Nominate

Multiple lines of people waiting to vote.

In local, state, and national elections, the right to vote doesn’t mean voters will have good choices when voting. The authority to cast ballots doesn’t include the authority to nominate. Campaigns are so expensive that the political party system controls nominations. They often come down to the lowest common denominator because the better qualified people fail to gain popularity with one faction or another.

Political parties and well funded special interest groups control information. They cloud public opinion and determine first who is nominated and then who will “win.” Voting is irrelevant in this process except at the most mundane level. Which person has turned off the voters the least? Which is the least incompetent? Campaigns try their best to control that which further diverts the focus from qualifications to irrelevancy.

Too Many Voters Means No Meaningful Debate Over Qualifications

The information voters need to make a good decision is hidden in layers of bureaucracy and campaign spin. Since there is no forum in which hundreds of thousands of voters can sit together to debate the arguments. They must align themselves with political parties in hopes that the parties will surface the best people.

The political parties are filled with people who work for their own interests as party officials. Others for a particular party hopeful who is also their boss. Or a special interest group that the hopeful has promised to support, lavishly. Campaign workers take pride in being clever and getting their person elected at all costs because they win if their boss wins.

Voting Starts with a Job Description

The peer election process begins with a job description. When was the last time you participated in an election that started with a job description? As I was writing, I realized I’ve never seen a job description for an elected government office. How do we properly evaluate performance without a job description?

Presenting Arguments in a Forum Where They Can Be Tested

In a peer election nominations are judged not by the viewing audience or the party officials but the people who understand the job best. In a peer election, nominations are made, challenged, and defended. The election is determined on the quality of the evidence, not the quality of the campaign literature. The people in the room who are electing are the same people who know where the bodies are buried, and not buried.

Debate is about understanding and rebutting arguments. It requires skill and intelligence. What we call debates in the United States presidential elections are not debates. They are staged performances in which the candidates have spent hours learning to duck questions and make jabs at the other candidates. Studying their make-up and consulting with experts on wardrobe choices. In turn, we applaud their ability to make quick retorts and not stumble over their words.

Common Aims and Consent

Using consent decision-making requires a common aim. The job description provides that in part. If a body has been able to consent to a job description, they can then move toward the aims stated there when measuring candidates. Freed of the responsibility for financing their next campaign, peers are more likely to be faithful to the needs of the job.

Consent is not the only decision-making method to be used in peer elections. Preference voting is far preferable to majority vote and still avoids the issue of one person or persons not sharing the aims of others. Movement forward is important.

Successive Approximations

If consent can’t be achieved, voting by peers at least ensures that the voters will be more cognizant of reality than the great mass of voters who have little access to accurate information and can’t spend their lives trying to acquire it. Successive approximations is the most we can expect when attempting to adopt more rational practices.

By insisting that everyone has a vote, whether they understand the vote or not, we have made those votes meaningless.