Business judgment rule; understanding the courts

The intent of this title is to highlight the need to carefully read and understand legal documents –  knowing what is said and what is not said in statutes, in court decisions and opinions, and in contracts.  It is human nature for people to hear, see, or read what they want to and miss the real message.

Tutorial

If you seek to analyze, not merely read, a legal document then attentions must be paid to what I refer to as “word games.”  By that I mean the modification and extension of  the traditional meaning of words to support an argument or position; the parsing of sentences involving the effect of punctuations – commas, semi-colons, etc., — on phrases and clauses.

A simple example:

“I saw that she was busy and prepared to leave.
“I saw that she was busy, and prepared to leave.

“Without a comma, the reader is liable to think that “she” was the one who was prepared to leave.”

In the real world, documents can contain mult-line sentences with many commas and semi-colons, where your opponent will argue for one interpretation and you the other. In our example, who is right? The first or the second choice?  With many legal documents written by “writers,” the publicized author may not know at all. This happens often in complex legislative bills.

Business judgment rule (BJR)

(See below for an explanation of BJR).

Applying the above, let’s look at the wording of the WA Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Bangerter v. Hat Island that sidestepped the question of applying the business judgment rule to HOAs. 

At issue was plaintiff’s interpretation of the covenant for assessments that allowed the BOD “to charge and assess its members on an equitable basis.”  Bangerter said “equitable basis” meant at a rate based on home value, like your real estate tax; the BOD interpreted “equitable basis”  to mean the same assessment for all members.  The court held that the BOD’s interpretation was valid, deferring to the BOD as consistent with the BJR.

But here’s how the judges presented their decision:

Whether, and if so to what extent, the business judgment rule applies to homeowners’ associations is a thorny question. Given that we can affirm on any grounds, we decline to resolve that question here and wait for a case that more squarely presents it.

While courts do not owe deference to a homeowners’ association’s interpretation of its governing documents, courts do owe appropriate deference to their reasonable discretionary decisions. . . . Accordingly, there is no cause to consider whether the business judgment rule applies.

The first paragraph is, essentially, a “punt” — not going to deal with the issue.

Yet the first sentence of the second paragraph seems to be a rejection of the BJR.    What is the fine point that the court is making, the “hair splitting”? What is the effect of, the difference, in all practicality  between no “deference . . . [to] interpretations” and “deference to . . . discretionary decisions”?  

But wait! The court upheld the BJR with its deference to BOD decisions without saying so!  WOW! Go figure.

The second sentence is an astonishing declaration that the Court is not talking about the business judgment rule!  No wonder the average homeowner has a problem understanding what goes on in the mind of judges.  Confusing?  You bet!  On purpose, I wonder!

Business judgment rule explanation

The business judgment rule helps to guard a corporation’s board of directors (B of D) against frivolous legal allegations about the way it conducts business. A legal staple in common law countries, the rule states that boards are presumed to act in “good faith”—that is, within the fiduciary standards of loyalty, prudence, and care directors owe to stakeholders. Absent evidence that the board has blatantly violated some rule of conduct, the courts will not review or question its decisions. (Investopedia).

Related reading

If you wish to pursue a more detailed understanding of the pros and cons of BJR, please read   HOAs and the Business Judgment Rule: Bad Law and Reorienting the HOA board: business judgment rule

Exposing the HOA’s false ideals and values

In an attempt to provide some feedback to both the BOD and the members in general, I conducted a poll based on member perception of BOD compliance with its stated values. The subject HOA was the same SCG studied in the “mgmt case study” posts. 

In this era of disinformation, of co-opting groups and ideas,  and politicians no longer avoiding the illusion of impropriety but lying straight to your face, facts — undisputable facts — are important.  If we are to succeed in finding the truth, it is necessary to accept the world as it is, and to rise above it.  This poll attempts to discover the truth about SCG in order to rise above the realities as they are.

 “Reliability” refers to getting the same results on repeated polls with different groups.  (That’s basically what “significance” is all about and is determined by statistical methodology).  Appropriate to HOA member attitudes in general, I read studies and polls that 80% love their HOA or 70% believe their BOD is great, etc. Does that mean that all the members or group believe so, or just those who responded?  In other words, as others have raised, “what’s the point” or “it’s meaningless.”

As you can see below, the responses are relatively steady for the 5 checkpoints, with a dip and recovery for questions 2 and 6.

Here’s how my small sample responded to the SCG 6 statements of value.  Surprised?  The strength of the Agree choices varies according to the question, from a low of 43.9%  to a high of 91.4%.  All in all, the average Agree response comes to 63.8%, or let’s say two-thirds.  Congratulations! But, looking at the individual questions,  there is more that can be accomplished with proactive involvement by members not afraid of change and of criticizing the BOD.

In response to concerns of “what’s the point?” and “it’s meaningless,” that depends on member reaction. It is meaningful and provides direction for positive action if the members escape from their apathy, for whatever reason, and make it so. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . .  who does actually strive to do the deeds.

With SCG’s obsession with keeping property values up by attracting, new members who would be, for the most part “young-uns,” a more detailed survey is in order.  Using the same Value statements, are there differences between newbies and oldies based on age or years of membership?  However, due to the buying “panic” driving home prices sky high, now would not be a good time for the survey. It does reflect that home prices are still dominated by the marketplace.

Sun City Grand HOA members, you can take the poll anonymously. Click:   SCG values poll.

Mgmt case study #1 – final update

By this time I believe some are beginning to realize the larger objective of my posts.  It’s about HOA-LAND, that collection of HOAs across America, and SCG was just a prime subject for study that provided detailed documentation.  Through acts of commission and of omission, by both the board of directors and the members in general, my research  was revealing.

Now that the board of directors meeting was held, without write-ins being allowed and no outcry of foul by the members,  I conclude my study of a failure to act in good faith that contained documented violations of state laws and the governing documents.

My case study showed that an HOA with members above average income and education  exhibited the same social and political dynamics of the prevalent HOA culture. It is a culture found throughout HOA-LAND that allows for the classification of HOA-LAND as a nation within America, consisting of independent principalities allowed to exist outside the Constitution.  In the face of demonstrable violations of the law and the governing documents, the silence by BODs and the majority of the members places HOA communities above the law as outlaw communities.

Although participation in  the SCG polls and focus groups was in the thousands, the failure of members to participate in my nonpolitical  “Values” poll  is indicative of the HOA Culture.  It is very disappointing, but not unexpected.  Early results do not show a heavy leaning for or against but a balanced response that I see as truthful, honest replies. Another failure by the members to accept criticism.

Check out the poll — it’s anonymous. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NF7FVR2

I was texted by a member who said this failure was due to fear on the part of members. She was partially right; fear is one aspect of the social dynamics of the HOA Culture in SCG.  Others texted asking, what does this prove and where are you going with this?  In a broader context, we are dealing with  simplified explanations by apathetic members.  Why is this so?

In my well founded argument of the social and political  dynamics at work included findings of the existence of:

  1. an authoritarian environment made possible by members’ authoritarian followers behavior. In short, trusting in authority figures. (It is in keeping with the increase in American authoritarianism);
  2. a cult-like behavior by members who religiously support the board of directors, who completely believe that the BOD can do no wrong, and who  will intently not discuss or debate the issues, but ready to attack and disparage the messengers (as found in cult followers);
  3. a “You can’t fight city hall” mentality stemming from the adhesion governing documents granting powers to the HOA and supported by pro-HOA statutes mimicking the governing documents in many ways (the practical ability to seek justice in the courts is subject to unattainable financial and emotional bars;
  4. a “I just don’t care” attitude by members who are in love with the amenities and benefits made possible by the HOA, and the means to that end doesn’t interest them;
  5. a fear in being rejected, ostracized, and socially distanced as “not one of us,” and “should move out if not happy here,” if critical or disagreeing with the prevailing views of the “establishment.”  Or, in other words, the equivalent of not being politically correct.

The making of this culture falls only partially on the members to the extent of their being all too willing to accept pro-HOA propaganda —  carefree living, affordable housing, resort style living etc.  CAI (Community Associations Institute) has for over 40 years 1) heavily influenced and dominated the formation of HOA-Land as an institution – accepted without question as that’s the way it is; and 2) conditioned and indoctrinated the public and members with its CAI School of HOA Governance (my label).  NO, that’s not the way it is!

This business trade group has advanced its mission to support its members, the attorney and manager “venders.”   Collectively, its program of education and acceptance can be found in its CAI Manifesto, which is a collection of all CAI documentation including town sponsored seminars and conferences,  court filings, and legislative testimony in  almost every state.

As I presented elsewhere, SCG has a “clique” of CAI members who, over the years,  are also or were SCG presidents and directors.  And their presence continues and can be seen on the BOD and as committee chairs today.

How SCG, and all HOAs, go forward depends on a proactive and involved membership, starting with reforming pro-HOA state laws and trickling down to conforming governing document revisions.

Mgmt case study #1 – update3

SCG BOARD CONTINUES TO DEMONSTRATE THAT IT’S A ROGUE BOD

Management Case Study #1 update3 — BOD good faith conduct

George K. StaropoliJanuary 16, 2022

This study will proceed to a climax late this month with the board elections.  The BOD has remained silent with respect to the allegations and the members have also remained silent. However, the BOD has handled their problem with a campaign of propaganda.

I challenged the BOD and the members in a post to the SCG FB private member group, stating in part:

PROPAGANDA. I have studied the recent weekly posts, releases, enotifications, “news of the day” etc. from the BOD. My  conclusion was that I was witnessing a very slick and effective propaganda campaign.  (“Propaganda” is false statements, half-truths, omission of facts, and misrepresentations designed to produce a favorable attitude and mindset in the targets). What has been presented to the membership has been happy, smiling faces, eating good food at the Café, enjoying the club and sports amenities, and beautiful pictures of the landscaping. A picture of happy land and playing to the wishes, desires, and wants of the members.

All designed to elicit “what a great place this” and “what a great job the BOD is doing.”  I agree!  Meanwhile they have failed and continue to fail to address documented criticisms and charges of violations.  Completely ignoring these serious aspects of BOD duties and obligations under state law and the governing documents.  Will the new BOD follow in suit?  “For they are all, all honorable men.”

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Please feel free to provide posts on this open SCG member FB group: any  feedback, your views, any questions about me, who I am, what I stand for, or what I wish to accomplish. 

PLEASE ENTER MY NAME AS YOUR WRITE-IN NOMINEE FOR A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER: GEORGE K. STAROPOLI.

HOA management (BOD) is more than property management (CAM)

I continue to be baffled as to how real estate attorneys and property managers, unlicensed in most states, have been allowed by state legislatures to advise and dictate to HOA boards (BOD) on how to govern a community by an Association that  is very similar to a local government body.  Governing a community is more than managing a property in a subdivision.   

 Many other experts and authorities have attempted to explain this complex concept of “what is management”  — including the renowned Peter F. Drucker. (The Practice of Management and Management). My take is a simple, down-to-earth explanation as part of “Reorienting the BOD and its followers,” the first step in A Plan Toward the Restructuring the HOA Model of Governance. 

Management (noun) – Management is an entity — an organization whether a business, a nonprofit, an HOA, a charity, a club, a group, or a person. It applies to any person, or organization, or entity at all levels with respect to its level of authority and responsibilities — CEO, president, division director, department manager, supervisor, or committee chair. The difference in organizational type is related to their purpose and mission. Businesses  are to make a profit for their stockholders. Nonprofit membership organizations, like HOAs,  have a mission or goal as  laid out by the founders and initial directors that is designed to attract and maintain members — for $$$$$  — who identify with the mission.

Management (function) —  Management is a practice (as first described by Drucker in 1973). It’s an actual application by practitioners/managers — whatever the designation: manager, governor, administrator, board of directors, trustee, etc. — of the set of beliefs, principles, and values held by the organization. The quality and success of the management function is measured by its performance in attaining its mission, objectives, and goals. They may set by its constitution, charter, bylaws, Declaration of CC&Rs, or by department/section/committee descriptions.

Executive level management — at the state legislature through its lawmaking authority or at HOA board of directors level — has final and total responsibility for the successful performance of the organization and sets the mission, goals, conduct and operation of the entity. It has the duty to 1) set policy, plans, rules, regulations, controls, procedures, etc., and 2) organize and structure the entity. All in keeping with its powers under the legal documents and laws granting it the authority to so act.

The very first task for the BOD is to determine just what is the purpose of the entity, and what should it be. Once this reason for being has been determined and stated in terms that permit the evaluation of performance, a valid mission statement can be issued.  From the mission statement a single goal  or set of goals can be issued that permit a measurement of the entity’s performance.  Value statements can be adopted to guide the BOD and members with respect to acceptable means and methods for achieving the goals.

A mission  statement has to be operational; otherwise it’s just good intentions. A mission statement has to focus on what the institution really tries to do.” (Managing the Nonprofit Organization, Peter Drucker, 1990).

The mission statement by the HOA Management Case Study #1 subject, SCG for example, speaks  in the present tense using the word “IS,” making it more of a propaganda statement — it already exists or has already been accomplished — rather than a condition, an ideal,  to be achieved.  Consequently, SCG’s mission serves no value for the establishment of goals that can measure performance, leaving the HOA essentially without any direction.

* * * *

Cautionary note:

Management when it fails to abide by the authorizing documents and marketing materials that appeal to the wants, desires, and wishes of the members will result in members exiting  the organization, taking their future member donations, dues, fees, etc. with them. With businesses, except small, closely held businesses, exiting is a simple task of selling one’s stock and buying another.

HOAs are more like a small, closely held businesses where exiting is not a simple task primarily due to the need to find some other private buyer (investor) willing to ignore why you are leaving. The status and situation of members can be viewed as a form of indentured servitude: you can’t leave unless you have  money to leave (like having paid off your servitude obligation), or you die.

Consequently, management in membership nonprofit organizations, like local governments, must keep the members happy.  Any changes or  modifications to the purpose, or mission, or goals of the organization must consider  the effect on the members.  And must follow the law and the controlling documents – the CC&Rs in HOAs.  The BOD is not a free agent to do as  it pleases as if the HOA were its own private club.