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Tips for Orienting Yourself as a New Board Member By Andrew F. Meinert, Esq.

Andrew Meinert

As the adrenaline rush of hearing your name announced as the election winner starts to wear off, you begin wondering what exactly you have gotten yourself into.  While serving on your association’s board of directors for the first time can be confusing, and at times seem daunting, new board members need not fear.  Below are a few practical tips every new board member should follow as they begin their first term.

Understand Your Duties

Perhaps the most important step a new board member can take is to understand their duties to the association.  As community associations are organized as non-profit corporations, Ohio law imposes the duties on board members that they always act in good faith, in a manner reasonably believed to be in the association’s best interests, and with the care that an ordinarily prudent person would use under the circumstances.  These requirements indicate that a board member become informed on an issue before taking action, and always put the association’s interest first, even ahead of their own. 

Additionally, new board members must be aware that the scope of their responsibility is limited.  While boards set budgets, collect assessments, and enforce the deed restrictions, association boards are not law enforcement agencies and must always consider the extent of their authority before acting.

Read Your Governing Documents

New board members are best served by reading their association’s Declaration, Bylaws, and handbook of rules.  The Declaration is the document containing the restrictions applicable to the community, while the Bylaws provide for the internal operations of the association itself.  Often, new board members fail to read these governing documents, and as a result mistakes are made with respect to budgets, enforcement, and other board duties.  Taking the time to review the Declaration, Bylaws, and handbook of rules ensures your understanding can prevent an error down the line.

Rely on Your Resources

New board members should not feel they need to get themselves up to speed alone.  Fellow board members can be great resources of information in addition to, if applicable, the community association manager.  Further, boards commonly rely on professional and expert advice, whether from an accountant, attorney, or engineer, in order to make decisions on behalf of their association.  Utilizing the resources available to you is critical to properly performing the board’s budgeting, enforcement, and maintenance responsibilities. 

Do Not Be Overzealous

Many individuals run for their board precisely because they are unhappy with the current board and their decision-making.  However, new board members must be careful not to become the proverbial bull in the china shop.  Board members are privy to information that owners do not have access to, and decisions are often made based on that confidential information.  Before taking strong positions contrary to others on the board, newly elected members should make sure they have all relevant information and understand the thought-process behind the board’s prior decisions.  Of course, if the board has been acting contrary to the association’s governing documents, do not hesitate to point out these issues to the other board members.

Serving on your association’s board is a significant responsibility. Board members must carefully weigh numerous factors and exercise good judgment in each decision they make on behalf of their association.  By following the guidance above, new board members will be in a much better position to make positive contributions to their community.

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