Have you ever heard the definition of a camel? It’s a horse created by a committee. That’s the sense a lot of people have about committees – that they’re unwieldy and get things wrong. But when they’re well run, they can be very useful. Ultimately, using committees increases the scope of the work that the board can do. In addition, many buildings regularly draft directors from committees. They’re also a good way to co-opt critics. If there’s an issue about which certain residents are concerned and critical, you can place them on a committee.
In setting one up, some basic questions include:
What kind of committee do you need? That will depend on the kinds of challenges you face. Some typical committees tackle landscaping, lobby renovation, newsletters, and facade repair. Boards can simplify decision-making by giving committees limited authority to make decisions. For a committee to have the authority to act, though, it must be created by the articles of incorporation, the bylaws, or a resolution of the full board.
Advisory committees are more common. They can help analyze problems, review facts, and gather information and alternatives – but do not make decisions. How big should the committee be? It can range from two or three people to as many as ten. Who should be included? A member of the board should chair each committee. The rest of the group should include people with some knowledge of the subject being investigated. If you’re setting up a finance committee, for example, try to get an accountant.
“I think if structured correctly, and with the right direction and leadership by a board member, committees can be very successful,” says Dawn Dickstein, founder of MD Squared Property Management. “The committee needs to know its role, and that needs to be clearly defined.” How do you avoid the pitfalls? Committees go wrong by assuming too much authority and not remaining within the guidelines of the board. It’s important that committee members realize that their function is usually to advise the board, not to dictate a course of action.
“A board will say, ‘OK, the committee makes recommendations but ultimately, it’s the board’s decision,’” says Dickstein. If the board goes against everything the committee says, the committee members may get dejected, she adds, which could lead to dispirited shareholders and a lack of participation the next time the board reaches out to the community. “Boards are sometimes looked upon as being dictators,” she says. “I think that if you have successful committees and people feel a part of the community, that’s certainly a good thing.”
5 Reasons for semiannual meetings:
The 128-unit Normandy co-op in Forest Hills, Queens, has two annual meetings every year. Yes, two. The board stages the annual meeting in the summer, and when November rolls around, it stages a second “informational gathering.” Here are five reasons why you might want to do the same:
- You can use the extra session to announce and discuss new or proposed projects.
- By explaining these projects in person, you’ll help residents understand why and how you’re doing them, forestalling rumors and creating harmony.
- You can use meetings to discuss money matters, from maintenance increases to special assessments.
- The extra meeting can help keep the board informed about the concerns of the residents.
- It’s an opportunity to float controversial ideas, such as the possible implementation of a flip tax.