For months now, I've been thinking about what I would do if I were sitting on the Northampton Maintenance Fund board. First, an understatement: everyone knows that I have a fair amount of passion about the idea of socializing the cost of replacement and maintenance of certain homeowners fences. But there are other things that the board can do to improve things in this neighborhood.
Some background: I moved with my family to this area in August 2014, and rented a house on Wellington Court Blvd, not far north of Root Road. When we looked to buy our first home in Texas, we never looked at another neighborhood. We looked at a LOT of homes in Northampton. We looked at homes down by the golf course, at a home on the other side of Wellington Court, at homes on Creekview, at one house on Inway, at several homes on Fawnwood. We finally settled on our house here on Fawnwood, After we bought it, we did a complete renovation of the first floor, before moving in. We loved this old house, with a big lot, mature trees, and, we were told, "good bones." We were told by our new next door neighbors (original owners of their home) that our house used to be the drug house, and how happy they were that a family was moving in and looking to make the house our home.Out two sons, who initially opposed the move to Texas, thrived here, first at Hildebrandt, then at Klein Oak. My wife thrived, working as a teacher. And my then-consulting practice continued to flourish too. When we moved to Texas, I knew nobody in Texas, I had never been in Texas before I drove across the border in my aging Lincoln Navigator with a hound in the back. The neighbors on Wellington Court were welcoming, we made new friends, we loved the weather (even the summers) and I knew I never wanted to live anywhere else. It was a little like the HEB commercials: "we're not from Texas, but we got here as fast as we could."
So we settled in, got busy with work, life, social activities, church and continued improvements to our new home. I didn't know a lot about the NMF, nor the HOA, the MUD, Chaparral, or anything else. As I started to learn more, I thought, "can't things be better for all homeowners here?"
Then came the fence issue, starting in early 2016. I was actually at one of the board meetings to ask some questions about a deed restriction violation that we had received when I first heard about the movement to make all homeowners pay for certain fences. The board said at that meeting that fences were all private property and would be maintained via deed restrictions.
I didn't give that a lot more thought until I learned via social media that the board was actually considering taking over the replacement and permanent maintenance of certain homeowners' fences. I opposed that whole notion, having already heard the board state that they were private property.
We don't need to rehash the whole controversy for the purposes of this post, though.
What I did learn is that the NMF board could do certain things a lot better:
- I think the board should make the minutes of board meeting available to homeowners earlier, within days of the meeting taking place. I would pursue that immediately.
- I think the board should e-mail those minutes to homeowners as soon as they are approved. The board has many, if not most, homeowners' e-mail addresses, since they circulate details about upcoming meetings. Minutes could be mailed to homeowners for whom no e-mail address is on file. I would try to implement this policy immediately.
- I think the board could communicate effectively with homeowners by using mechanisms that their neighbors are already using, like Facebook.
- I think they board should broadcast meetings live via video feed. If the board adopted the measure listed directly above this, then Facebook Live is a completely viable option.
Those are simple items that would let the neighbors know what the board is working on. And most importantly, it give the homeowners the information in real-time or near-real-time, which is a benefit to everyone who pays assessments to the NMF board.
What else would I do?
It is no secret that many homeowners have a deep, abiding distaste for Chaparral, the association's management company. I think two things should be done there:
1. Review the deed restriction notices that have been sent for the past, say, five years, along with their resolution. Is any section more heavily notified, and if so, why? There might be perfectly justifiable reasons, but at this time, nobody knows. Are the notices sent mainly for meaningful reasons, or are they "ticky-tack" little things that appear to bolster Chaparral's performance? Do we even need Chaparral to manage deed restriction notices, or can that be performed by an in-house committee of volunteer homeowners? This research could all be done without violating any homeowner’s privacy. The results of such a study should be shared with the community.
2. Review the Chaparral contract, and consider getting bids from other local management companies. Is Chaparral performing satisfactorily in the view of the board, and more importantly in the view of the homeowners that the board represents?
3. Review the books, via an independent audit: is the association spending money wisely, frugally, conservatively? Does the association really need to have three-quarter of a million dollars in the bank, while simultaneously raising every homeowner's assessment by 10% (the max permitted under our deed restrictions?
I think that whoever is sitting on the board on the morning of October 5th should put the "fence issue" aside. It is clear to me that very few homeowners want to take over the replacement and maintenance of these fences, whether one calls them "decorative fences" or "perimeter fences" or "developer installed fences" or "other peoples' private fences."
This past Sunday (september 16, 2018) we had a candidate forum, well-attended, and many wondered why the NMF board doesn't do this more often - why can't the board meet with the homeowners they represent more often, in an informal setting without Roberts Rules of Order, every once in a while? If I am elected to the NMF board, I will do exactly that - quarterly Town Hall meetings - and I hope other board members will join me.
In addition: in the run-up to the October 4th special meeting, I and some other neighbors crowd-sourced some Northampton Homeowner Bill of Rights (pasted below). I don't think it is, or should be, hard for board members to treat someowners with decency and respect, whether the homeowner agrees with, or disagrees with, any action or decision by the board. I think every homeowner has a right to expect that.
I think that all homeowners in Northampton have a right to expect to be treated with decency and respect by Chaparral, or which ever management company works for the board, regardless of their length of residency. Homeowners that bought their house in August 2018 deserve the same respect and decency from Chaparral as one who bought their house in August 2001, or August 1980, or August 1970 (when my home was built).
So that's my platform. If you've read this far, I humbly and gand gratefully thank you. If you have any questions about my platform or my background, or if you just want to vent, or talk, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you prefer to meet in person, e-mail me and we'll set up a time to do that.
John P. Needham
September 18, 2018
Pasted below is the crowd-sourced Northampton Homeowner Bill of Rights:
The Northampton Homeowner Bill of Rights
1. Every homeowner deserves to be treated with respect and professionalism from the Northampton Maintenance Fund board members, and the hired management company staffers, regardless of the duration of their residency in our neighborhood.
2. All homeowners deserve honest and forthright disclosures from the Northampton Maintenance Fund board members about ongoing projects and initiatives, and those being considered by the board.
3. Deed restriction enforcement should be fair, even and just, without regard to which section homeowners reside, and without regard to a homeowner's duration of ownership in the community.
4. Budgeting and allocation of homeowner assessments should be fiscally responsible and demonstrably for the benefit of whole community.
5. No homeowner should be forced to fund improvements on other residents' lots.
6. When the board is considering large expenditures that were not disclosed in the annual budget, complete transparency is essential; when the board begins considering such expenditures outside the annual budget process, it will disclose those considerations to the community and will re-emphasize meeting dates so homeowners can attend meetings and provide feedback to the board before decisions are made.
7. All communications between board members, and between board members and management company personnel, including e-mails, written communication and minutes of non-public conversations, shall be made available to all members of the Association upon request, and at no charge to the Association members, when the communication involves Association business, except when those documents violate privacy rights of other homeowners (i.e. deed restriction violations).
8. All documents that have been prepared for the Northampton Maintenance Fund board, even in draft form, and including all legal advice and documents by, or to, the management company or board members, shall be made available to members of the Association upon request, and at no charge to Association members, except when those documents violate privacy rights of other homeowners (i.e. deed restriction violations).
9. All Homeowners shall be allowed to speak at Northampton Maintenance Fund board meetings on any agenda item being discussed during the meeting. Homeowner’s who cannot attend the meeting in person may submit their comments to any board member or to the property manager so long as it is delivered no later than 24 hours prior to the start of the meeting. Comments submitted shall be read by a board member prior to or during the live oral comment period on the topic which is the subject of the homeowner’s comments.
10. Homeowners have a right to expect the Northampton Maintenance Fund board members, lawyers and the property management company will protect private information like home address, phone numbers and private e-mail addresses, and to not distribute that private information in a retaliatory or other fashion.