Monday, September 24, 2012

Trustee No More: The Saga of a Recluctant Volunteer

This posting was dated January 2008 and can be read at:

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!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:36 AM

    No offense to the many, hopefully majority, of decent,conscientious,and capable trustees out there but,this writer hit it right on the head in saying that "no one else wanted to do it". This is the case all too often which a lot of us have personally experienced. The counties impose these associations on us but don't want to be botherd supervising them or providing training and oversight of trustees and their activities. Counties want the tax revenue generated by subdivisions but don't want the responsibility. To believe otherwise would be to believe that developers and builders are so altruistic that they will voluntarily give up land that they could build on and profit from to be used as common ground. When will we demand that they use the revenue that subdivisions generate to maintain streets, streetlights, etc.