Friday, January 29, 2016

Clubhouse Use and Guadalupe Fundraiser

Community Questions: 

Why are the rules about the clubhouse changing? Why has the MIA Board taken so long to answer the Guadalupe Home and School Club about whether the annual fundraiser can be held at the clubhouse in May?

Answer:

The goal of updating the clubhouse use policy is to address and balance various concerns, including these big ones:

  1. Neighbors who have complained about noise, trash, and parking issues when there are events at the clubhouse.
  2. Our Insurance does not cover our 400 homes for injury or liability resulting from alcohol use.  Our agent suggests any event that includes service of alcohol require that the user provide event insurance coverage that will list MIA as a third party, and provide a certain amount of coverage for that event.
  3. Our lawyer is concerned that our by-laws only allow use of the facility for the “use and enjoyment of members” and that may limit the kinds of events that can be held at our facility.  We have also been asked by our lawyers to look at risk related to allowing guests to use our private facility.  This has several factors, and is quite complicated.  Probably most of the problems can be solved, but all of the solutions also present some risk.
  4. It is the board’s understanding that the intention of our by-laws and the expectation of our members is that our facility be available to homeowners to be used for parties, celebrations and events that need a space bigger than our own households, and we want to maximize the benefit to all 400 homes.

Some of these goals are in tension with each other.  Specifically, it has come to our attention that in the recent past the number 4 goal has been given unregulated priority, while liability issues raised in issues 1-3 have not been given responsible consideration.  As a result we were at risk of quite a bit of financial liability as a group.  Each of our 400 houses shares the risk of our property as much as we share the enjoyment of it.  Luckily nothing bad has happened.  

As a result of a new level of conversation in our neighborhood over the past 18 months the board has been called upon to look at all four of theses interests more carefully.  As a group we agree we need to address and weigh carefully how we balance our risk and our enjoyment of the property.

As we all know, cost is a factor.  We also know that more effort from the community can decrease cost.  

Some people have noted that we treated differently two requests arising in the past year and have asked why.

The first was the Boy Scouts, who asked to hold an e-waste collection and fundraiser in our parking lot.  We consulted with a lawyer who advised us that the event was low risk to us.  It was not actually inside any of our buildings or inside our gates.  Attendees do not need to walk up or down steps. There is a very low risk of someone being hurt during this event.  It was being sponsored by a homeowner.  The homeowner was sponsoring the event for the benefit of a non-profit.  Together, this was deemed to be an acceptable use of the property, and we said yes.

Guadalupe Elementary Home and School Club (GHSC)  has also approached the board requesting use of the clubhouse for the annual fundraiser.   The fundraiser is traditionally held in May.  Due to a limited budget and timeline GHSC would like to know as soon as possible if they will be able to use our facility.  

The answer was not immediately obvious to us because GHSC is not a member of our association, although many of its membership (and leadership) are members of MIA.  A homeowner should be able to rent it to solve that issue, but in this case we asked if the insurance could be provided by GHSC.  Because our facility is private, and we are a non-profit organization, we needed to know if it is okay for a member to hold a fundraiser on behalf of another non-profit, or does that get us into additional liability for commercial activity.

The board approached our lawyers and our insurance providers about this party, because we would like to say yes to this type of event, but we also need to know our risk.

The insurance provider said we should require event insurance to cover service of alcohol at the event, because this is an additional liability (risk) to us, and is not covered by our regular policy.  On the 4th of July, MIA serves alcohol but does not charge for it nor sell it, and also purchases event insurance to cover this additional liability.  

The lawyer advised we not hold this kind of event at the clubhouse, based on liability, and based on our by-laws which say that the clubhouse is to be used for the enjoyment of our members only.  He was also concerned about fund -raising, and the insurance being provided by GHSC rather than an individual homeowner, and cautioned us about alcohol.  We have been exploring how we might minimize or avoid some of these risks and still allow the event to go forward.

The reason we have had a hard time answering the GHSC is that we didn’t get the answer we wanted from our lawyer.  We feel that we need to proceed cautiously to protect our 400 households from liability.  We also all agree that only allowing members to use the facility (and not allowing any guests) would lead to an absurd result, in which members would not actually have enjoyment of the facility.  

All 5 board members want the same thing.  We want people to use and enjoy the property.  We want it to be accessible and safe.  We don’t want to approve more risk than is appropropriate.  Exactly how to accomplish this is the hard part.

This has taken longer than we hoped it would take.  Here are some of the reasons:
1. We have also been asked to make some decisions during a time of year when most schools have vacations, and many families are engaged celebrating the winter holidays that their faiths and traditions have scheduled during this time of year.   Our lawyer and insurance agent have also had family celebrations to attend to.
2. Our by-laws require us to hold an annual meeting during this time of year and we spent some time focusing on preparing something useful to our community in order to be inclusive and informative for that.  
3. This board has been taking on issues that have not been addressed by our previous boards.  This is partly because we had new issues raised by our neighborhood discussion of a special assessment.  This is partly because the laws have changed over the years.  This is partly because nothing bad happened, and our volunteer board was busy addressing the most urgent issues that came up.  It’s really easy for this stuff to get pushed to later.
4. These are hard questions and there are no easy answers that will please and protect everyone.
5. We are obligated to discuss issues at public meetings and publish what we talk about and be transparent.  We have to notice our meetings.  It takes a lot of time to have a conversation about this, and life is busy.  All of us have kids and other stuff going on.  
6. We are investigating some open questions and possible solutions such as the cost and feasibility of upgrading our insurance policy to cover alcohol consumption at all times.  Some of these came up in our discussion at the annual meeting, as they do at each of our meetings.
7. Once we agree on a policy as a board we need to submit it to the community for comment and review.  We believe we need to physically deliver it and then provide 30 days for comment and feedback.  
8.   This is not just about GHSC.  We need to come up with policies that make sense and we can apply to all similar events equally.  Although Guadalupe is special to most of us because it is physically in our neighborhood and is a center of our community, we can’t really discriminate.  We need to make universal policies.  The GHSC fundraiser brought this to the top of the pile, but the underlying issue is our need to update our policy for our facility and maybe take another look at our by-laws to the extent they need updating to come up to modern laws, standards and needs of our community.  

There are members of our community who are only able to see one of the factors we are considering here.  For them it may be frustrating that we are not weighing their most important factor as heavily as they would themselves.  We have also heard frustration that this is taking a long time.  We understand that it has an impact on our school that supports and nurtures our kids and contributes to the high value of our homes.  Each of us individually supports the school and each of us has contributed some combination of time, money, effort and skill to Guadalupe presently and/or over the years, and all of us care about it deeply.  All of us have or have had kids attend.  

We hope that the community will be honorable and thoughtful in the ways they share their own thoughts and hopes for our school and our community so that we are collectively working to improve understanding and goodwill as we improve our neighborhood.  

We welcome your thoughtful insight and help in helping us figure out the next best steps for our community facility and neighborhood as we work to resolve this large issue.

3 comments:

  1. Board members as hard as it I appreciate your due diligence in this matter. As our elected leaders I feel you are doing the right thing. My two cents is that we should have alchohol liability insurance for the facility. I also believe that when special events are held additional liability insurance should be purchased by those holding the event, especially when the event includes many non members. This will insure that those sponsoring the event understand the liabilties and protect those who support but will not be present, would have no control of what happens, yet would still be held liable for what does happen. The facility is way under utilized and this should be a priority for the board as you have stated.

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  2. Anonymous6:24 PM

    Thank you for the thoughtful and reasonable explanations. The board has a lot on their plate. People leap to criticize and their only contribution to the neighborhood is criticism, which does not help anything. We all need to be polite and reasonable and helpful. In light of the political environment these days, I guess that is a tall order. Somehow, as a neighborhood, we all need to figure out how to work together in a constructive way. Joan Vormbaum, Los Rios Drive

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  3. This is a very well thought out post that really does try to hit all the issues, but it highlights the problem with paying lawyers and outside advisors. The risk of someone tripping over a step and suing the association is the same whether it's a child or an adult, a baby shower or a school fundraiser, and whether they have a glass of wine in their hand or not. And if you have a lawyer telling you different, then I will find you one that says the opposite.

    Anyone can file a lawsuit at any time. The idea that changing the bylaws on an outdated and noncompliant facility will reduce that risk is absurd.

    If our current board doesn't see the need to update our facility after 50 years, then I don't see the need to update the rules either.

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The MIA Board encourages feedback. The goal is to share neighborly information and community thought. Comments will be reviewed weekly and posted to the blog if appropriate. The Board will not comment on the blog and will only address issues at Board meetings.