“Private Metropolis” revisited

It is my strong belief that  the HOA legal model of local government played a part  in the demise of democracy in America[i] has been greatly assisted by the recent publication Private Metropolis.[ii]  In my prior post on Private Metropolis,[iii] I was very pleased by the opening Introductory paragraph,

The opening introductory segment encompasses a wide description of special  governmental units. It is loaded with constitutional issues and controversies that says it all quite plainly: “quasi-governments,” “shadow local states,” “the municipality is no longer the privileged seat of governance,” and “special purpose local governments” (including homeowner associations with some 27% of the population — according to CAI — as residents), that “became, in effect, shadow governments.” 

Unfortunately, these highly descriptive political concepts  used in this very broad study of local government failed to appropriately address the form of local government known as HOAs.  Scant attention is given to these associations by the authors. In the 312 pages “homeowner association” is mentioned just once and “CID” twice. But “shadow government” and “quasi-government” and “special districts” are tossed around quite frequently. Readers, having read the very enticing title, will be greatly disappointed by its failure to deal with the most direct affront to the eclipse of local democratic government: the HOA legal model of governance that has been supported by all state legislatures across this country.

HOAs, my generic term for community and homeowners associations, satisfy the fundamental definition of a political government.  Black’s Law Dictionary (7th Ed.) definition separates the men from the boys: “Modern states are territorial; their governments exercise control over persons and things within their frontiers.”  And that is the unique feature of political government that  distinguishes an HOA from  a business, a non-profit charity, a club, a union, etc. I believe that the decision to form HOA governance outside the domain of public government was intentional to avoid constitutional restrictions.[iv]

They are a de facto yet unrecognized form of local government — other forms being mayor-council, council-manager — born and created as private entities, and as such,  have escaped, for the most part, under the common defense prohibiting  any ”law impairing the obligation of contracts.” Although the other forms of public local government are subject and held to the Constitution and the laws of the land. HOAs meet every criteria set forth by the authors as indicated above and epitomize the eclipse of local democratic government. 

The authors appear to admit the failure of the  ivory tower “philosopher kings” (my terms) to actively participate in preventing the fall of local democracy: “Instead, even scholars who study local governments [only recently realized] the degree to which quasi-public institutions are insulated from the democratic process.”  That applies strongly to authoritarian HOA governments. 

Notes


[i] See in general, Whither goest local government? Restrictive HOAs or responsible public government (2009); CAI’s early awareness of HOA constitutionality, public mini-government (2021); HOAs are another form of local government (2021).

[ii] Private Metropolis: the Eclipse of Local Democratic Government,  Dennis R. Judd, Evan McKenzie, Alba Alexander, Global and Community Series, Vol. 32, Univ. of Minneapolis Press (June 22, 2021).

[iii]  Private Metropolis: explaining the demise of local public government.

[iv] CC&Rs are a devise for de facto HOA governments to escape constitutional government.

HOAs are another form of local government

Listening to the events concerning the shooting in Brooklyn Center, MN I was surprised to learn that its form of government is based on the council-manager system.  We are more familiar with the mayor – council or mayor – manager forms of local government where the mayor is elected and plays a major role in governing the city.[1]

However, in the council-manager form the mayor is a figure head with the powers to rule the city are divided between the elected city council and a city manager  appointed by the council.  Sound familiar?  Many HOA Bylaws follow the council-manager form of local government, except that the Bylaws do provide for corporation laws governing the duties of officers.  This is true of the many large HOAs and the retirement/resort subdivisions.

The division of labor and authority follows the public form in that the council holds ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the government but is restricted to policy issues, while the appointed manager actually runs the HOA. A good example can be found in an Arizona active-adult HOA of some 17,000 people.

“The affairs of the Association shall be managed by a Board of Directors which shall serve as the corporate policy-making body of the Association. . . .  The Board is not responsible for nor authorized to perform day-to-day operations of the Association. The day-to-day operations of the Association shall be carried out by CAM or agents retained by the Association under the supervision of the Board.

“Subject to the Board’s responsibilities concerning operational policies, it shall be the policy of the Association . . . that the Board refrain from unreasonably interfering with the performance of delegated functions by CAM.”

The major difference between local public government Brooklyn Center, MN and the Arizona HOA lies in the private contractual nature of the HOA that absolves it from application of the US Constitution as well as the state constitution. HOA members are, as compared to non-HOA members, therefore second-class citizens lacking constitutional protections within their own state.[2]

The $64,000 question is: So why is there so much opposition to requiring the HOA to be subject to the Constitution like all other forms of local government?  BEFORE you respond, think very carefully with respect to the implication and consequences of your response.

References


[1] See in general, Roger L. Kemp, “Forms of Governance,” Managing America’s Cities: A Handbook for Local Government Productivity, McFarland & Co., (2007). They are: Strong Mayor, Council-Manager, Town Meeting (direct or representative democracy), and Commission. See also,  Home rule doctrine vs. HOA governments; CC&Rs are a devise for de facto HOA governments to escape constitutional government.

[2] See George K. Staropoli, HOA-Land Nation Within America (2019).