his actually happened. There are two condominium corporations involved, one we'll call "Savarin Place", and the other "Sunnyview Towers". (The names have been changed to protect me.) Two Annual General Meetings, two fairly similar problems, two different approaches. Two vastly different results.

Savarin Place and Sunnyview Towers resemble one another in terms of demographics (homogenous, mid-to-retirement age), location (north Toronto), size (large, single hi-rise), facilities (elaborate), and longevity of many of the respective Directors' terms of service (forever). Each is blessed with reasonably well-attended A.G.M.'s, sincere Board members, and interested unit owners. The General Meetings to which I refer each occurred a few years ago, within weeks of one other.

Savarin Place has a rule specifying that its communal outdoor barbecues are to be put in storage for the winter. At the A.G.M. in question, a young couple, newly wed (and newly arrived into the building), were engaged in fierce lobbying for the purpose of amending the "barbecue" rule. They were persistent, they were fervent, they were determined. And they were angry. ("Why shouldn't we be allowed to barbecue in the winter?", and "This constitutes discrimination!" etc., etc.) Smoke fairly poured from their ears, somewhat symbolic considering the topic in question. They'd thought ahead, of course, to demand in writing that the issue be included in the evening's agenda.

Came the critical vote, after the requisite speeches, pro and con. You've no doubt guessed by now that our battling duo were kayoed in the first round. (As I recall, the vote count was something like 76 to 2, a plurality one doesn't come across all that often.) The barbecues, of course, continue to hibernate in the wintertime.

Things started similarly at the Sunnyview Towers A.G.M., at least to the extent that the antagonists were vastly outnumbered. That's where the similarity ends. Here was the beef: Motorcycle Noise In The Underground Garage. (To understand how aggravated the residents were, just think "echo".) In the auditorium, the pre-meeting buzz had indicated that the unit owners didn't give a hoot about elections to the Board, audited financial statements, or any other such bothersome trivia; just get rid of those bikers and their choppers!

Then the big moment. After several speakers had approached the floor microphone and expressed their dismay at the noise from the motorcycles, a young, well-tailored man raised his hand and politely requested an opportunity to address the meeting. "I am speaking on behalf of my grandparents," he began, "because their command of English is very limited. They are unit owners in Sunnyview Towers, having purchased here some five months ago, upon their arrival from Hong Kong. They are the 'typical old-world, far-eastern couple', quiet, hard-working, dignified."

He paused for effect, then said: "They are possessed, however, of one rather unconventional quirk: they love to ride their Harley-Davidsons. At this time, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the Sunnyview Towers Motorcycle Club." The young man motioned to his grandparents, who rose shyly, smiled deferentially, waved gingerly and tentatively, and took their seats, eyes cast downward. "My grandparents have no other way to get to and from the building, although they are very concerned, as I am, about any inconvenience they are causing. I assure you they will co-operate in any way possible, but I appeal to the residents to allow them to continue to access the garage with their motorcycles."

These last two sentences were almost drowned out amidst the good-natured, wide-spread laughter generated by the phrase "Sunnyview Towers Motorcycle Club" in reference to these grandparents, who, as you can imagine, didn't exactly resemble Hell's Angels. I don't recall ever seeing such a dramatic turnaround in public opinion. Needless to say, the Sunnyview Towers Motorcycle Club flourishes to this day, though membership remains stuck at two.

This tale of barbecues 'n' bikers may not be the last word in getting one's message across, but I learned a thing or two from it all. In a condo or anywhere else, the Art of Communication is this: a little honey, no vinegar.

(Reprinted from The Condominium Magazine)

How To Be A Good Condominium Board Member
(The “Three C’s”)

I’ve been coming down pretty hard on the condominium management industry over the years (even as recently as in my previous newsletter, a few months ago). I won’t stop that, as long as it seems necessary to do so. But I also willingly acknowledge that condominium management is not the easiest of pursuits in which to be involved. One of the hurdles is dealing with Board members who are not (forgive the candour) doing themselves, their fellow Board members, their communities, or management any favours, with their antics.

I’ve been most fortunate in my travels, having encountered (and provided services to) many condo directors over the years who’ve earned my respect and admiration because of their selflessness and untiring efforts on behalf of their communities. They are an inspiration to their communities, and in return they are frequently misunderstood, often under-appreciated, and usually unpaid.

Sadly, there are the others, the ones who provide the stark contrasts: those directors who can only be described as disruptive, uncooperative, too hands-on, too hands-off, too suspicious, too hostile…the list goes on and on. But prolonging this negativity is an exercise in futility. (Futility’s awful. Think of an AGM at which the Board bemoans the “10% of the residents who cause 90% of the problems.” It’s a safe bet, as we all know, that those 10% are not in attendance to hear and learn. That kind of futility.)

Instead, I’ll approach this positively. Oh, did I mention what the Three C’s are? Care, Concern, Co-operation.

Specific expertise is always nice (accountants, lawyers, management industry types, engineers, etc.) but these professionals are not always available to the community. Even if they are, there’s no substitute for the Three C’s.

Care: So basic it seems unnecessary to even mention it: a Board member has to care about the community in which he or she serves.

I have a scoop for you: it’s not so basic. I’ve come across condo directors who care about everything except the community: the ones who try to win the most arguments, do the most micro-managing, seldom or never show up at meetings, bad-mouth their fellow Board members, interfere so constantly that management can’t do the job it’s paid to do, cause tension or even upheaval, take private Board business public, waste time at meetings…whew!

Caring, on the other hand, means: understanding and responding to the requirements of the owners/residents; taking note of the community’s physical appearance and encouraging the other residents to do likewise; spending the corporation’s funds wisely; partnering with management, not squabbling with them. I’m certain you could add several other valid examples, but you get the point.

Concern: Sounds like “care,” doesn’t it? What I mean is, concern defined as due diligence. There are always going to be issues about which the Board has to be concerned: the cost of utilities; spotty landscaping; reserve fund adequacy; maintenance problems; adherence to budget; non-compliance by unit owners and tenants; others you can name by the dozens, but, most notably, management issues.

On that last point, my clients will recognize the seven important facets of the condominium management routine: communication, cost-savings, operations, accountability, safety, financial and admin., and resources/expertise. (I nag them ad nauseam about this.) The most valid application of due diligence is for the Board members to be constantly assessing management according to these seven facets. They will vary in importance from one condominium community to another, but each facet will be of at least some relevance, and that’s how you best assess your management service.

Also, how many of you have taken a Director’s course, such as those offered by the CCI? How many of you have attended a Condo Conference, like the National CCI/ACMO Conference, an annual event, coming up in November? That’s what I mean by “showing some concern.” The best Board member is an educated one.

Co-operation: Again, something that seems so basic and self-explanatory.

And yet, I could tell you stories…you could tell me stories…

The fact is, a Board whose members don’t co-operate with one another may as well resign en masse. The inability or unwillingness to overcome differences and work together creates inertia, or worse yet, hostility. Or a lame-duck status that is unavoidably detrimental to the condominium community.

This does not mean to imply that you’ll always agree with your fellow directors. That would be a first. But as I noted above, it’s vital to overcome these differences for the greater good. And that doesn’t mean through clenched teeth. It means establishing a working relationship that accounts for, deals with, reconciles, and overcomes conflicts as a matter of routine.

I know from personal experience that some Board members out there can seem impossible to work with. In that case, it is mandatory that the other directors recognize the problem and actively confront it. Inaction, on the vague hope that the issues will “work themselves out,” almost never works. In fact, it can aggravate the situation because silence is frequently interpreted by the renegade director as approval.
I’ve encountered many Boards over the years. The most effective of them, by far, are those who embrace the Three C’s.

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Alan Rosenberg is President of A. R. Consulting, who provide a variety of advisory services to Toronto area condominium directors. Alan’s long, rewarding career with a large condominium management company, most notably as Vice-President, included client liaison and counselling, legislative advice, financial reporting, creation of maintenance specifications, organizing building inspections, and editing of newsletters and other communications materials.

A. R. Consulting now assists condominiums in radically improving their own management situations. Alan’s comprehensive investigative and interviewing methods are renowned throughout the condo community.

E-mail: ar@condominiumconsulting.ca
Phone: 416-932-9510; Fax: 416-932-9769




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