Always Ask "WHY?": Are Empathy and Reason YOUR Stars and Stripes?

December 31, 2021 by Steve Horvath

Almost exactly one year ago, I published Board Discipline: Has your Board been Naughty or Nice this Year?  While thinking through major themes from common interest community discussion over the last twelve months, a timely and fitting year-end post on the CAI Members Forum catalyzed this year's message.  A homeowner decided to fly the Flag of the United States of America upside down.  The original poster suggests that their Board would like the flag flown "with the stars up" and that several protest signs were removed in response to a violation letter (presumably asserting a rule that yard signs are disallowed).  Those signs are now taped to the inside of windows instead (and there are no rules disallowing this).  The poster asks whether to: 1) ignore the flag or 2) find a "legal way" to resolve the Stars and Stripes situation.

Several quite telling responses have been posted.  My initial reply directed folks to our Free Speech, Flags, Signs and Symbols page.  Others responded by referencing sections of the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 and with references to a "legal minefield."  Still others stated that if an upside down flag is a sign of an emergency, an association owner should "notify 911 daily."  There was also a suggestion to engage the association's legal council on the basis of the aforementioned Act in order to create a violation (seemingly out of thin air).  One of the best responses says "...this thread demonstrates something that we could improve upon with community associations...  How many people would never want to live somewhere, where the first inclination of their neighbor when they didn't share a particular perspective is to call the police on them..." 

WHY matters.   Demonstrating competent, rational decision-making while engaging in discourse is paramount lest we descend into violation mania (see clip above)WHAT is it about certain neighbor behaviors that result in a knee-jerk reaction to expunge and homogenize?  WHY do some people that live and work in the community association setting believe that they are entitled to literally rule out their neighbors' free speech?  Another great comment followed: "Enforce the association rules impartially and politely and otherwise ignore the matter."  Check this story about a Vietnam veteran and his patriotic van that triumphed over inappropriate exercise of authority by an uninformed HOA board.

Yet many responses ignored a guiding principle altogether: does a restrictive covenant exist in the governing documents of this community that prohibits flying the Flag of the United States upside down?  Even if a prohibition exists, is it actually enforceable AND reasonable?  What about YOUR R&R's / CC&R's?  Is every single rule you've established in place to better your community?  To maintain property values?  To create a a harmonious environment that celebrates the diversity of unique human beings?  After all that, someone added:  "(Too) many people who purchase real estate under any of these CIC paradigms -- in my view -- simply don't understand what they've gotten themselves into."

The unfortunate reality is that CIC homeowners are all too often innocent bystanders.  The global common interest community is full of wayward volunteer directors and so-called "experts" who care more about their own ambitions, opinions and bank accounts than the good of your community.  Multiple forum contributions demonstrate communities in the throes of failed leadership:

>>> "In my Association, the Board minutes are a work of fiction."

>>> "An ineligible non-owner was recently elected by owners who had no idea he was not an owner. "

>>> "Our BoD has found an attorney to support them in their long-time, ongoing refusal and reluctance to provide information to owners.  We have no open meetings...Owners have no access to gov. docs, Minutes, engineer/reserve/CPA reports, etc.  The BoD's attorney has now advised the BoD to continue this practice, withhold as much info as possible and provide nothing voluntarily, unless owners specifically make formal request..."

>>> "...commandeering board president"

>>> "In all my years of managing associations and facilitating dozens of elections, I've never seen anything like this one.  Neighbors openly campaigning for some candidates and disparaging others. There are actual rallies being planned."

>>> "...board members that discuss confidential information from Executive Session with homeowners..."

>>> " proxies that were provided to the owners by management had a pre-printed name on the proxy"

>>> "I was condo pres when we wrote our service and support animal policies. In doing the research it was clear that the associations who got in trouble did not have policies in place, did not follow good board practices, and in general were rude, vindictive people."

All of those examples share a common theme where leaders (volunteers AND compensated third parties) LACK:

The internet and is full of opinionated nonsense that exemplifies and promulgates misunderstandings and loathing of common interest community living.  YOU can be part of the solution by consuming as many resources as possible and putting them into action:

Please don't point fingers without first asking "WHY."  Lead with reason, empathy, honesty, integrity and transparency.  Understand where you can apply reasonable discretion and when you need to follow the unambiguous governance already in place.  Follow-up by reading Decision-Making 101.