governance
From: Elana Kann (ekannbellsouth.net)
Date: Tue, 13 Sep 2005 19:39:04 -0700 (PDT)
This is in response to recent postings on a couple threads: "Legal structure
and function of monthly community meetings" and "Getting buy-in on
decisions."

It seems to me that one key element for this discussion is the nature of the
decisions being made. Do they have to do with property maintenance, budget,
legal contracts? Or are they in the arena of who will use the common house
dining room Tuesday night, where we post notices of parties, standards of
cleanliness in the laundry room, whether a member can host a friend of a
friend of a friend in the guest room?

Between 1998 when Westwood finished move-in and 2002, the Board (or one or
another team reporting to it) was getting involved in things like disputes
between members, birthday parties, and policies regarding parents and
children, at the expense of its ability to handle insurance, property
maintenance, legal contracts, etc. In 2002 Westwood decided to address the
twin problems of a) lack of clarity among Board members and residents about
the Board's official responsibilities, and b) a membership with much more
active daily interaction and sharing than Boards of conventional Homeowners
Associations generally oversee. 

We created a Community Council to help the membership govern itself in areas
where the Board did not need to be involved. Here are a few quotes from the
Council's charter: 

"Westwood Members have decided to clarify and separate the technical and
community contracts needed to make Westwood work better.
*       The corporation (WCHA, Inc.) has the technical contract and its
Board is responsible for managing money, property, law, etc., and to deliver
to Owners the services that are spelled out in its bylaws;
*       The community contract is to be vested in a separate entity composed
of all Westwood Residents as well as Owners. This group ('Westwood
Community') is coordinated and served by 'the Community Council.'"..

"The Community Council is an elected body whose purpose is to steward and
enhance the community and social fabric of Westwood.

The Council's portfolio contains everything collective other than the
technical, legal, financial, fiduciary and physical plant maintenance
functions which are charged to the corporation and Board."

The corporation (Homeowners Association) through its Board handles formal
legal duties as required under state law on behalf of all the owners and
residents, and the Council is the informal entity (essentially a social club
with no legal status) that helps the community manage its affairs that do
not have legal, fiduciary, or property implications. When the Board wants to
present a report or when it is dealing with issues that need input from
members, it can ask for time at the community meetings or it can call
meetings of the corporation (Association). Obviously there are times when
there are overlaps between Board and Council issues, when they need to work
together.

Just after we began this change, and before we completely understood all the
ramifications of the change, there was some turnover in membership at
Westwood. I'm sure this was a confusing shift for the new people to walk
into. Now we need to fill gaps in how we do our process and in our written
information. We need to minimize the confusion about who is responsible for
what, who reports to whom, when the whole community needs to weigh in and
when a team or the Board or Council can make a decision. When the community
adopts a new policy that it wants the Board to officially record and
oversee, there would need to be some extra step like perhaps Norm's idea of
Board ratification.

I'm curious how other communities have handled this dual aspect of your
affairs? And most importantly, how do you handle them both SKILLFULLY, and
what are the results?

--Elana Kann in Westwood Cohousing Community, Asheville, NC


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