It is Written
“When even one man says 'No. I won't' Rome begins to fear.” Dalton Trumbo
That’s a line from the Movie “Spartacus”, and I think it applies as well to homeowner’s associations as it does to Roman Empires. Both are non-democratic institutions designed to allow the few to wield power and authority over the many. Throughout history, that precarious imbalance of power has always been extremely difficult to maintain, thus making these institutions susceptible to, and very fearful of, even faintest voice of dissent. I believe that kind of fear was in evidence at the 2005 general meeting.
On March 8, the community of Shavano Ridge held its general meeting. There, the board’s president, in his opening remarks, made a lengthy and, to my mind, rather shrill attack on my character. He described me as a bitter, vindictive man who had willfully violated the CC&Rs and was now waging a war against a virtuous Board of Directors by creating this website, which was described as being full of malicious lies and half truths.
If he was right, and this website did no more than document half-truths, that would be bad enough, but he is not right—he was not being honest with the association and he knew it. Every board member present knew it because they know documents exist that contradict the president’s statements. They know these documents exist because they created them. Yet, in spite of this, they were all willing to go along with a public deception. I cannot tell you what they were thinking; I can only assume that the desperation of the act had something to do with that fear I mentioned earlier.
Evidently, the board has not recognized the “Pinocchio factor” which stimulates growth on this website—when they tell a lie, their noses may not grow, but this website will. Anytime it is discovered that the Board has been less than completely honest with the association, the story will find its way to this website. It’s the only means of oversight this community has, and events of the past have demonstrated that this community needs allot of oversight.
The president also attempted to cast doubt upon the validity of the information displayed on the website. In answer to that charge I can tell you that everything on this website which directly refers to the Shavano Ridge Board of Directors is documented either in writing or in photographs or both—hence the title of this page, “It Is Written.” I do not bother with hearsay or innuendo. I learned early on that the integrity of this group is unreliable. And, as readers who attended the March 8th meeting are soon to see, even when written documentation of an event exists, that is no guarantee that this group will recount that event honestly.
Covenant Violation or Gross Misrepresentation?
In his statement to the association on March 8, 2005, the president claimed that I had violated the CC&Rs by painting my house a color that was not approved by the Architectural Control Committee. But the Board’s own written statements, which they made public on October 2000 clearly indicate that the president’s was misrepresenting the facts.
"Architectural Control Committee - Policy Change
The Architectural Control Committee (ACC) has been requested to review it's (sic) present policy of allowing homeowners to paint the exterior of their houses any color (or colors) they choose. At the urging of the Board of Directors, the ACC is now requiring homeowners who wish to paint/repaint the exterior of their houses to submit their color selection(s) to the ACC PRIOR to beginning work." Out on the Ridge, October 2000 (Original Document)
This statement was made public seven months after I had painted my house. It conveys four important pieces of information:
· There is to be a policy change as of October 2000.
· Until October 2000, it was the Board’s policy to allow Homeowners to paint their houses any color they chose.
· As of October 2000, the Board was requiring homeowners to submit color selections to the ACC.
The fourth piece of information that this statement conveys is that when I painted my house in April of 2000, I did so in complete compliance with the existing rules established by the Shavano Ridge Board of Directors—in their own words.
That is the truth, and it is written.
Two months later, I received a letter from the management company stating that I had violated these new rules of October 2000. However, it would take another two months for the Board to decide exactly what those new rules would be.
House Painting: The Board requested the ACC to write standards on repainting homes. This is due at the next Board meeting on February 13th 2001.” (Original Document)
So according to the Board, I had violated the rules regarding house painting nine months before those rules were written.
When they did come up with their own standard Shavano Ridge color scheme, they tried to lend it an air of credibility by falsely claiming that it was based on an original paint color scheme imposed by the developer.
"They can paint their homes in the same original builder scheme or any color of any other home in SR which was the original paint color of the original contractor." Shavano Ridge Homeowners Association, December 2003 (Original Document)
But the original builder (Centex Homes) publicly stated that they never conceived of an original paint color scheme for Shavano Ridge—there was no paint color scheme from the original builder.
"Centex Design Center confirmed that there are no - and never have been - standard colors for Shavano Ridge." Truth Camino, Centex Design Center, The San Antonio Current, March 2004 (Original Document)
The new Shavano Ridge paint color scheme was based on a situation that never existed.
So what has happened so far?
· I painted my house in accordance with the existing rules at the time.
· Seven months later I am notified that the rules are to be changed.
· Two months after that I am notified that I violated the new rules that were yet to be determined.
· Two months after that, I am notified that new rules have been determined that are based on a false assumption.
Anyone who wonders why I have become a tireless and outspoken critic of the HOA institution of private government, need to read no more than this; this is the incident that gave birth to this website—but there is more if you’re up to it.
That’s our story and we’re sticking to it
The Board was confronted with, and ask to explain, these inconsistencies several times but they have refused to address the subject preferring to dismiss it by claiming they can’t be held accountable for their written statements and stubbornly clinging to their story that I violated the CC&Rs by not submitting my color choices to the ACC even though they clearly stated that it was not their policy to demand this in April of 2000.
The Board has been careful not to come out and actually say this but the only message I can see that they are sending to the homeowners with this “anything goes” approach to management is that they believe the rules are to be whatever they say they are whenever they say they take effect. Any previous understandings, no matter how well documented, are to be honored or ignored at the digression of the Board. They decide what is truth and what is fiction.
Don’t say a word
This lack of honest communication gets to the heart of the problems with all HOAs. As you have just witnessed, HOAs often act in a manner that immediately strikes most people as un-democratic. Even a modest amount of scrutiny is liable to reveal actions, which would not be considered scrupulous by the majority of American citizens. In other words, HOAs have a serious image problem; you just cannot defend this kind of behavior with any measure of credibility. To counter this situation most HOAs try to keep a low profile by saying as little as possible, and conducting their more controversial activities behind closed doors. On top of that, it’s the HOAs that control the neighborhood newsletter, which means they control the information and many have proved quite willing to stretch the truth when it serves their purpose. This is defiantly not what you would expect from a government based on American ideals, and that brings up another flash point that erupted at the March 8th meeting—my opinion that HOAs are, by nature, un-American.
What would James Madison Say?
Those in attendance March 8th will remember an attempt by one of the Board members to discredit a homeowner who was running for a seat on the Board of Directors by asking the homeowner if she agreed with a statement I had made that HOAs were un-American in their style of governance. The Board member appeared to be very offended by my statement yet, later in the evening, she explained the basic foundation of my assessment of HOAs when a resident suggested that our By-Laws be re-written because they allow non-residents to become board members. The offended Board member stepped up to the podium and explained to the crowd that the By-Laws are created by the developer in such a way as to give the developer complete, unencumbered control over the association. What this Board member unwittingly described was a monarchy, which does not recognize democratic principals and is, by definition, un-American. The dictionary describes a monarchy as “a nation or a state governed by a monarch.” Now, you can’t create a real monarchy within the United States, but you can get very close to it by becoming a corporation, and it is this device that has been used by thousands of developers across the country to side step the thorny issues of legislative safeguards homeowners are provided by U.S common law.
One of the safeguards provided homeowners outside of a HOA is grand fathering which is defined in the dictionary with this description: When rules change, current participants remain unaffected and the new rules only apply to new participants. The following is only one example of un-American nature of private corporate governance as well as some pretty shady dealings carried out by the Shavano Ridge Board of Directors.
What Grand Fathered Status?
Obviously, I think my house should have been grand fathered. I did agree to submit my color choices to the ACC the next time my house needed painting, which would have been under the new rules. This is the way the situation would have been handled had I been dealing with a state or municipality where United States common law protects citizens from government abuses. But the Shavano Ridge Board of directors refused to do this claiming that Shavano Ridge is a corporation and, as such, not obligated to recognize grand fathered status. In other words, it is not at all like a democracy, and therefore, it’s un-American. But that was not the end of it. Once again, a little research uncovered inconsistencies between their words and deeds, which called into question the group’s integrity.
In the meeting minutes for August 2001, I noticed that the Board did establish a president of honoring the grand fathered status of some homeowners.
" A motion was passed stating that the ACC must give prior approval before any fences can be painted or stained. Fences that had already been painted or stained were grandfathered. A letter would be sent to those homeowners stating that the ACC would have to give approval before they could be repainted or stained" Meeting Minutes, August 2001 (Original Document)
These minutes were corrected and accepted at the next Board meeting in October.
"Approval of Prior Meeting Minutes: The minutes from the previous board meeting(s) were corrected and accepted." Meeting Minutes, October 2001 (Original Document)
But two years later, when I ask for copies of the minutes prior to a meeting with the Board, they had altered this document by deleting the grand fathering reference and claimed that the August 2001 minutes had not been approved.
"These are the corrected and approved minutes of the Shavano Ridge Homeowners association Board meeting held on August 14, 2001. Please disregard previously received minutes as they were sent in error prior to Board review and approval." Altered Meeting Minutes, June 2003 (Original Document)
Obviously, there was something in the original version of the minutes that they didn’t want me to see. In June 2003 the August 2001 minutes looked like this.
" A motion was passed stating that the ACC must give prior approval before any fences can be painted or stained. A letter would be sent to those homeowners stating that the ACC would have to give approval before they could be repainted or stained" Altered Minutes, June 2003 (Original Document)
Now I ask you readers, at what point do you think it is not only prudent, but also morally imperative that this group bite the bullet, assume their responsibility, fall back on their integrity, and admit a mistake was made. I would have thought we reached that point back in October of 2000, but we never did. In October of 2004, the Board published this statement in the meeting minutes claiming that they never do what you just saw them do.
"Any change(s) to the approved minutes are noted in the next BoD's approved minutes. Approved minutes cannot be changed by the BoD." Meeting Minutes for October 12th 2004. (Original Document)
I included these passages here because I think they clearly point out why I believe that HOAs are un-American while shining a harsh light upon the credibility of this organization and the incessantly deceptive manner that this particular group has chosen to conduct itself.
Where’s the Truth?
These are just a few of the unfortunate incidents I have documented over the past few years. You can find more on the Board Monitor, Glass Houses, and Community Conflicts pages of this website.
In my dealings with this group, this is the kind of deception I was confronted with at every juncture; it has gone on and on right up to the March 8th general meeting.
What the president told the homeowners on March 8th was the Board’s interpretation of the truth as they would like it to be told, but it was not the truth.