board games

Posted: September 5, 2011 in Traskland
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I serve on the Board of my community Association. I’m generally not a joiner so it’s surprising that seven years down the road I’m still at it. When I initially became involved I was unemployed and motivated by two things. (1) The need to expand local networking options. After schlepping to Manhattan for 14 years I had no desire to resume that commute and, being relatively new to the area, I hardly knew anyone. (2) Shortly after moving here I received a letter scolding me for parking incorrectly in my parking spot. You see, I was within the lines, but at a slight angle. The letter admitted I was legally parked, but by not being perfectly straight in the center of my spot I was quite inconsiderate. Recalling the impersonal way this non-incident was handled, I hoped to bring a measure of courtesy and common sense to what was widely perceived as a strident and inflexible group of people.

Of course things aren’t always what they seem. The Board consists of good, decent folks who volunteer their time because they truly love their community. As I experienced, their zeal to precisely follow the Association’s by-laws (which, like the U.S. Constitution, can be amended) can get in the way of fostering good will.

One topic of ongoing contention is garbage disposal. Our community consists of 10 “courts.” Each court has one or two dumpsters specifically designated for personal garbage, excluding paper products, plastic and glass. For that stuff a different centrally located behemoth called The Innovator is used. It’s essentially a triple-wide dumpster segregated into two sections. One section for glass and plastics, the other for paper and cardboard. I don’t see what’s so innovative about that, but I wasn’t consulted about the name.

Trouble ensues when people put garbage in the wrong place. The Board is very strict about this. Very, very strict. Conservatively, 75% of the letters sent to our neighbors (cause that’s who they are) concern improper garbage disposal. The kicker is it’s not the waste management company who discovers misplaced garbage. It’s one of our more enthusiastic Board members. Let’s call him Felix.

Every day Felix cruises the community sticking his head in the court dumpsters looking for violations. If he finds and can identify the origin of an offending piece of trash (perhaps via an affixed mailing label), he’ll remove and photograph it, then put it aside for proper disposal. Proper disposal consists of a local handyman coming around later in the day, taking all the misplaced trash from the courts and placing it in The Innovator. Of course he charges a fee.

When finished in the courts Felix heads to The Innovator to ensure glass and plastic has not been mixed with paper and cardboard and vice-versa. Again, if an identifiable piece of trash is found in the wrong section or worse, on the ground outside The Innovator, someone’s getting fined $25 (or more if a repeat offender). Accompanying photographic evidence is included with the fine notification.

At my first Board meeting I was astonished to learn how much energy was put into the finding, retrieval and removal of errant garbage, not to mention the administrative effort associated with tracking and fining homeowners. When I questioned the practice I was informed in no uncertain terms that fines generated revenue which was needed to pay bills. (Almost 0.4% of our income comes from fines.) Furthermore, young man, fines deter bad behavior and prevent the community from becoming “undesirable.”

The answer was weak and dismissive. I became uncharacteristically ornery. I pressed on and asked what would happen if the garbage people found glass or paper in a court dumpster. “The dumpster will not be emptied and we’ll get fined by the Township.” I asked what would happen if glass was accidentally mixed with paper in The Innovator. “The Innovator will not be emptied and we’ll get fined by the Township.” I had my doubts. I’ve seen garbage removal in action. I don’t think you can pay those guys enough to actually sift through a huge canister of disgusting food and household trash in search of a stray envelope so they can tell local government to levy a fine. Maybe I’m wrong about that.

I asked if in the 15 years since the community opened if there was ever an occasion when a dumpster was not emptied. “Never.” I asked how many times has the Association had been fined or sent a threatening letter because of garbage violations. “Never.” This was quickly followed by, “But there’s always a first time” with a fair amount of huffing, puffing and saber rattling about property values.

It took some time and wrangling, but eventually we modified the policy. First time offenders are now given a warning reminding them about the recycling policy. No fine. Of course the threat of future fines is included to ensure everyone stays on the path of righteousness.

Radical change comes at its own pace. Felix is still on his one man crusade to police the dumpsters. The handyman is still making a nifty little side income. And occasionally I still park a bit askew. At least I no longer get a letter about it.

  1. John says:

    When I moved here I was not fully aware of the potential collaterial damage!


  2. brainrants says:

    Not sure I could stand living in a neighborhood with one of those agreement thingys. All the folks here in KS I know who endure that crap hate it.


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