Re: Troublesome Community Members: What's a Board to do?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2012 05:49:23 -0700 (PDT)
On Aug 8, 2012, at 1:02 AM, Holly McNutt <holly.mcnutt [at]> wrote:

> What, if anything, can a board do to reign in, or at least contain the damage 
> caused by, a particularly Troublesome Community Member? (TCM)

Firstly, I wouldn't consider this to be "just" a board responsibility, though 
the board could take leadership. If the board considers it "their" problem, 
then other community members can sit back and watch.

From both sides — seeing a community member in conflict and being in conflict 
with the community (to the extent that there is a "community") I would suggest:

1. Don't panic. This has happened a million times and everyone survived.

2. If the person is calling in the legal process, or threatening to, consult 
experts on whatever legal process it is so you are clear on what your options 
are. You don't have to be combative about it. Just do it the same way you 
figure out what toothpaste is or what magazines are available at the library. 
Cohousing too often has its head in the sand about legal issues. Most laws are 
actually very sensible and were designed to address exactly this kind of 
problem. Read the law yourself - you don't have to spend a fortune in legal 
fees. Consul the local chapter of the Communities Association Institute (CAI).

3. Find someone who can talk to this person and whom they will talk to so you 
can clarify issues and keep communications open. Miscommunications are so easy 
and isolation not helpful. This communications person may have to change from 
time to time because they will get tired of the role, but we all have people we 
can talk to and people we can't. If the person has a lawyer, talk to the 
lawyer. (If the lawyer will only talk to a lawyer, do not feel obliged to 

4. Do nice things for this person — they feel conflict as much as you do. Treat 
them like any other member of the community who is having a rough time. Take 
them a pie, or leave it outside their door if you don't want to talk them. This 
will make you feel much better. Do unto others ….

5. Remember what Rob Sandelin said many years ago — some people leave cohousing 
like they leave anything else in life, they just go. Others go out in a hail of 
bullets and thunder and lightning. They have to leave the place in rubble in 
order to get themselves out believing that they are right to go. Let this 
person be right. Admit that you can't do what they want you to do or be what 
they want you to be. Maybe they will leave.

6. This is the reason you have a majority vote back up. Not everyone is sane or 
wants to be. You can only reach consensus with people who are willing and able 
to discuss issues sensibly and participate in a process of resolving 
objections, which requires exploring ideas, testing possible solutions, and 
measuring results. 

7. Being nice doesn't mean being wishy-washing and not making decisions. Be 
firm. Draw the line in the sand, and remember it's only sand. You can change 
the line if it seems appropriate.

8. Remember what Laird Schaub says — paraphrasing because I can't remember 
exactly — You will eventually have to pay for not making decisions, and the 
interest is high.

Please keep the list informed. All communities confront this at one point or 
another. We get these questions but often don't hear about what was tried, what 
worked, and what the outcomes were.

Sharon Villines, Washington DC
Save Our Planet. It's the only one with chocolate.

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