It was previously considered acceptable that community association boards had the power to do just about anything that wasn’t illegal, immoral, or fattening. It was also a matter of course that when you bought into a community association, you checked a large chunk of your personal freedom at the gated entry. Most every condo I’ve heard of has a rule against “For Sale” signs. The theory is that it cheapens the look of the neighborhood. Not such an unreasonable judgment, unless you’re the unit owner trying to sell. It clearly seems like a reasonable rule when you look at the ancient Greek standard for judgment of “the greater good for the greater number.” Not so anymore. It seems to be a clear violation of Free Speech. Community associations cannot abrogate constitutional rights even if the homeowners agree to give them up. If that’s all there is to this issue, then it would be enough. I think there’s more.
The consistent theme of this column is that community associations are a microcosm of our country and world. The human interaction problems we face with our neighbors are the same ones faced by our governments. The solutions to one should mirror the solutions to the other. I also remember a quote from a Nobel prize winner who said “For every great and complex problem someone will come up with a simple solution. And that solution is always wrong.” Let’s not get too carried away with the “For Sale” sign prohibition. Let’s look at the real issues.
We live by a document called The Constitution. We the people and all that. The folks who wrote it were smart enough to realize that they were human and could make mistakes and also that 18th Century America might not have precisely the same needs as 21st Century America. Therefore they put in an amendment process to allow for change. This was such a good idea that they immediately recognized errors and omissions already made in the document while the ink was drying. Thus we have the first ten amendments that most school kids know as The Bill of Rights.. Freedom of speech shows up pretty close to the beginning. Now here’s the issue. We recognize the possibility of error and have a process to deal with it. We even recognize that we may make a change that doesn’t work and can go back and re-change it. The best example would be the failed effort at prohibition. Anybody who suggested we go back and amend The Bill of Rights. would be met with derision and hostility. Those ten amendments have taken on a greater emotional importance than the whole Constitution; something akin to the Ten Commandments. They have entered the realm of the politically holy.
I think it is OK to take a second look at The Bill of Rights. . I think it is OK to reexamine the rules about free speech. I think that the idea of “shouting fire in a crowded theater” is not the only restriction to free speech. I think that free speech in the form of lies should be dealt with in a more meaningful way than we currently are accustomed to. At this writing a former LA policeman is picking potatoes peacefully in Idaho while the rest of the country chokes on their gorge after listening to his sworn testimony and follow-up interview tapes. Freedom of speech is certainly integral to our whole country. The abuse of that freedom is the core of the cancer that weakens us daily.
This is not about a “For Sale” sign in Pennsylvania. This is not about the ammo that decision will give to the rabid Kondo Kommandos in Florida. This is not about a Libertarian view of the world. It’s about the ability to examine ourselves with an open mind and see what’s wrong and then figure out how to fix it. The throne of free speech is in the courtroom on the witness stand. Its everyday realm is the schoolyard, the neighborhood and the workplace. There must be more attention paid to the value of truth and a more significant penalty for lies. It is not unlike the right to bear arms. Might as well get the NRA involved here. They are right. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. It’s the consequences of an abused Bill of Rights that is the core of our problem. We hold some thoughts in such unassailable esteem that we refuse to acknowledge that some facet of them may need improvement.
If we focus that thought down to our own little industry of community associations and look at CAI, we see the same thing. CAI is the biggest and best thing that has ever happened to our industry. I don’t need to go through the litany of accomplishment here. I’ve recruited over 100 individuals into the fold because I believe in it. But it needs change. It always has. Just like any other organization. When the areas for change are pointed out, the loyalists come out of the woodwork with contempt and disgust for any low-life that might suggest that the great organization is less than perfect. They point to their many committees that are constantly reexamining themselves. Unfortunately the self-examinations create little real change. Let me close this paragraph with the clear statement that CAI is the best thing we’ve got in this country for the community association industry. It just doesn’t move as quickly and as incisively as some of us would like. CAI isn’t the point, just an example of “holier than thou” thinking that gets in the way of change.
Where do we go after “Cappuccio”? We’d better get a dispute resolution system in place real quickly. Florida will lead the way and California will be right behind. The Northeast will lag a bit. It’s probably the cold weather.
Secondly, expect some broad reevaluation of the rights of board members to enforce rules and then the overall questioning of anybody to enforce rules. What we have is the essence of our societal problems. Rules are essential to living together. The improper enforcement of those rules destroy that which we wish to preserve. Just ask Marcia Clark.