When you're an HOA board member, you hold a great deal of responsibility for your association in your hands. You want to be sure that you're handling that responsibility correctly--and avoiding conflicts of interest is one of the key ways to make that happen. Thankfully, it is possible to allow your own issues to be raised during board meetings without using your authority unfairly.
When you accept a seat on the board of your HOA, your duty is simple: to ensure the best possible outcome for all of the residents. Because of this, your personal agenda must be removed from the equation. Whether the goal is cleaner, safer streets for everyone, maintaining the community pool, or keeping an upstanding community where everyone feels safe and appreciated, your loyalty is no longer to your individual goals. Rather, it must be to choosing what is best for the entire community. Yes, that's often a matter of opinion--that's why you have a board and why issues often come to a vote! If you find yourself in a position of conflicting loyalties, however, you have a decision to make--and you need to make it quickly.
Where Does Conflict Come In?
Some so-called conflicts of interest are so simple that they might completely pass notice. Your nephew has just started his own pest control business, and it's time to renew your contract with your current company: will you give him the business instead? If your automatic answer is "yes" simply because he is your nephew, with no consideration of the quality of his business or that of your current pest control specialist, the costs of those respective services, or other key questions, your loyalty is clearly divided.
Other conflicts are more obvious and more complicated. If you both own a unit within your neighborhood and work for the neighborhood--as a superintendent, for example--there's a good chance that at some point, you'll find the board voting on whether or not you're due for a raise. Conflict of interest, certainly!
Then there are the inevitable grievances that arise when you're the member of an HOA. Perhaps you want to put in an above-ground pool for the summer--something simple, but easy to put up and take down without committing to a permanent in-ground pool--but the HOA rules state that only in-ground pools are needed to be allowed. Maybe a neighbor has expressed concern over the fact that your lawn maintenance has taken a hit this year. When there's a grievance raised against you, it's obvious that you have a conflict of interest.
Handling Conflicts of Interest
You're only human. Your opinions and needs color your interactions with your HOA even when you sit on the board. When you do have a conflict of interest, however, it's how you handle it that will ultimately set you apart.
Excuse yourself from voting. If the issue involves you, don't vote on it! In the case of your nephew's pest control business, it's all right to put his name forward--especially if you know that other members aren't happy with the existing specialist's services or if your nephew can save residents money. When it comes time to vote, however, yours shouldn't be included and the relationship should be disclosed.
Discuss the gains for everyone. You can't always maintain a neutral perspective, but you can share what both you and others gain from a vote you're hoping for. Approving your above-ground pool, for example, could pave the way for some neighborhood changes that everyone will enjoy.
Always do your homework. From hiring a new pest control company to bringing in a security company, make sure you check the advantages and disadvantages of a wide range of specialists in the area. The more information you have, the better you'll be able to help make an informed decision.
Avoiding conflict of interest isn't always possible. Handling it professionally, however, is. Ultimately, handling conflicts of interest well to properly create a more positive tone for your HOA throughout future interactions.