We are residents of Fish Pond Village in Waco, Texas, and therefore members of its Homeowner’s Association. The group meets once a year, typically at Danny’s, a BBQ establishment just up the road. This is the second year we have gone and, in all likelihood, it will be the last.
Why? You might ask, and what I recount should show you, but first let me tell you a bit about the Association. There are 25 units in our clusters of townhouses and several are occupied by widows or divorcees, although there is one widower. There are four couples, including us, but two rarely leave their units. There are several people who have jobs, but this is largely a retired, but not yet retarded, community.
We are “gated”, meaning that you need a secret code to get in and, once in, you are surrounded by a wooden fence. There are small “common areas” and each unit has a small back yard and an even smaller front one. Owners are allowed to plant some flowers and there is the occasional tree flourishing as well.
There were about 20 of us there last night, including the Company’s business manager and the custodian who enforces the rules and is responsible for maintenance. We end up primarily talking about both.
But first there is the roll call, the notice of any who have proxy voters,. Our “voting” is somewhat unusual, in that everything voted upon is assumed to be voted upon favorably. As far as anyone can recall, there has never been a negative vote.
It is not that people do not feel negative about some things, especially the rules—we will get to that—it is just that we are in the South and here people take pains to be polite to each other even if their stomach churns and growls as they do so.
The first item of business is the staff management report, but there is not much to say, a common atmosphere that prevails throughout the evening until we get to the rules and maintenance. Take the next several reports, for instance, about finance. The finance report covers 10 months, not 12 and has something to do with the “fiscal year”, which I had always assumed was 12 months as well. But it has never been and will not be tonight. No one is quite sure why and no one seems to care. The main thing is that the association is in the black, largely due to a $144 thousand dollar windfall from the roof insurance. Nevertheless, there will still be another insurance surcharge this year to cover something or other, just in case–it seems to be added to the regular insurance. It is all very vague, but no one seems to care and one of the members of the Board of Directors assures us that the matter was once voted upon.
The election of the five member Board of Directors is done in mass, with Judy as the Chair. Why five members and why vote them all in at once? Well, it has always been done this way. Someone suggests a limit on the term of office, but that doesn’t fly. What if someone dies or leaves, what is the process for replacement? The Board and manager are not sure but when the time comes, something would be done about it. We all vote “yes” for the five and Judy remains as the chair.
We now move to two items of new business on the agenda: gates and speeding. Someone—and we know not whom—has been nudging the gates with their vehicle, trying to encourage them to open faster. This has, upon occasion, caused great anxiety in the community and meant that the Company had to spend some money, rather than leaving the money in escrow or capital reserve. I figured the Company takes in $52,480 a year from homeowner fees plus another approximately $9,050 from the surcharge. However, the numbers don’t show up in the abbreviated “fiscal year” figures. We of course approve the budget—you know we are lucky to be in the community and you can’t figure the true cost of safety and appearance.
Sometime ago, we all had received a note (more like an essay) from the Architectural Control Committee (“currently same as Board of Directors”) that some lawn art had been displayed that was inappropriate and that we should refer to “established…guidelines in regard to modifications to the landscape and exterior”. The reference was to rules number 26 and 41 about “Common area modifications” and “Exterior construction and improvement”. Basically, it said that everything (colors, fences, even “improvements”) are “strictly prohibited or strictly regulated by the Declaration.” Apparently the said Pronouncement has more teeth than the Declaration of Independence.
The matter of appearances if very important. Some careless inhabitants have had bird baths, feeders, and small statues in their front yards. Some even had the audacity to fly flags and banners. The rules won’t allow it and there does not seem to be any way to change or amend the rules other than by adding to them. Presently there are 42 rules, but this clearly is not enough and the Board of Directors and management team will be looking for ways to supplement them.
A few brave souls broach the subject of bird feeders. Why can’t we have bird feeders in the front yard, or even—and here there is a gasp—bird baths. Well, it is well known that birds like to sun bathe in private, so only the back yard is allowed for such bathing or for feeding. It is apparently forbidden for birds to feed in public as well and one of the management team (who polices such things) suggested that we would soon be feeding crows if such public feed locations were allowed.
The birds were obviously not going to win, so we turned to parking and speeding. Apparently one young woman, who remained anonymous, has been tearing around the circle and even parking in the street. Someone on the Board has got to tell her to stop, although like most things tonight, we don’t know who will do it. Rule 31 “Fines and damage charges” has six subsections and five sub-subsections. There should be enough information in all those to get that young woman, if the Board can only determine who will actually confront her.
There were a few complaints, especially questioning why a particular flag of the U.S. could not be flown—one that had something about God and prayer on it. Again, this is something the Board decided upon some time ago and it has just always been that way.
We thought the meeting was over but one of the women stood up and said she had something to say. She elaborated on flooding in her back yard and the lack of suitable drainage—actually she told a story about how she had to use shovel and pail to save her master bedroom and bath from flooding during a major storm. She had called the maintenance department of the Company and they had, eventually, dispatched two young men to dig a ditch. Instead they ruined her flowers, grass, and made a mess of everything, and cut her TV cable. She had complained to the Company but had not received any assurance that they could or would be able to help. The woman had spent $1400 trying to fix the disarray herself and was obviously not pleased about the help from the Company. She had proof to show that she had gone about things according to the rules—at least as she understood them—but had received nothing from the Company to fix the problem.
The discussion went on for the best part of 45 minutes with the management team and Board of Directors perspiring, looking very annoyed, and counterattacking her position. It was the grand old New England type of town meeting now and not the Southern politeness I expected. Although the woman was calm and polite, it seemed to me this simply made some of the Board even more annoyed. “What do you want us to do?” asked one exasperated Board Member. Her answer surprised me: “Nothing, you have already messed up everything in my back yard and patio—I don’t trust what will happen if you do anything.”
At this point I made my move: I had been waiting at least a half hour to do this. “I move we adjourn”, I said. There was a sign of collective relief in the room and afterwards I was asked why I hadn’t done that 45 minutes ago. I couldn’t answer—it just never had been done that way before.
Yesterday I walked by the house of the woman who has problems with the Company. Seeing two pumpkins in her yard and trying to be funny, I said “Rule 241 says you can only have one pumpkin in your yard.” Turning to me she said “I’ll tell you where you can shove those rules.” I quickly shut up and resumed my walk. You shouldn’t joke about Company rules!