I went to a very unpleasant meeting last night.
“But wait,” I can hear some of you saying, “all meetings are unpleasant.”
There was a time when I would have agreed with you. When I was 22-ish and just starting at the newspaper, I opted for the sports coverage, because meetings struck me as boring. That didn’t get me out of all meetings, and no matter how hard I tried, over the decade, to get rid of the school board beat, it always boomeranged back to me. I believe I attended more school board meetings in those 10 years than anyone other than Jim Pendergraft, assistant superintendent.
But by the time I was 42-ish, and no longer at the paper, I found myself voluntarily attending lots of meetings — and finding them interesting, I mostly went to city council and planning commission meetings. I even applied to be on planning commission, after attending two-plus years of twice-monthly meetings, but lost the appointment on a 3-2 secret ballot by city council to a man who couldn’t even make it to the interview. Under the city’s overly liberal attendance policy, he “remained” on planning commission for over a year without ever once attending a work session and while missing three-quarters of the regular meetings. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
Last night’s meeting was the annual membership meeting for the Riverwalk Homeowners’ Association. I’m a little confused, and trying to sort out my mental calendar, because Lynn and I didn’t close on our property and become official Riverwalk members until February of this year, but I know we went to an HOA membership meeting. Part of the meeting “action” added two board members to what had been a three-member board, so it was some sort of official membership function.
And this summer I went to two board meetings, because they were discussing easements, and I was trying — I am still trying — to figure out who is allowed to go where in the subdivision. I gather this board, which has a thing or two to learn about transparency, has been making some progress on this issue, but except for some incidental conversation, it wasn’t even raised last night. (A survey has been “mandated” by some entity, perhaps the county — you’d think that would qualify as part of an update.)
In fact, not much of anything of value was accomplished last night. The meeting was noticed a full month ago, with no reminders, and maybe that’s why only six of us attended.
The initial objective seemed to be to blow through the short agenda as quickly as possible. Minutes were approved, but not from the previous membership meeting; they were for the second easement meeting of the summer. An undated budget was presented, sort of, with no real discussion. The man who does the bookkeeping is apparently in Jamaica, and — despite a month’s advance notice — no one thought to get financials for 2018, nor a budget plan for 2019 before he went on vacation.
No one even knew what constituted a quorum, so who knows if this counted as an official meeting.
The attendants were three-fifths of the board, our attorney (who is also a resident), me, and a man who lives across the river but bought two lots and wants to buy a third across from his house to protect his viewshed — although in the next breath, he wanted to put up a garage without a house on his property. Board members seemed to think that was against the covenants, although they didn’t verify it. (This man did also manage to work into the discussion how many hundreds of millions his construction business in Houston generates annually. It reminded me of my newspaper days when Perkins Sams, the Texas owner working on his third bankruptcy, would always find an excuse to pull out his money clip with a 100-dollar bill showing.)
This man is requesting a gate across his private drive, as are two other lot owners who don’t seem to be planning to build (not present last night), and it turns out there isn’t very clear guidance in the covenants. It seems to me — and I said as much — that a gate is part of a fence, which the covenants specifically discourage and then limit in height to three feet.
From there, the meeting devolved into the three participants who own lots but don’t live there (technically, that group should include me, but none of these three have plans to ever live there) bitching about the people who are living there, none of whom were present.
They don’t like the garage foundation that’s not being converted fast enough into a garage. They don’t like the heavy equipment in one yard. They don’t like the horse trailer and snowmobiles in another. They don’t like all the cars in the driveway of a third. They don’t like that one contractor is parking large equipment on the road, and they don’t like that his employees are parking in the (mostly unused) guest cabin parking area. One of them didn’t like the large spray-painted plywood with an address for one of the houses under construction — although the contractor turns out to be a board member’s brother. (This would be the board member who was griping the loudest about everything else.)
They don’t like that the snowmobiler hooked up his groomer and flattened out the walking trail. (“He’s just using that as an excuse to snowmobile after work.”) Lynn and I found it much easier to walk after the snowmobile had made its pass, and it turns out the covenants do allow for a snowmobile to groom trails. But we still distrust his motives.
It was really just unpleasant. Lynn and I have met all the people they were complaining about, and they’re all nice neighbors. (We also last night managed to work in complaints about a man who sold his house and hasn’t lived there for a year — I mean, why the hell not?)
And I don’t believe anyone had any solutions — or really even wanted to solve a problem. They drive into this area where they don’t live and see things that offend their sensibilities, and chose last night’s venue — with none of the “offenders” present — to air a bunch of grievances over a big lot of nothing.
There are covenants in the Palisades, where we live currently, but no one knows that, or what’s in them. There is no HOA. That was my biggest hesitation in planning to move to Riverwalk, although my co-worker Ben bought a house last year in a modular neighborhood in the city limits, and it comes with an HOA. My sister Tia has property in rural Parlin, and it also comes with an HOA. So there’s probably no escaping them. And I’m sure an HOA can be useful, particularly when addressing the “common good.” But ripping into people who live in an area, who are just going about their quotidian activities, by a self-appointed “beautification” committee, does not strike me as a productive example of HOA power.
None of the other meetings I went to were anything like this one, so I’m hoping it was an anomaly inspired by the personalities (and lack thereof) in the room. And since the only construction site of the three that didn’t warrant a complaint was ours, maybe it pays to attend meetings — no matter how unpleasant.
Lynn reports that our temporary electric is up, the blueboard is on and the dirt is in. The plan was for the garage slab to be poured today, but it’s minus 7 just now, so who knows if that’s still feasible.
You can see the electric box on the back of the garage Lynn’s Jeep is waiting to occupy.