Sunday, January 20, 2008

Trustee No More

I am thrilled to report that I lost about 20 pounds yesterday. Don't worry about my health: this was a combination of figurative weight loss and non-biological weight, including files and emotional burdens.

On January 19, my three year term as a subdivision trustee finally ended. Wahoo!!!

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I volunteered. I was just at a meeting, and no one else wanted to do it, and I felt like everyone was looking around waiting for someone to volunteer, so I foolishly piped up.

"How much time is required?"

"Oh, very little! This is a quiet little subdivision; usually there's not much to do."

Inevitably, I volunteered. And it turns out that I sucked as a trustee.

I got nothing in the way of initiation or training as a trustee, so I spent my first year with no responsibilities except to listen to people whine and complain about how tall so-and-so's grass is this week and whether the tarp over the car in that carport is a violation of the restriction indenture. Occasionally I had to write a letter politely asking someone to paint a shed or remove yard waste. That's when I realized that I really don't care about those things, except perhaps in extreme situations.

In my second year things got worse. One of the other two trustees really liked the power and control of being a trustee, I suspect, and was happy to do all the work himself to maintain that control. Fine by me! When his mother died and he sank into a depression, he was unreachable much of the time. This left me with lots of legitimate resident complaints and no clue how to address them. Where's the annual assessment notice? Are we having the subdivision garage sale this year? The trustees of the adjoining neighborhood want payment for shared landscaping expenses. Gah! Clumsily, I began figuring out what needed doing and how I might do it.

In my third year, I was just counting down the days. I knew what to do and was doing it responsibly (mailing out assessment notices, writing and mailing a newsletter, contacting residents and trustees of our plat and the adjoining one about various issues, reminding people about the annual meeting, and so forth) but a new trial was sent for me in the guise of the new trustee, a retired man who has long been very active in subdivision affairs.

This dude seemed to be of the contingent that disparages the young whippersnapper new residents - those of us who aren't the original owners of our 50-year-old homes - and our lazy approach to subdivision trustee-ism (the depressed former trustee is about my age). So from the outset we have a dynamic where I feel like he's judging me and am feeling defensive about my accomplishments and performance. And his wife is sick, which is probably affecting him as well. I try to be sympathetic to that, but it's hard. Here are a couple of sample e-mail exchanges (irrelevant bits removed).

This was one of our very first interactions, sort of a get-to-know-you exercise. He wanted us to contact neighbors and contacts in the county government to follow up on rumors that someone was considering building a fence for which he hadn't personally been contacted for permission:

Sarahlynn: It is my opinion, given the description of the duties of the neighborhood trustees in the subdivision indentures, that it is not the role of the trustees to approve or deny proposed new building projects, as long as said projects do not violate any local building codes or subdivision indentures.

Older Trustee (OT): I think that we can not function effectively as the Board of Trustees under existing conditions. I do not understand our problem. Please tell us how you think we can cooperate. If we fail to continue to serve as Trustees and other homeowners do not volunteer, St. Louis County will appoint a Board of Trustees.

Nearly a year later, this was from one of our last interactions:

OT: My wife is very ill, and I am spending a lot of time with her at doctor's visits and testing labs. I don't know how much time I will have for Trustee functions. {snip} Please tell me the plans for the Annual Meeting.

Sarahlynn: I will be happy to send out the mailing this weekend, so that you can have more time with your wife. The annual meeting will be at the usual date and time, and {Neighbor Name} has offered to host again this year.

OT: Thanks for your kind offer to mail the trash newsletter. {snip boring bit about our waste management contract} I think that all the plans for the Annual Meeting should be discussed jointly by all of the Trustees before you make any decisions about them. We would sincerely like to hear your opinions. You don't seem interested in ours. We may not all agree with your thinking, e.g: date, time, place.

Sarahlynn: The meeting time and date are specified for us in the Restriction Indenture {extremely boring citation}. To date, I have had one subdivision resident volunteer to host the annual meeting at his home. Unless either of you would prefer host, or have been approached by another resident requesting hosting responsibilities, I recommend that we proceed with the resident who has so offered.

Argh. Dealing with this sort of crap was much more tolerable when I got paid for it. It's not very fun to do for free when it's a cause I don't much care about. So, I'm thrilled to be done. And I now know for sure that a career in politics is not for me!

Regardless, I'm done! And, if you actually read that whole, boring post, you can celebrate because you relived the experience with me, and you're done too! Let's eat Rotel cheese dip together!


Rob Monroe said...

I'm so glad that you're done! I will miss occasionally hearing about how much hubub comes from a simple brick wall!

Chorus said...

Ugh... Congratulations on being done! I don't envy you these three years at all, but it sounds like you were a much better trustee than you give yourself credit for.

Orange said...

I'm on the condo board. Out of six units, one is on the market and the guy has already moved to CA—so he can't well be on the board. Another is renting her unit out and living in her new place—a nonresident is not the best choice for a board member. Another has only been in the building for six months. We need three board members, so guess who can't get out of doing the work? Sigh. I am one of those phone-phobia folks who hates to make all those practical little phone calls that the board members have to make (to set up repairs, get estimates, etc.). I sure hope other people are interested in being on the board next December!

Hooray for you disgorging your trustee responsibilities, Sarahlynn!

Psycho Kitty said...

Dear. God.
You deserve dip, my friend. No doubt about it!

Sarahlynn said...

Rob, I'm happy to talk to you about that wall anytime. It's certainly not going anywhere!

Thanks, Chorus. But if you could tell my elderly neighbors that, I'd be much obliged!

Orange, you have my sympathy! I absolutely get the phone thing. The ability to order pizza online has increased my life satisfaction, silly as it sounds. Can you divide the responsibilities so that you're writing newsletters or keeping the financial records or creating the condo association crossword puzzles, instead of making the calls?

Psycho Kitty, the dip was very, very good. Probably what I really needed, though, was cardio. And also yoga. (Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?)

Orange said...

Well, we're self-managed (all the practical things for the property have to be done by the board members), so I can't avoid all phone calls. I'm the secretary of the board, so I'm in charge of meeting minutes, agendas, and miscellaneous other written records. But we three board members split up the phone calls/contractor visits. Alas.

Psycho Kitty said...

It's on my nightstand, a lovely gift from a friend, and completely untouched. Sigh.
Hey, btw--email me if you want to do some virtual co-critiquing!

Sarahlynn said...

Orange, that's a lot more work than I had to do. My hat's off to you!

Psycho Kitty, I'll be curious to hear what you think about it. We had a good discussion about it tonight at one of my book clubs. Co-critiquing of . . . fiction? Non-fiction? I'm definitely interested, either way . . .