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Rookies No More Veterans Helping Newcomers

 Remember your first day at a new school? Most likely, you didn’t know a soul, had no idea what the students were learning and you probably felt  nervous, intimidated or maybe even afraid. In most cases, this is what it’s like to be a new board member. A newcomer walks into a meeting for the first  time, may or may not know a fellow neighbor volunteer, has no idea what is or  has been discussed and might also feel nervous, intimidated or even afraid.  Getting elected to a board is a big job and the members can also find  themselves unsure of what they've gotten themselves into.  

 New Kids on the Block

 To help a new student calm their jitters and get them up to speed to the others,  a teacher will often appoint a current student to show the newbie around, share  books, introduce him to other students and give him the lay of the land. It’s a great concept to follow when new members come on board. “It’s a good idea for veteran board members to mentor newcomers to the board,” says Tom Pahos, president of operations for Cervelli Management Corp. in North  Bergen and a former board member. “It’s the only way to go and it practically insures a smooth transition. There are  nuances and subtleties in each individual building.”  

 “It’s been my experience that most veteran board members are accepting of the new  volunteers on the board. They were new once too,” says Lisa Hibbs, executive director of Community Associations Institute’s New Jersey (CAI-NJ) chapter in Mercerville. “I would recommend to any interested volunteer considering making a run for the  association board to talk with veteran board members. They have historical  perspective and knowledge of the current issues facing the community—both are critical to effective decision making. If that volunteer does decide to  run for the board, he or she has already established a relationship or two,  allowing him or her to hit the ground running once elected.”  

 In addition to being mentored, Elaine Warga-Murray, CEO of Regency Management  Group in Howell also recommends an orientation for new board members. “New board members should have an orientation with management where all board  members and managers can come together and meet,” says Warga-Murray, who is a former board member. “At these orientations we generally introduce everyone to each other. We go the  building’s website and explain how the minutes, bylaws, house rules and policies are all  on the website. During this orientation, new board members should also read and  sign a board member code of conduct or a board member code of ethics.”  

 According to Warga-Murray, every board member in an association normally signs a  code of ethics. The document states that board members will act in a  professional, ethical manner, the most important thing is the general welfare  of the association and that personal agendas are not important.  

 “Most incoming board members are not aware of the time and dedication that is  required of them to perform responsibly,” says Ray Barnes, CMCA, AMO, of Taylor Management Company in Somerset. “The board members I have had the privilege to work with possess the deep desire  and commitment to provide for an attractive community and a functional  association, however, most are unaware that they are the party responsible to  provide due diligence. As a former board member myself, I volunteered to  provide a comfortable way of life for my family and neighbors. I had no idea  how many monthly meetings that would entail.”  

 Know the Rules

 All industry pros interviewed agreed that it is necessary to familiarize  yourself with the association’s governing documents. “The very first thing a new board member should do is to read the fine print of  the bylaws, house rules and policies,” says Warga-Murray. “They should also read any amendments or resolutions that have recently been  passed and see what contracts have been signed and what each vendor does. After  that they should introduce themselves to every vendor and contractor that they  are going to be dealing with on behalf of the association.”  

 Barnes also recommends that the new kids on the block review past minutes of  meetings. The minutes of the meetings will show the newcomer, minute by minute,  what happened during each meeting. They can then take time to digest the  information and ask any questions based on what already has been discussed.  

 Unfortunately, while some neophytes come in eager to learn and help and have no  other agenda, others start their term with their own agendas and some major  misconceptions on how the board operates. “Most unit owners, including new board members are under the impression that the  management company makes the decisions,” says Barnes, “It’s a continual process that we inform residents that the management company  enforces and acts on the dictates of the bylaws under the board of trustees.”  

 “A lot of people believe that the board is somewhat skewed and that their  opinions are discussed in private before anything is done,” adds Warga-Murray. “New board members often think that older board members are holding meetings in  secret.”  

 Warga-Murray also believes that it is important for new board members to  understand the association’s financials. “New board members should understand where the money coming into the association  goes and how it can be utilized,” she says. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years so I’ve talked to a lot of board members and most of them are really happy to take  the time to understand the limitations of the financials and that the reserves  are limited to scheduled items. Lots of times new board members think that  reserves are a slush fund for whatever the board wants.”  

 Board members should also be brought up to speed on how meetings are run. One  way to do that is to refer them to Robert’s Rules of Order, which spells out in explicit detail how to run a meeting, form  the proper way of introducing a new item of business, voting on it, and closing  the floor for discussion.  

 Although the board of directors acts as a governing body for the condominium,  and thanks to the Condominium Act, they have powers to control what is  permitted to take place and not take place in the individual units and the  common areas, uneducated board members may take this sense of power to a new  level.  

 Other Resources

 There are many resources available to new board members to become oriented on  how the board is run. They can keep up to date on industry news and laws and  find tips on running a successful board by reading trade publications such as  The New Jersey Cooperator. On the national level, the National Association of  Housing Cooperatives (NAHC) gives a six-hour course called “The 3R’s: Roles, Risks and Rewards.”  

 CAI is a particularly valuable resource for new and existing board members and  property managers. An international organization dedicated to building better  communities, CAI provides education and resources to community association  homeowner leaders, professional managers, association management companies and  other businesses and professionals who provide products and services to  community associations.  

 “Granted, these materials don’t get into the state laws governing New Jersey’s common interest communities,” says Hibbs, “However, the New Jersey chapter offers several educational programs throughout  the year that provide state-specific information to board members. The online  course, The Fundamentals of Community Association Volunteer Leadership, is  offered to CAI members at no cost and is just $19 for non-members. For a more  robust curriculum, board members can take our classroom course, The Essentials  of Community Association Management. Participants receive a 400-plus page  manual, as well as a CD containing additional resources.”  

 Serving on a board is a volunteer job and members give up a chunk of their free  time to make sure their condo or co-op association is run smoothly. They may  even take on other volunteer tasks that require more of their time, such as  president, vice president, treasurer or secretary. They have to attend  meetings, make decisions and, at times, go against the popular vote in order to  do what’s right for the association. Not everyone wants to volunteer for this thankless  job, so it’s important to make a new board member feel as welcome and informed as you can.      

 Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey  Cooperator. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.  

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