Getting Involved with Your Politicians

Hey there, Mr. or Ms. Board Member! Are you in tune with what the Chapter’s Legislative Committees do for us?  How often do you talk with your state delegate and/or senator?  Do your state representatives know you sit on a homeowners or condominium association board?  Do you know how you can track legislation as it makes its way through the Maryland, D.C., or Virginia legislatures each year?

Lots of questions, I know. And you’re probably asking why. I must admit I could only answer a couple of those a few years back.  And I didn’t see the need to be able to answer all of them. We trust our elected officials to know what’s going on at the local and state levels—right?  After all, they have been door-to-door speaking with constituents, finding out what the issues are, and campaigning on promises to fix the wrongs that befall us! But, is it realistic to expect that our elected officials have a firm handle on what goes on inside the workings of our homeowners and condominium associations? I don’t think so, and I don’t fault our elected officials. Of course, I used to because that was the easy way—blame the politicians.  But, if we, as volunteer leaders, don’t get involved ourselves, with the staff expertise, subject-matter knowledge experts, and other resources we have in the Chapter, we can’t just blame the politicians.  I think, in a way, we are responsible too.

So, I ask again, can we really expect our elected officials to know the inner workings of each association?  With all the bills that are introduced each year, the majority of which have nothing to do with HOAs or COAs, do we really believe that each and every legislator understands the implications of bad legislation aimed at common interest communities?  This year alone, in the Virginia legislature, there were 3,722 pieces of legislation introduced[1].  For the short time the legislature is in session (only 30 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years), that’s a lot to digest!

So, what do we do if we get wind of a piece of legislation that could have a detrimental impact on how HOAs and COAs do business?

It’s incumbent upon us, as board members, to know the facts and communicate with our representatives. 

I had the opportunity during this past Virginia legislative session to learn about and view how the process works and how we, as board members, can play a very important role.  There was a bill introduced that proposed to take away a community association’s authority to regulate home-based businesses unless they are expressly prohibited in the recorded documents.  I was invited to go to Richmond, along with two other board members from other communities, to speak to the Senate committee that was acting on the bill.  I had support from our Chapter’s Virginia Legislative Committee and Chapter staff who work on our behalf all throughout the entire legislative session.  As an aside, I found it fascinating, while standing in the back of the committee room waiting for the committee hearing to start, to see and hear senators come in who were being briefed by their staff members on the nature of the bills they would hear about and voting on.  That just highlights the fact I stated earlier that when you have to deal with 3,000+ pieces of legislation in one short legislative session, it’s hard for even the most astute and well-minded politicians to know everything about each bill.  Back to this particular bill as a— result of the groundwork that was done beforehand by the experts in our Chapter and what I believed to be the positive cumulative impact on the committee members that came from hearing from volunteer board members, the bill did not make it through committee.  Now, will it come back next year? Perhaps.  That’s why it’s incumbent upon us, as volunteer leaders, to keep a watchful eye on bills introduced and, if necessary, work with our Chapter’s legislative committees to have a positive impact on our legislators.

Here’s a tremendous resource: http://www.caidc.org/about/legislative-committees/. On this site you’ll learn what the legislative committees do and get links to other key resources.  I have found that our entire Chapter staff is knowledgeable of the issues and, if they don’t have the answer, they know where to point you to find it.

Let me leave you with one final thought—a recommendation since not everyone has the opportunity or inclination to go speak before a state-level committee.  Invite your state and local officials to a board meeting, maybe your annual meeting.  Politicians love nothing more than a chance to “press-the-flesh.”  Use it as an opportunity to educate them on how your HOA or COA works and what is involved with being volunteer leaders. Remember—your constituents are their constituents.

[1] Virginia General Assembly – Legislative Information System (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?181+oth+STA)

By Tom Burrell

Tom has been a management consultant for the past 24 years after retiring from the U.S. Army. He has served for the past eight years as the president of the Barrister’s Keepe Homeowners Association. Previously, he served as a member of his homeowner association’s board of trustees for 13 years and served as chairman of the Planning, Environment, Land-Use and Transportation Committee for 16 years. As the PELT Committee chairman, he was responsible for planning and executing monthly meetings and serving as the organization’s primary liaison with county staff, the development community, the Planning Commission and the Board of County Supervisors. Tom serves on the WMCCAI Board of Directors.

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