A Night Among My Neighbors

Last night, our condo association held a meeting. Normally I don’t go to those meetings, even though they occur in a meeting room directly under my kitchen. I am the only condo-dwelling attorney I know who has never served on the condo board. Mostly I am satisfied with the job the board is doing, though I have minor objections to the latest set of doorbell-intercoms, middling objections to the newly-installed windows which seem to be causing trouble to several of our neighbors (though ours are okay so far), and serious objections to the cost of installing new porches, even though the alternative would have been paying a whopping fine to the city.

But the current board president, an upstairs neighbor of ours, specifically asked me to come last night, to observe problems with a fellow owner who appears to be both a jailhouse lawyer and an empire-builder, who poses the possibility of serious legal problems down the road if not dealt with sooner. The Board has recently retained legal counsel, thank heaven. I couldn’t provide that if I wanted to—it would be a conflict of interest if I did, and furthermore, condo law is an esoteric specialty about which I know only the rudiments. But seeing The Empire-Builder in action was useful. It gave me something to tell the President to ask our Board Counsel to look into. Hopefully that will head off more serious trouble.

Long ago, I read somewhere [this may be the most important piece of parliamentary procedure you will ever see. It should be written on your heart in letters of fire] that Robert’s Rules of Order provides that a point of order, a point of information, and a point of personal privilege all take precedence over any other business currently before the membership. Joe McCarthy got a lot of mileage out of the point of order stuff. And Abraham Ribicoff got a fair amount accomplished with a point of information at the 1968 Democratic Convention before Daley the Elder shut off his mike. I started last night’s meeting with a point of personal privilege, to wit, why don’t we have space heaters on in this basement meeting room? The Board promised to see to it for our next meeting, in January, but in the meantime, we all froze. The President later pointed out that it kept the meeting short. I have heard of CEOs who removed all chairs from their meeting rooms, on the same principle.

Anyway, forgive the moderately boring preamble here. What Prexy wanted me to see The Empire-Builder doing was writing him long letters accusing him of violating the applicable laws, by-laws, and regulations, and urging him to resign before things got really bad. After my earnest plea for space heaters, The Empire Builder raised such issues in reading the latest nastygram aloud for the membership and asking Prexy to comment. Prexy said, “what laws or by-laws are being violated here?” and The Empire Builder said, “I can’t tell you exactly but I know they are.”

Back when I was an English teacher, I advised my students that anybody whose papers include the phrase “the Bible says” without citation to chapter and verse gets an automatic F for the assignment. I was, of course, displacing onto my hapless students my hostility to self-designated biblical literalists who do the same thing, like the guy with whom I had a longish debate on some Quaker (of all places) e-list, who said, “the Bible forbids” abortion. Naively, thinking perhaps I had missed something, and on this kind of list I could reasonably expect somebody to lighten my darkness, I asked him for chapter and verse. “Oh, there isn’t any particular place,” he said, blithely. “I just don’t believe that a God who would give us the Scriptures to guide us would fail to place a human soul in the unborn fetus.”

The anonymous Quaker would probably have been horrified to find himself in the same drawer in my mental filing cabinet with the Kentuckian school parents, back in the ‘80s, who objected when their children were required to read textbooks that depicted men cooking, because that was “unbiblical.” If you have a concordance ready to hand, check out “cooking,” and you will find that something like 8 of the first 10 references either attribute the cooking to men, or do not attribute it at all. Even if you remove all of the Levitical barbecues, that will change the stats very little.

What I advised Prexy was to make sure our Board counsel became extremely familiar with chapter and verse of our Condo Declaration, By-laws, and rules and regulations. In the unlikely event that any of them substantiated the Empire Builder’s complaints, those complaints need to be addressed immediately. Otherwise, a long letter dealing item-by-item with those complaints, and quoting the applicable legal texts, should get rid of the Empire Builder with a minimum of hassle. Yes, it will take our counsel some time and cost us some money. It will be money well-spent. Would that the biblical literalists could be dealt with as easily and cheaply.



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