From a President’s Perspective

Published in the ECHO Journal, November 2011

An association president often has a unique view of the property he or she manages, the many challenges of finance and construction issues and even the personalities of both the board of directors and the membership. Three terms as president, and many more years as a director, gives me insight to comment on building your team and what makes a good board of directors.

Build Your Board

First, let’s build your board. Homeowners may assume that anyone with a pen and pencil can be a board member. Sometimes, your own board or management company will want to fill a vacancy with the first willing, warm body. This usually will be a fatal error. Is the new candidate really willing? What are his or her interests? What is his work, travel, and vacation schedule away from home? Will she be an absentee board member and what is your board ratio of live on the premises board members vs. absentee homeowners? It is generally much more difficult to work with an absentee member who is on the board for name only. The board will carry a greater workload and not have that person’s input or assistance. Sometimes, the absentee board member will sabotage the board by telling others that he or she did not agree with a controversial decision or that he or she was not involved.

I recall vividly one time when the vice president and I went to interview a prospective board member. We had zeroed in on a retired business manager. As we spoke with him, we realized he reacted slowly and really had no interest in being on the board. His interest was golf and it turned out his wife was really the better candidate. Don’t overlook mixing your board to get a combination of perspectives, both male and female.

I prefer to hand select prospective board members in advance of a vacancy. Have a few members in the wings as possible candidates and discuss their merits with board members. Find out their interests and professional background. Balance your board and consider representation from the various size homes in your complex if that is an issue. Condominiums in our development vary in size from 954-2500 sq. ft. We have inclusionary units with no garages, no fireplaces and no decks and then some units with two car garages & space for two additional cars. This can cause friction between the little guys and those of perceived wealth, whether true or not. You need the perspective of everyone before you make a major decision. Would you clean fireplace flumes at HOA expense, or should that cost be borne by the homeowners that have fireplaces.

A board member with a maintenance or real estate background may be perfect to oversee repair and landscape projects in your development. A business major, CEO or CFO, may be just the person to lead assessment reviews and monthly financial discussions. And the social person may be the one to lead a committee or organize a yearly yard sale, pool party or other activity. The president mostly needs to be good at leading others to work for him or her! It’s not his or her job to dominate the board.

Construction Projects

Our board has found it advantageous to assign a director to oversee construction projects that do not need a hired construction consultant. This may be a minor road resurface to landscape and paint. Again, using an experienced board member, perhaps retired, who has the time to spot-check daily the work being done can nip errors or omissions in the bud and achieve the quality job your association paid for. Believe it or not, you do not always get what you pay for!

In some instances a contracted company may use a “B” or “C” team to do smaller projects. Day laborers may be used instead of skilled painters, in violation of the contract. In our case that is just what happened. Several directors noted numerous violations including laborers using small scraps of sandpaper and painting in the rain, a failure to remove nails as specified in the contract and poor preparation and caulking. After consulting with our attorney, we stopped the project and had several meetings with the paint manufacturer and the painting company. The errors were documented in photographs, and we settled successfully outside the courtroom. We were able to resolve the problem because we had a few dedicated directors recording the daily mishaps of the contractor.

But often, you have board members who are working full-time. They do not have the interest, expertise or time to be problem solving a contracted job for the association on a daily basis. That’s when you need to call in the big guns. Oten for a reasonable price you can hire a construction expert to oversee your project. The advantages are many. The construction manager will have the right qualifications for the job assignment. He or she will then monitor the project daily and hold the contractor accountable for any violations of the written order. Contractors are less likely to sway from the specs or argue with a known professional manager in the field. And your construction manager reports directly to the board.


Emails are a modern day popular form of communication that can bite you in the rear. I started out trying to be email friendly and responsive to our community. But soon I realized one popular member would use emails to build support for an architectural change outside of filing the proper forms. Others would use any response from the president as carte blanche approval to do whatever they wanted and circumvent the system of checks and balances. Now, I’m more careful how I respond to a member and I always copy my response to the property manager. It’s also a good idea to keep your property manager in the loop when directors respond to discussions by email. Emails often are now subpoenaed in both criminal and civil. court cases,.

Rotation of Officers

The president is the most visible member of the board and often the first asked for comment on a proposal by a homeowner. Rotating officers every two to four years is probably good overall for the organization. I firmly believe that we all have a “shelf life” with the membership. A grace period exists for the president, but after so many years you are bound to have made some decisions that have rubbed a few people the wrong way. In our association these areas tend to be architectural changes, fines, parking issues and pool closures.

A Man’s Home is his Castle

One time I jumped the architectural process by stepping into a homeowner’s home to make suggestions for getting wood floors approved through committee. I thought I was being helpful and instructed the homeowner on how to separate the areas of the home for consideration. Well, it backfired. The committee denied the wood floors and the owner has not talked to me since. Sometimes what we see as helping is seen as meddling.

CC&R Enforcement

Encourage your board to be understanding of homeowner decorations of their personal spaces. Almost everyone wants to personalize his or her space, whether it is with flowerpots, temperature gauges or other decoration. The CC&Rs should be adhered to for their intended purpose. We enforce the white window dressing requirement but relax on outdoor barbecues for those units that do not have a garage or deck. In other words, pick your battles and tread lightly!

Our board decided to allow parking in driveways as long as the vehicle did not protrude into the fire lane. But we drew the line for multiple vehicles even if you could crowd three or four onto a driveway intended for two.

Problem Home Owners and Roberts Rules of Order

I would like to say that I’m up to date on Roberts Rules, but that is not always the case. A good knowledge of the above can help you effectively control problem people that appear before the board.

We have a homeowner who is frequently out of compliance with the CC&Rs, off his medications and who has threatened board members from time to time. After a number of encounters on the property and in the board room I realized that whenever we called him on a CC&R violation he would turn the tables by attacking one or more board members verbally with construction violations of their own. These meetings would quickly escalate to a yelling match between the eccentric homeowner and the board member verbally assaulted.

At our next meeting I pointed out his antics in advance to board members and suggested that we each keep calm and deflect his attack in a form of verbal judo. As anticipated, he deflected our efforts to discuss the violations at hand and immediately launched into a tirade against one director. I calmly advised him that we were here to discuss his violations and that we would table his accusations for another meeting date in accordance with Roberts Rules. When his friend spoke up I advised her she was not a home owner and not part of the discussion. Although the issue was not resolved, our homeowner stormed out screaming and we all regained our composure. Roberts’ Rules had saved the day!

And for Directors

I try to start every meeting on time and sometimes this means interrupting a social conversation to get things rolling. On other occasions a board member may be questioning the association manager on an individual personal expense that would be best taken up in private outside the meeting. Starting a meeting promptly is a courtesy to the board members present. After an introduction of guests I then remind the board that we have a lot on the agenda with a quick citing of the major topics. This alerts the board that I will keep the meeting moving and not allow rambling conversation. I do make sure that all Board members have their say on any given topic. I feel you can usually tell if there are lingering questions, and I will call on that board member if he or she has not spoken up.

Pay particular attention to senior members of the board that speak softly but carry a big stick. They may have historical data recollection about the association that your more junior members do not have. You can also call on the senior member for a viewpoint to help balance off-the-wall suggestions that can be costly. A good president should have a good idea in advance how each of the board members is likely to vote on any given issue.

Special guests, such as contractors, construction managers, insurance rep and security manager, should be taken out of order as quickly as possible. I may dispense with a few brief items to get the agenda rolling and then take the “working person” as soon as possible. This person is on the clock, so to speak, and is offering us an inside view that we may not see on the written reports.

Don’t Blind-side the President

Don’t blind-side the president or other directors at a meeting. Bring up ideas, suggestions, etc., before the meeting for thought. This can easily be done by email by sending your comment to the association manager for distribution. Keep everyone in the loop and you will avoid claims of favoritism, even if you disagree with the suggestion or comment. Once the decision is made at a board meeting, it is final. All directors should support 100 percent the policy set—even if the decision was made by a split vote. What is said in the boardroom stays in the boardroom. Homeowners have a unique ability to recognize dissention in a board and to manipulate individual board members that they may see as sensitive to their viewpoint. Don’t let it happen.

I encourage all board members to read and study financial reports in advance. I often send an email reminder ahead of meeting. First, this alerts the board to the upcoming meeting they may have forgot and secondly, it shortens long periods of silence as members review the financial and management reports. I prefer to jump right into questions and answers.


The task of the president for an association is to keep the board members involved. It’s building a team that will anticipate and be sensitive to homeowner demands and interests. Keep board members involved by recognizing the expertise that each may bring to the table and by frequently asking for their input. Rotate officers for cross training and never play favorites. Work out in advance an approach to problem people appearing before the board. Roberts Rules of Order may help in controlling difficult persons.

Pete Pearson is a three-term board president and prior multi-term association director. He also served as a director in a large law enforcement fraternal association for fifteen years. He holds a bachelors degree in management.