“They” say that politics is just like mud wrestling; someoneâ€™s gonna get dirty.
“They” were right.
I havenâ€™t really run for any elected office in my life. When I was one of the two founding students â€œelectedâ€ to the School Board in the Penn Delco school district way back in the late 70â€™s, I was actually â€œappointedâ€ by the principal of my high school. When I was “elected” to the Student Council, I was â€œappointedâ€ because it helped me get out of the homeroom where I was being harassed by another student and into the safe confines of the Student Council homeroom. When I was â€œelectedâ€ chairman of the Prison Ministry in college it was an easy win. Nobody else wanted the job. Treasurer of the Student Ministry Council? Appointed. Head of the campus radio station? Created the position myself.
I don’t think I have ever really had to stand for election.
And then I had to open my big fat mouth and run for the Board of Directors of our homeowners association. I am no longer a naÃ¯ve babe in the woods.
Politics, even clean politics, is dirty.
Of course you know me well enough by now to know that thereâ€™s a story behind this. Settle in for a moment and letâ€™s chat.
Several months ago, at the end of June, to be exact, we came home from a brief camping trip in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania to find an envelope from our homeownerâ€™s association in our mail. The letter it contained said, in essence, â€œWeâ€™ve decided your front concrete slab underneath your door needs replacement so weâ€™re replacing it. Pony up $675, chief.â€
Okay, I exaggerate. The letter was a little more diplomatic than that, but not by much.
There was a small problem. Although it was on â€œofficialâ€ association letterhead, the directive didnâ€™t actually come from the â€œBoard of Directors.â€ It was in fact sent by the contractor selected to do the work. The Board had no idea why the slabs that were selected for replacement met the criteria and, worse yet, never even talked with any of the homeowners about why their slabs were chosen for replacement.
The kicker? We needed to pony up $675 within three months.
Correctionâ€¦ OUCH! I don’t know about you, but $675 is a lot of scratch to come up with on the spur of the moment. Maybe The Donald has that kind of pocket change, but not those of us in the McDonalds and Costco set.
So, I followed the rules. I went to the July meeting of the Board and I complained. The Board was apologetic, promised to revisit our slab with the contractor, promised to talk with me about the reasons why our slab was deemed deficient, and promised to give us a chance to ask questions.
July crept into August and suddenly, without warning, the contractor showed up in our development one morning and started ripping up concrete. No visit from the Board, no answers to that nagging little question, â€œWhy?â€
Iâ€™m not Irish, but boy did that get my â€œIrishâ€ up.
If you know anything about Mr. NoMoreGreed you know I am a man of principle. I canâ€™t stand it when a bully pushes around a kid on the playground (especially when that kid is me). So I fought back the best way I know how.
I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote some more. And somewhere along the line, probably about the time I threw in the words â€œsmall claims courtâ€ andâ€œcriminal trespassâ€ I got the attention of the Board.
One Saturday morning three members of the board arrived on my doorstep to inspect my slab. Right out of the chute the air was thick with tension. After hearing the clear explanation that our slab was indeed in violation of local building codes, I graciously consented to the replacement.
The visit with the Board members ended cordially enough, but one of them just had to throw in the comment that they are â€œall overworked,â€ â€œnobody helps out,â€ â€œface-to-face conversation is hard when you have a full time job,â€ yada, yada, yada, whine, whine, whine.
So, I said, â€œWhat can I do to help?â€
â€œWell,â€ came the answer, â€œyou could run for the board.â€
So I did. The very next day I turned in my â€œCandidateâ€™s Statement.â€
Within a couple of weeks, it was all there in black and white in the monthly homeowners’ newsletter. My own, gleaming, cheerfully optimistic, oh-so full-of-hope write-up in black and white for all the association to see. It brought just the hint of a tear to my eye.
It was about that time that I encountered, but did not realize I encountered, the “small hitch.” You see, in our association we donâ€™t distribute ballots to the homeowners. We distribute â€œproxies.â€ Our system is astonishingly similar to the electoral college; the people who gather the most proxies get to cast them as a block of votes. If you just run for the Board but donâ€™t run around the entire 200 home community collecting proxies, the odds of you getting elected to the Board are about as assured as the odds George Bush will raise capital gains taxes on Texas oilmen or former Halliburton CEOs who earn their living off their capital gains.
By the time I realized what was happening, two people from the board, including the guy who challenged me to run for the board and who said, while looking me in the eye, he had no desire to run because it was too much of a headache, scurried around the entire development and collected up proxies left and right. When I showed up at the annual meeting with my one measly vote and two proxies, I was outnumbered a gazillion to one. Of course several homeowners later told me they had no idea that they were actually handing their VOTES to these folks. They thought the association would send out ballots for a direct vote. Had they known what was going on they would have instead given their proxies to me. Que sera, sera.
The guy who said he had no desire to run wound up â€œblock-votingâ€ with his 11 proxies and the other existing board membersâ€™ 100 or so proxies to get himself elected. Why? Because, I suspect, he didnâ€™t want to see the guy get on the Board who accused the Board of dropping the ball on the concrete project.
And how many votes did I get, you might ask?
Eight. Whoo Hoo!
And who DID get on the board? Well, the votes went something like thisâ€¦
Out of 119 proxies and in-person votes, 110 went for the guy who allegedly had no desire to run, 101 went to a kindly woman who has been on the board for about a bazillion years (slightly longer than a gazillion), 76 went to a woman who routinely curses people out whom she doesnâ€™t like, and 64 went to a woman who didnâ€™t even bother to show up at the meeting but who somehow managed to get more votes than either of the two of us who werenâ€™t on the board who DID show up at the meeting. The other guy who showed up with me somehow managed to wrangle 36 votes, which I suspect came from the block of 30 that one of the other board members brought with them. Seems the guy with the 30 proxies doesn’t much like the notion that the V.P. is out there cursing out the neighbors either.
Before the night was over I took the time to publicly apologize to the Board for the strength of my letters and took great pains to thank the three Board members who showed up at my door to finally give me my face-to-face moment in the sun. I also took great pains to thank the Board member who had the guts to admit publicly that the Board had â€œdropped the ballâ€ in the whole project.
When I arrived home, my sweet, concerned wife asked me how I did. It was all I could do to restrain the glee I felt over LOSING! I honestly didnâ€™t want to win. Right now life is too complicated, too hectic, and too busy. I donâ€™t spend enough time with my wife and kids as it is. Why in the WORLD would I want to burn my life sitting on the Board of Directors for the homeownerâ€™s association when all you get is grief, headaches, and a lot of bad names thrown at you. I practically danced a jig right there in the livingroom when I told her the outcome! (Maybe I AM more Irish than I thought!)
Iâ€™ll do my part and join one of the supporting committees, probably the Government Relations committee or the Rules Committee. Homeowners donâ€™t need to be on the board to help out in running the community. I suppose itâ€™s the least I can do if I want to earn the right to complain about how Iâ€™m being led by the other Board members.
But when election time comes around next yearâ€¦.?
Iâ€™ll be out there with a stack of photocopied proxies in hand, going door to door, shaking hands, kissing babies, and promising a chicken in every pot a WEEK before the election is even announced. Next time Iâ€™ll be the one walking into the meeting room with 100 proxies. Iâ€™ll have all that POWER, that beautiful, soul-crushing, â€œread-em-and-weepâ€ Machiavellian POWER, in my hands!
LONG LIVE THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE!