Notes for a new Board!
A few weeks ago I was asked to act as a court-appointed chairperson for an AGM to elect a new Board at a Condominium. The last few attempts had failed due to community strife and tempers. Previous AGMs have ended in chaos with chairs being thrown in frustration, accusations of theft, fraud and corruption being leveled at the Board and threats of lawsuits for slander being hurled back at the owners as a result. So the court appointed a neutral third party chairperson to oversee the elections.
I was both excited and nervous. Would the owners resent the involvement of a neutral party appointed by the legal system? Would the position be challenged by the current Board or the legal counsel? Was a neutral democratic process possible without mistrust or challenge?
I am happy to report that my concerns were unfounded!
The two solicitors on opposite sides demonstrated an incredibly admirable commitment to the election process and agreed on decisions to enable an inclusive and democratic election, even if there was a possibility that their side of the “fight” might not benefit. It was a refreshing, and I dare say an energizing evening. Sure there was some anger and some raised voices but in the end there was a new Board, a happy ownership (with applause and everything) and a feeling of a fresh start.
There is a lot of history to overcome but the new Board has a mandate to make things happen. From a neutral observer’s position, here are 5 pitfalls that I hope they avoid:
1. I hope that they work as hard at communicating now that they have the control they were seeking, as they did during the process of seeking election to the Board. The door to door campaign to tell people what was happening or not happening in their community helped get them elected. The time that they spent talking to their neighbors should not end with their first Board meeting. They have set a standard.
2. I hope that they don’t try to govern by referendum – they are responsible to make some hard decisions. Make those decisions and explain why they had to be made.
3. I hope they develop a plan with input from the owners. Discuss the challenges they face and set out goals. This will encourage buy-in from the community and they will have a road map to follow when the Board announces decisions they have made.
4. I hope they face the future without spending all of their considerable energies trying to blame someone for the past. I am not saying they need to ignore the past. If there are accusations, they need to be investigated as part of the Board’s obligation to protect the owners’ interests…but don’t lose sight of the fact that finding someone to blame may not always lead to a cure for your future challenges. Winning a court battle that may cost you more than you win is a dubious victory.
5. As a property manager, I hope they don’t make wholesale changes to every tradesperson – including the management – without honestly assessing the performance. Talk to the manager and the tradespeople to find out if their knowledge of the property will benefit the new Board. Remember that the manager had to follow the Board’s directions; those directions may not have been based on the best advice the Board received. The contractors may not be the ones responsible for the challenges the new Board faces…