America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
As our nation approaches the 240th anniversary of its birth, it seems fitting that we should pause for a moment to consider some of the important principles that made it a great and unique democracy.
For example, the Pledge of Allegiance, faithfully uttered by all members prior to the start of each Board or membership meeting, is no ordinary sentence. It is a definition of American democracy and a constant reaffirmation of our dedication to the fundamental principles of that democracy. The last six words of the Pledge underscore the applicability of those principles to each individual citizen.
When we become citizens of this Great Nation, at birth or otherwise, we get a warranty that guarantees certain inalienable rights, including a Bill of Rights that defines certain personal freedoms and rights. That warranty is supposed to be honored by every government franchise in every city and town of this nation. It is not transferable and it is good for life. Those are principles veterans in our community fought to defend.
But our association is not a governmental entity; it is organized as a private non-profit corporation. As such, it is not required to honor the freedoms and liberties set forth in the Bill of Rights or the freedom of speech provisions in our State Constitution. Instead, our rights are defined and delimited by the governing documents of the Association and sometimes unclear statutory requirements.
According to the Adams & Stirling Law Firm, “Free speech issues are often misunderstood when it comes to community associations. First Amendment constitutional protections apply to governmental restrictions on free speech and do not apply to private organizations. The same is true for state constitutional protections. In Golden Gateway v. Golden Gateway, the California Supreme Court made it clear that the California Constitution protects against restrictions by the state, not private organizations.”
Aggravating the absence of such important Constitutional protections, Lake Wildwood Association is controlled by volunteer board members who are often lay people without prior corporate finance or management experience. There are no minimum training or experience requirements and few board members posses the knowledge needed to manage a multi-million dollar corporation, how to run meetings, how to fairly pass rules, or understand their fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the association even if at the expense of their own interests.
Despite such shortcomings, board members are granted plenary authority to make rules (like a legislature), enforce rules (like an executive), and resolve disputes over rules (like a judge). Such extraordinary, unchecked power, coupled with inadequate accountability, can result in ill-advised, uninformed, and highly detrimental business decisions and governance actions.
Over the past several years, our community has wrestled with an increasing number of difficult financial and administrative challenges. The list of issues includes long-term deferred maintenance on most of our commonly-owned facilities, inadequate replacement reserve savings, inaccurate and misleading financial statements and reserve reports, and multiple procedural deviations from the Association governing documents. With $3 million in reserves, the 2016 replacement reserve study reported that nearly $70 million ($25,000 per property) in reserve assessments will be needed to repair and replace our major common elements over the next 30 years, not including the cost of maintaining and replacing our new Clubhouse, the Dam, or Deer Creek Bridge, etc.
Members dissatisfied with the workings of this flawed, autocratic system often feel powerless to influence Board policies and plans. In fact, many members now believe that the Board can do pretty much what it wants with impunity and that it’s a waste of time to attend Board or Membership meetings. That frustration is reflected by low voter turnout in the election of new Board Members – typically less than 50%. And now, with three Board Seats open for election, only a single member volunteered to run.
Even members who remain committed to the need for change are frustrated by Board actions that deny them the ability to communicate with other members via the same electronic mail facilities used by the Board to support its viewpoints and positions. Denying members access to electronic mail for purposes of exchanging ideas relative to issues that affect their interests as members eliminates any realistic possibility of timely, interactive, and cost-effective communication. That’s because the Association offers, alternatively, only regular mail at a cost of around $3,000 per membership message. That effectively muzzles members, denying them their free speech rights and the ability to use political processes as a check on unbridled corporate power.
If we, as member-citizens of Lake Wildwood Association, hope to restore the promise of liberty and justice for all, it is important that we engage in a discussion aimed at generating member consensus regarding appropriate amendments to our system of governance. The goal of making our community more vibrant, responsive, and attractive in the real estate market should be the context for that discussion.
With those goals in mind, the Friends of Lake Wildwood will soon sponsor and conduct one or more Forums to enable interested members to think together in a safe space about those critical issues. To stimulate critical thought and participation, FOLW has drafted a Lake Wildwood Association Homeowner Bill of Rights. That draft is modeled on the AARP BILL of RIGHTS for HOMEOWNERS in ASSOCIATIONS, which can be found at:
The draft Lake Wildwood Homeowner Bill of Rights follows. Please read that document, think seriously about each of the proposed rights, and feel free to share your comments and suggestions. Your participation can make a real difference in the future well-being of our community.
 Consensus is a group decision making process that seeks the consent of participants, not necessarily complete agreement, and the resolution of objections. “I can live with that” is the test.