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Dealing With the Disruptive & Disrespectful

We frequently hear about them. The subject of TV shows, movies, and even books. Those intrusive, meddling, outright unfriendly neighbors that can ruin your life.

Imagine what would happen if they were elected to your co-op or condo board. Having one down the hall or next door is terrible enough.

What is a ‘Toxic’ Board or Board Member?

When the ego and self-interest of one or more board members come in the way of decision-making that should be in the best interests of the community as a whole, it is what is known as a toxic board or board member. When you have strong personalities who are accustomed to getting their way and who may attempt to denigrate or pressure other board members into voting their way, there might also be a bullying element present. A homeowner who has been voted by their fellow homeowners to serve on the board of a condominium association or homeowners association (HOA) is responsible for managing the community’s finances, upkeep, managerial decisions, and associated policies. They must make sure that it has good financial and governing practices in order to support future ventures. The exact opposite, distracting or discouraging the association and/or board of directors from that route, is what a toxic board member in a condo association or HOA does.Bad conduct on the board or in the community encourages anarchy. Simply put, disrespect doesn’t work. Collaboration with the community and other board members is essential. Conflict arises and the community may suffer serious harm when someone acts on their personal agenda rather than the agenda of the community. A toxic board member may act rudely or attempt to discredit others. A poisonous board might act in a similar manner, although that is uncommon. Typically, some board members desire to contribute rather than cause trouble. Because they want to do good, volunteers.

Impact on Governance

It can be challenging, if not impossible, for a board to rule successfully when it is crowded with people who either can’t or won’t get along with the other members of the board or who persistently pursue their own agenda at the expense of the priorities of the board as a whole.

Just being a volunteer board member is challenging enough. The dysfunctional dynamic that threatens group cohesiveness and collegiality might undermine the board’s efficacy and capacity for decision-making. Instead of focusing on the co-op or condo’s core operations, energy—the humankind—which is already in short supply—is used to try to remedy the juvenile behavior of some individuals. Toxic behavior has a variety of repercussions on governance, but they all share one feature. By causing unneeded diversions, toxic board members prohibit the board of directors from fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities to the community. The outcomes can obstruct the board’s decision-making process because they frequently entail ancillary issues unrelated to the community’s aims.

Examples range from conflicts among board members that turn personal and can result in verbal—and sometimes physical—altercations. It can even extend to a board member giving out sensitive community information that’s privy only to the board of directors. The toxic board member may do this to stir up division and get the community to support him or her. If their abuse gets to the property manager or staff emotionally or psychologically, toxic board members can cause property manager turnover as well. Governance becomes all about the conflict, and not the community. Take capital projects, for instance. With a dysfunctional board, decisions about a capital project or other financial issues are no longer about the agenda items. It becomes about the conflict itself, how it’s handled, and how it’s managed. If you have a majority of toxic board members, it can create so much dysfunction that there may be no governance at all.

The Treatment for Toxicity

Advocates argue that board leaders, namely the president, treasurer, and secretary, must continually enforce a code of behavior that all elected members must obey. It is critical to respond quickly in instances like these so that co-op or condo association activity may continue. To maintain healthy dynamics and conversation in formal meetings, it may be good to introduce a consensus-building method into board discussions or to have more intimate contacts “offline. The managing agent of the co-op or condo association may be able to act as a neutral third party to guarantee that personal conflicts on the board do not impede the governance and operations of the association. This type of circumstance might potentially benefit a board member.

To ensure that the dynamics and discourse in formal meetings stay healthy, it might also be beneficial to incorporate a consensus-building process into board discussions or to have more intimate interactions “offline”. The managing agent of the co-op or condo association may be able to serve as a neutral third party to ensure that the governance and operations of the association are not hampered by personal conflicts on the board. This kind of situation may also benefit a board member from seeking advice and assistance from their managing agent.

The first move must be to face the issue head-on and call out unacceptable remarks or behavior when they happen, or immediately afterward. The worst mistake boards can make is to ignore that individual; it will only give that person more power if they know that they can get away with their actions. Following every association’s annual board election, legal counsel and management can help orientate the newly elected board members on their roles and responsibilities. This will establish clear boundaries as to what a board member can or cannot do. This orientation should also clearly define the board’s ethical requirements and responsibilities, and establish the guidelines and expectations as to what boards can and cannot do.