We live in a private community in NE Pennsylvania which has approximately 900 homes, mostly second or vacation homes, but with a significant share of year-rounders. For the last two years, I have been a member of the Board of Directors of our association. The Board meets monthly and also attends two homeowner meetings. The Board determines the annual budget and the dues assessed to support that budget, directs all major functions in the community and hears suggestions (and complaints!) from homeowners. The Board is effectively the government of our association and I have learned some useful lessons about government during the last two years. Some of these lessons include:
- Most members will comply with the association’s rules without any reminder. A second group will comply when the rules are explained to them (after accidental violation or through inquiries). A third (small group) will comply when they are sanctioned in some way. A fourth (tiny) group will only comply after legal actions are taken. The best approach to non-compliance is a gentle persuasion, but willful obstruction has to be challenged.
- Rules should be enforced evenly and fairly or should be done away with.
- Not every problem should be solved with a new rule. Some problems are isolated and an additional rule may be superfluous. Second, each new rule may impose burdens on innocent or well-intentioned members. Finally, each new rule must be enforced and communicated which makes it more likely that members will not know the rule.
- It is impossible to contain every infraction of rules, however reasonable those rules are. It is a mistake to try for 100% compliance because you will not be successful and you will create a culture of recrimination.
- Even in a small community, where members are likely to know each other, and are able to attend meetings to petition the Board, misunderstandings occur. Rumors circulate (on Facebook for example) and create enmity.
- All good government is founded on self-government. If members/citizens do not try to obey the rules and treat others with respect, you can’t impose good government.
- Our Board members are conscientious and the discussions and decisions made have been reasonable, civil and sound. If that were not so, and Board members attempted to enrich themselves or fight amongst themselves, the community would suffer and serious harm could be done.
Reflecting on what I have learned and applying it to the towns, states and Federal government of the United States, I see several problems:
- Too many rules, especially those generated in Washington. It becomes difficult for specialists to keep up with the rules, and impossible for private citizens. Rules-making is an end in itself and there is no effective mechanism for evaluating and rescinding rules.
- The further the government entity is from the people, the less restraint on it.
- Bad motives by officials who seek to play off one group against another or mislead or lie to citizens is causing tremendous harm. Honesty is considered a weakness when political advantage is at stake.