Mr. Harris’ Neighborhoods
Councilor wants a task force to investigate neighborhood and homeowners groups
By Marisa Demarco
Democratic. Transparent. These are words often linked to government—city, state or federal.
But homeowners associations?
City Councilor Don Harris will introduce a measure at the next Council meeting that would form a task force to dig into homeowner and neighborhood associations and look at how they are governed. "There've been some general concerns for a long time among many councilors, including me, that sometimes the boards do not well represent their membership," Harris says.
And they don't just meet to play bridge, discovered Rebecca Loring. She became interested in the Four Hills Village Homeowners Association after speed humps were installed in her neighborhood in 2004. "The board wouldn't listen to anybody," she says. She got involved and butted heads with an election process she calls exclusionary and "absolutely not transparent." There's that word again.
It's one of many disputes that cropped up in Albuquerque in the last few years. Resident Scott Varner described the Towne Park board as having a "gestapo"-style hold on its neighborhood in May. Jim Strozier, newly elected co-chair of the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association, describes troubles the group had in holding its last election. "People got very concerned that it was not as open as it should be," he says. After one attempt at an election failed, Strozier adds, the association held a facilitated meeting to agree on a nomination process that was as "open and transparent" as possible. He was finally voted in at an election held in November.
But Strozier says "Nob Hill's issues are not unique” to the area. As a developer, he has to deal often with associations. That experience coupled with Nob Hill's dealings could be part of why Harris chose Strozier to lead the new task force.
The Council gets a lot of its information from associations, Harris says. "We get e-mails. We get testimony at City Council meetings. We get letters. We meet with boards. A lot of times they advise us of what the neighborhood wants." The groups carry a lot of weight, and, Harris adds, the Council might want them to carry even more, "but as long as there are doubts, which there are, regarding whether the presidents of these associations really are giving us good information, then I think we always have to be careful."
Pat Hollis, secretary of the Four Hills association, says she resents the intrusion. She's been involved in associations in other cities as well and doesn't recall such meddling, she adds. "So far we've been able to take care of things." Loring paints a different picture, saying the board members in Four Hills recycle their cronies into different positions when there's an election. Candidates go through a vetting process, a nominating committee, before being allowed to participate. Loring contacted Harris, her city councilor, to point to what she considers an unfair process.
"Undemocratically governed neighborhood associations can leave the homeowner with no meaningful remedy to address a poorly run or harshly administered association," Harris' resolution reads. The councilor would also like the task force to examine issues of notice to see if the process can be improved given that regulations are inconsistent for homeowners associations and neighborhood associations. Still, he says, he'd like to stay away from micromanagement, especially in situations where associations don't have many members or are having a hard time drumming up interest and participation.
"I'm a big proponent of a group like this not being around for very long," Strozier says. That's part of avoiding micromanagement. Strozier says he doesn't have any ideas yet of who will be on the task force or exactly how it will go about its business. He would like to see a wide representation from all parts of the city. The resolution calls for reports from the task force to be submitted on April 1, 2007.
"As city councilors we don't have time to go knocking on doors like we do for elections to find out if this is what people really want," Harris says. "It's important to us to get really good information."
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