It is one of life’s eternal questions: is it possible to have too much of a good thing? That question certainly can apply to the matter of long-serving board members, those individuals who get elected and re-elected term after term. And like most big questions, there is no easy answer. Every community is different and every board is different. There are, however, a few pros and cons that tend to crop up in nearly every situation where a board has one or two long-term members.
Accentuating the Positive
Perhaps the biggest benefit of having a cadre of seasoned board members overseeing one’s condo or co-op community is the fact that they have unparalleled institutional memory. “They have significant historical knowledge of the property as well as the administration of that property,” says David Hartwell, a partner with the Penland Hartwell law firm, based in Chicago. “Knowing how a board has construed its declaration and rules and regulations over the years is important in terms of consistency.”
In the opinion of Mark Roth, an attorney and partner with the law firm of Orum & Roth Ltd., the benefits of long-serving board members “far outweighs the detriments,” he says. “They bring a sense of history.” And when it comes to long-term issues—perhaps a capital project or ongoing litigation—they can bring first-person knowledge of the situation to the table, allowing boards to hear the details from a witness and not rely solely upon past meeting minutes or other stale documents.
Chicago Attorney Steven Welhouse of The Sterling Law Office agrees. “It’s kind of like the old story in government—you need someone with expertise and institutional memory to make things work,” he says. “For example, a knowledge of collections—they have seen what works and what doesn’t. And it promotes efficiency. You don’t have to look to an outside source all the time, like an attorney or manager, for your information.”
Multi-term board members also are important because they can hold down the metaphorical fort when new members join the board. In today’s world, running a co-op or condo community can be like running a small multi-national corporation—the stakes are high with hundreds of units and millions of dollars in play. It can take up to a full term for new board members to learn the ins and outs of procedures, bylaws, meeting rules and other details. While they are learning, the more experienced board members can shoulder the burden and at the same time, provide important mentoring opportunities.