This Old Board Veterans and Newcomers Working Together

This Old Board

Being on a board of a condo or co-op is no picnic. There are tons of decisions to be made, disputes to settle, finances to keep track of and a chance of being sued for a slip-up. So why do so many people decide to serve on a board—some for years at a time? Even though it's easy to lose sight of them under the pressure and responsibility, there are benefits to being on a board.

Even long-serving board members—those individuals who get elected and re-elected term after term and have been in office since the Truman administration—enjoy giving back to their community and protecting their most important investment. There are, however, pros and cons for boards that have several long-term members on board.

Accentuating the Positive

According to real estate experts the biggest benefit of having a cadre of seasoned board members overseeing one’s condo or co-op community is the fact that they have unparalleled institutional memory. Knowledge of past successes and failures, familiarity of the various professionals along with the various roles of board members and professions and continuity of policies and procedures are the top three reasons why veteran board members are such a vital component to a successful board.

“Most veteran board members have gained hands—on experience over the years of holding a board position,” says William B. Campbell III, vice president of sales and marketing at Campbell Property Management in Deerfield Beach. “These members know the basics, their duties, what is going on in their community and the goals they are striving to accomplish. This gives the association continuity. It is a lot to expect one person to stay on long term, but overlap with good board members is also valuable for the same reason. Veteran board members also know how much time their duties typically take and what’s expected of them.”

Multi-term board members also are important because they can hold down the metaphorical fort when new members join the board. In today’s world, running a co-op or condo community can be like running a small multi-national corporation—the stakes are high with hundreds of units and millions of dollars in play. It can take up to a full term for new board members to learn the ins-and-outs of procedures, bylaws, meeting rules and other details.

“There are a number of benefits to having veteran board members,” says Paul Licata, director of business development at Seacrest Services Inc. in West Palm Beach. ”For one, these members are very well versed and educated on the history of the building or association. They know the repairs that have been made, the challenges the community or building has faced, and a great deal of other vital historical information. Additionally, most veteran board members are familiar with purchases and upgrades and the most efficient way to run their association.”

“It’s a great benefit to the association to have at least one board member that knows the building’s history,” adds Liliane Agra, a property manager at Atlantic | Pacific Management in Miami. “It takes time to understand what’s going on in your association.”

Experts also stress the necessity and importance of introducing new players who will breathe life into a stale board. While newcomers are learning, experts advise the more experienced board members shoulder the burden and at the same time, provide important mentoring opportunities—this is the perfect chance to help groom and cultivate new members. Veterans should make themselves available to novices to address any questions or concerns they might have regarding the position.

Management can also help ease the transition for newbies by providing them with necessary educational materials and resources that offer a background of the building association, and a clear outline of the expectations they are supposed to fulfill.

Real estate experts suggest experienced members to share as much information as possible about past operations, including meeting minutes, agendas, financial reports, reserve studies and important aspects of the governing documents, including amendments and resolutions of the board.

In pragmatic terms, long-serving board members also can help ease whatever difficulties an association board may have in recruiting new candidates to seek board positions. Because these positions are voluntary and because they can be so time-consuming, many residents these days choose not to run for leadership positions within their condo or co-op community. That means a fair number of board members may be seeking re-election term after term simply because there is no one else willing to take up the torch.

On the Down Side

Despite the myriad benefits that long-serving board members bring to the table, there are times when that longevity can be a detriment to the community rather than a positive. “Overall, veteran board members are key assets for any association or condominium board,” says Licata. “Some challenges are the evolution of the board and the process they use to handle things. Many board members have a certain way they like to do things, which aren’t always the most efficient. It is best to work with these board members to educate them on new processes, fresh perspectives and the benefits of these new and evolving methods.”

“The biggest down side is lack of appreciation for what they do,” adds Campbell. “Board members are volunteers and work hard for the community and usually all they get are complaints. They need to be able to go out for a walk or swim at the pool and be left alone as well. Another downside is that sometimes veteran board members stick to what they know and are focused on their original goals. Communities change over time and members can lose sight of these changes. Also, veteran board members are typically more resistant to implementing new changes. In addition, depending on the board members’ drive to get and stay educated, they may not know new laws and court cases. The laws are constantly changing and associations often want to change their rules or documents.”

Breaking the Cycle

For any co-op or condo community unhappy with a long-serving member of the board, the easiest solution is simply to vote that person out at the next election. Sometimes, though, that is easier said than done. Board members reluctant to let go of power can make it difficult for their fellow residents to unseat them. And that can be self-perpetuating, until residents begin to believe that there is no way to vote someone out and so, they simply stop trying. Because of that, term limits might be included in a community’s bylaws.

Just as in federal, state and local governments, the debate on term limits arises from time to time. The Florida Condominium Act was amended effective October 1, 2008 to outlaw multi-year board terms, including three year terms.

“The only exemption contained in the statute was for associations who wanted to establish staggered terms,” explains Agra. “In order to establish staggered terms under the 2008 law, several conditions have to be met. First, the terms could not exceed two years. Secondly, the authority for two-year staggered terms would need to be contained in the association’s bylaws. Finally, the operation with two-year staggered terms needed to be ratified.”

“In most cases you must refer to your bylaws for a homeowners association,” adds Licata. “The typical term is one year though some communities have staggered terms. To change to staggered terms will require a vote of the majority membership at a properly noticed meeting. The easiest way to accomplish this is at the annual meeting.”

Regardless of an association's rules on term limits and re-elections (experts say most co-ops and condos don't implement term limits), it is advised to conduct elections in staggered terms in order to avoid losing experienced, qualified and interested members all at once.

Perhaps the most effective way to ensure that all board members serve to the best of their ability no matter how many times they have been re-elected is for unit owners and shareholders to be vigilant in their own oversight. By attending meetings, reading minutes, scanning financials and keeping up with any and all correspondence coming from the board, residents can help keep their community on the right track and their board members functioning to the best of their abilities.

And for residents who are dissatisfied with aspects of their community and the way it is being run, they can make sure they vote in their board elections and get others to vote as well. Or, they can even take up the baton and run themselves, bringing fresh perspective and new energy in service to their fellow residents.

Thankfully, the benefits of having committed and long-serving members of the board seem to far outweigh the cons. There is no doubt that the role of a board member has gotten increasingly complex and time-consuming in recent decades, requiring significant energy, skill and experience to be successful. It can be a difficult load for new board members to bear. That is why boards that have that institutional memory in the form of long-serving members often flourish, finding that perfect balance between experience and innovation. n

Liz Lent is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator. Editorial Assistant Enjolie Esteve and Staff Writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.

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