For twenty-three freaking years, yes, 23, I've been the secretary of our homeowner's association here in rural south Salem, Oregon.
I was asked to run for the board of directors soon after my wife and I moved here in 1990. A few years later, in 1992, I agreed to be board secretary. The rest is history, an almost quarter-century of it.
Being a writer/author/blogger, I was comfortable taking notes and writing minutes. Plus, doing all the other stuff that came with the position. I kept being re-elected every year for a simple reason: nobody else wanted to be secretary, and I was doing a good job.
Members of the board of directors came and went. I stayed. And stayed... and stayed.
I became the institutional memory of the board, having pawed enough times through the notebooks of ancient minutes dating back to when our rural subdivision was founded in the early 1970s to recognize when an issue confronting the board now, had been talked about way back when.
This is what led me to call it quits after serving as board secretary for so long: I got frustrated with how a majority of board members were unable to trust, relax, and loosen up.
Geez, guys and gals, we are a 92-member group of neighbors and property owners. This isn't the United Nations Security Council. We're not dealing with matters of war and peace. We speak the same language, live in the same area, have the same interest in fostering a sense of community.
But human nature being what it is, when some people are given a position of power and control over other people, they are prone to wield it in an overly authoritarian way. Also, far too seriously.
In my case, the Sin Against Our Almighty Board was to spend my own money to get a trial HOA web site up and running -- something we've never had before.
After those 23 years of printing out minutes, taking them to a copy center in town, afixing labels/stamps, and mailing them to our members, I wanted to bring our neighborhood association into the 21st century. I looked around cyberspace a lot, finally settling on HOA Sites as a promising web site service.
The promise turned out to be reality.
The folks at HOA Sites were wonderfully competent. Their web site software was powerful and easy to use. In less than a week I had a site for our neighborhood association ready to try out.
I invited our members to register for it. I'd told our board of directors that I was fronting the money to get the web site going on a trial basis, because the only way to know if we liked it, was to try it.
Everybody who did try it, did like it.
I got numerous positive comments from our property owners. They appreciated having up-to-date information about our HOA right at hand, along with being able to communicate with each other through a discussion board, blog postings, and other means.
However, it didn't take long before I realized that only one person on our seven-member board of directors had registered for the web site -- which was required to access the "member only" parts of it beyond the home page.
That person was my wife. I kept reminding the other board members to register so they could try out the web site. After all, I'd set up the site knowing that a board meeting was scheduled just before the 30-day money back guarantee period ended.
Our board needed to decide at that meeting whether the web site should be continued. Since we had money in the budget for it, and current secretarial costs would be reduced with a web site, I figured it was a no-brainer to continue on with it -- especially since our HOA members were liking it a lot.
Well, I was wrong.
Three of five board members who attended the crucial meeting voted to abolish the web site. Amazingly, those three people did this without ever registering for the site, which meant they had very little idea how the site worked, and what its benefits were.
Ignorance is bliss, I guess.
Because the central reason that was given to me for doing away with the web site didn't have anything to do with the site itself. Rather, I was told "As secretary, you did this without first getting permission from the board."
So initiative, enthusiasm, and energy had to be punished. Even when the end result was beneficial to our community.
I couldn't stand this bullshit. That sort of top-down bureaucratic crap bothered me a lot when I was working and earning a salary. Now that I'm retired, and doing my board secretary gig as a volunteer, it bothered me even more.
HOA boards should treasure people, whether board officers or regular members of the association, who have a good idea and the energy to run with it.
I wasn't making a unilateral decision for the board. I'd told them that I was getting the web site up and running on a trial basis, using my own VISA card to do so. They could either decide to keep the web site, or let it go.
But I sure figured that the board of directors would make an informed decision about this, not being so petty as to abolish the web site just because I'd taken the initiative to get it started without jumping through every hoop they held up for me.
A HOA board should have TRUST, RELAX, LOOSEN UP figuratively tattooed on their minds.
Those four words should help guide every decision they make on behalf of their community. They should act for the benefit of their neighbors, not to stroke their own egos. That's my view, at least -- a damn informed view, given my 23 years of being the secretary of our HOA board.
Until I resigned. Because I wasn't trusted, and the board failed to relax and loosen up.