Thursday, July 01, 2010

Public local government beats private local government -- but sometimes it's like an HOA

Grand Jury Blasts City Council

“Major changes” are needed to a South Lake Tahoe City Council that is constantly bickering, routinely drops controversial issues, and operates at a “barely functional level,” according to the 2009-2010 El Dorado County grand jury report.

— “Constant hostility and bickering among members of the City Council and their unprofessional conduct has resulted in a consistent 3/2 split vote creating two 'camps' of Council members. The voting often appears to be the result of Council members pursuing personal agendas rather than operating in the best interests of the City. The bickering and nitpicking between Council members during meetings, combined with hostile comments to media outlets and behind the scenes ‘back biting' has resulted in the failure to address routine and important business entrusted to the Council by the citizens of the City of South Lake Tahoe.

Private government such as employed by mandatory membership homeowner associations is a non sequitur. Americans see local government as a public function and expect it to be transparent and accountable. Privatizing government through nonprofit corporation law creates an inherent contradiction and uses the law in a setting in which it was never intended to operate.

Unlike private HOA government, public forms of local government have a well established governance culture and are generally served by experienced, well trained professional staff. By contrast, HOAs are governed by property owners who are typically reluctant volunteers who muddle along from year to year. Turnover is high among board members and contracted, part time professional advisors who may or may not place the HOA's best interests first. This governance gap, I believe, accounts for much of the dsyfunction and abuse of power in HOA governance at the same time HOAs have become deeply ingrained in the structure of local government as the owner of this blog has noted.

That said, public local government isn't perfect. Sometimes their elected bodies resemble amateurish HOA boards as this story out of South Lake Tahoe, Calif. illustrates. However, no grand juries investigate HOAs and issue recommendations on how they can improve such as is the case here.

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