If you live in a common interest community such as a condominium association or homeowners association, chances are you have met an Architect of Division – AD for short.
Community associations are self governing bodies. They are comprised of differing opinions, socioeconomic positions, personalities and views of the community. It is important to remember that when perceptions and opinions differ between neighbors, individuals should remain open and honest with their dialog. Choosing to act in any other way is detrimental and divisive to a community.
Let’s study a hypothetical situation which often presents itself in reality for community associations across theUnited States.
The Happy Times (Gone Bad) Homeowners Association
For several years Happy Times was a successful and productive community. The Board of Directors was comprised of individuals who were successful, business minded and community focused. They understood the importance of debating differing points of views on issues and leaving the boardroom with one unified voice – majority rules and each individual respected and supported that fact.
The Board was diligent in preserving, protecting and enhancing life for everyone who lived at Happy Times. They did not cater to “the squeaky wheel”, they communicated decisions to the community, provided committee structure for individuals to be involved in the decision making process, took responsibility for their decisions, provided direct methods for any homeowner to contact the Board members, conducted community forums, established a newsletter, and they genuinely enjoyed their service to Happy Times.
As with any community there was a group of unhappy homeowners who did not agree with the Happy Times Board decisions. They would complain about not being included in the decision making process. They believed that the Board was self serving. Generally, these folks were not happy with much of anything around Happy Times.
Lurking in the darkness of Happy Times awaited an Architect of Division. The AD would listen to those who were unhappy, seem very empathetic to those complaining, ask questions and provide attention to any one who expressed discontent with Board decisions. The AD envisioned themselves as the savior for those who were unhappy and would step forward to take up their “Cause”. The unhappy homeowners, alas, found a leader.
An uprising began. Under the direction of the AD emails denigrating the Board started to flow, flyers appeared from anonymous sources, gossip/innuendo about the Board ran rampart and neighbors started to turn against neighbors. Those who were once friendly to each other stopped speaking. There became a sense of “Them” (those supportive of the Board) against “Us’ (those who disagreed with the Board). Followers of AD would not engage those who did not agree with them. The division of Happy Times Homeowner Association had begun.
The Board tried to counter this uprising by offering open and honest dialog to understand why the unhappy homeowners were so very, very unhappy. The unhappy homeowners choose not to engage in dialog either in person, via email or any other offered avenue for discussion. The communication of misinformation continued and finally the Happy Times Board gave up. After all, how could they discuss issues or differing opinions if those who were unhappy would not engage in conversation?
For many communities who have experienced the Happy Times scenario, it may take years for the core community to reverse this type of division. Over time, as some move away and others see the AD for who they are things will improve.
As with all communities, there are always those who express unhappiness or do not like the decisions being made by a board. Many times this personality is one who complains but does not offer solutions or act to make a difference by volunteering. Whether the issue is upgrades to common areas or an increase in assessments, some folks will never agree with or support the actions of a board. On the other side a board must act in the best interest of the entire community, regardless of individual opinions. The board has a fiduciary duty to uphold.
Sometimes an unhappy group can gain traction. From my experience, those who are unhappy with a board will begin complaining neighbor to neighbor. They gossip, speculate, they do not openly communicate their concerns in a forthright way with the board, they start sending emails and flyers from anonymous sources, they will attack individual members of the board, they spread falsehoods and innuendos. They use all the same tactics as described above at Happy Times.
It is sad that people can loose sight that common interest communities are self governed by a board of directors who are neighbors volunteering their time. When people who volunteer to serve their community are attacked and disparaged where they live, why would they want to serve? What message is received by those residents of Happy Times who were uninvolved homeowners – do you think they are going to be excited about volunteering for their community? Usually not!
If you live in a common interest community, do not loose sight of the “common”. In the end, those who volunteer are neighbors. They probably bought in the community for some of the same reasons you did. If you disagree with an issue or board position, discuss it openly and in an adult manner. All communities have avenues to bring concerns to the management or boards of directors, use them.
Do not sit back and become frustrated with issues. If you do, chances are you will slowly (without even realizing it) begin to speak your discontent with a neighbor who will share the same discontent with other neighbors and before you know it (snowball effect) you will have your own Architect of Division tearing your community apart.