It was standing room only at the Seven Lakes West Landowners Association [SLWLA] Candidates’ Night on Tuesday, February 3.
Candidates Jim Beaty, Jim Greaves, John Hildebrand, Jack Lattin, John Shaughnessy, and Bernadette York sat facing the audience. Community Manager Jeanette Mendence, who moderated the session, explained that each candidate would be allowed up to a three minute introduction. They would then be asked six questions, suggested by Association members, with two minutes to respond to each.
Jim Beaty said he very much appreciated the recent infrastructure upgrades in Seven Lakes West.
“I would like to build on the momentum that I have seen in the last three years,” he said. “The mailhouse, front entrance, and road repairs were much needed and long overdue. What I would like to do is further the beatification of the community.”
Beaty suggested further improvements, including more frequent mowing along Longleaf Drive, more attractive street signs, and a back gate makeover.
John Hildebrand moved to Seven Lakes in 2013. “We have been in the area since 1999,” he said. “We had several friends that lived out here and they really enjoyed it and had fantastic things to say.”
Hildebrand also said he would like to build on the recent work the current board has done. “They have done some fantastic things. The new entrance makes it very appealing and residents know that they are coming into a safe nice community,” Hildebrand said.
“I like to be involved and have a hand in what’s going on in my life and my family’s,” he said. “I am very analytical and believe in making the best decision as a body as whole not for one body. Let’s look at all facts and figure exactly what needs to be done and the most economical way possible to do it. If I could be a part of that it would absolutely fantastic.”
Be open, listen, and learn as you go is Candidate Jim Greaves’ philosophy. “We have lived out here for seven years, Greaves said. “I decided to run for the board after several people approached me and said that they thought I would do a good job. I would like to keep up the momentum of the current board. I also would like to start a walking trail on Longleaf to allow for pedestrians and get the golf carts off the road. I don’t have an agenda. If elected I would like to settle in, find out how things work and go from there.”
“I came here from New York via Atlanta,” Candidate Bernadette York said. “In Atlanta we lived in very robust community. People were involved and people made the community. There were so many different interests and age ranges, but we managed to do things that appealed to them all. I want to bring unity back to the community.”
There are so many common things to do that the community could enjoy; raking straw together, a pizza party, find a big screen to show outdoor movies on for the teenagers, and offer afternoon movies for little ones. . . There are so many things that we can do to make our community a better place and enjoy each other while we do them. The biggest reason I am running is that I want this to be a happy place to be. We can have more activities that require very little money. All it takes is a lot of thought and ingenuity. I want to bring back communication with each and every one.”
“I have lived in community for about fifteen years and certainly enjoyed it,” Veteran Westsider John Shaughnessy said. “I became active in the Kiwanis when I moved here. I’ve been asked why I am running for the board. I think it is probably a sense of responsibility. I have strong leadership characteristics and enjoy meeting different people.”
Candidate Jack Lattin serves on the Architectural Review Committee and chaired the now defunct Advocacy Committee.
“We have owned property here since 2002 and completed building our home in 2013,” Lattin said. “In my private life, I was employed with General Motors and served in the military. My past careers allowed me the opportunity to develop as a leader. To be successful you must develop and embrace teamwork and encourage everyone to be a part of the process.”
“I believe in a strong sound fiscal policy, keeping dues as low as possible, while maintaining adequate reserves for emergencies. I was president of a homeowners association in Michigan. My experience and knowledge would allow me to serve effectively on the board. We also need to embrace open meetings. I would also like to develop a five year plan with bench marks reported monthly.”
As a Board member some information, such as what is discussed in Executive Session, will require confidentiality while at other times you will be a conduit for information. How do you see your responsibility as a board member to share information with the community?
Hildebrand -- “First of all, it is very important for the community to know everything going on. Transparency is very important. If everything is not up front it appears that everybody is trying to do things behind closed doors and that’s not a good thing.”
“That being said, I will respect the views and decisions of the executive committee as there will be issues that are sensitive in nature. The board should keep open doors, transparency, and the lines of communication between members and board open.”
Greaves -- “I would like to maintain open communication as much as possible. In order to make decisions, we have to have as much information as possible. That information should be made available to members as well. We need open doors and open lines of communication. However, some personnel matters need to be handled in private and as a director I would respect and maintain that confidentiality.”
York -- “Confidently means no discussion outside as a member of the board. Whether I agree or disagree it is immaterial outside the door. If a member is asking for clarification on information that he or she already has then I would be more than happy to discuss the topic in a positive manner. A lot of times that is all people need and want. Information is powerful here. But once a topic is deemed confidential then there is no discussion.”
Shaughnessy -- “I have served on boards and committees where confidentiality was a given. That’s not a problem for me. We have a great online website. All information that I have needed can be found here. Any questions that I am asked I will be glad to answer as those come up.”
Lattin -- “Communicating facts is part of responsibility of the board. It is necessary to be well informed and it is necessary to have personnel matters remain confidential. It is important to take the opinions out and deal with transparency and facts.”
Beaty -- “The term I would like to use is ‘appropriate transparency.’ I am in a leadership position at FirstHealth. Clearly, there are situations where the item being discussed is confidential. However, relapsing into an inconsistent manner without having a unified front can be very dangerous. At the same time, I think that any type of decision being made for the community should be public.”
Being a member of the Board, you will be a Chairman of a committee. What aspect of your personality do you perceive will be (A) the most difficult. (B) Your greatest quality in your approach to working with the different personalities of members on the committee, board, and community when problem solving?
Greaves -- “I have run my own business for the last sixteen years. I don’t have a traditional corporate experience or background. It could create some initial disconnect in communication. But it could also work as a strength, because there will be no preconceived notion of how things are supposed to work. It allows for different perspectives and better understanding.”
York -- “I would say my biggest fear or problem would be tolerating disrespectful behavior or comments toward other members. It is very difficult to stand back and watch that kind of behavior. My greatest quality is to listen respectfully to the thoughts and suggestions of others. I do my best to keep an open mind, understand where they are coming from, and listen to their suggestions regarding our community. Good communication and respect are important, and taking those ideas and making action items out of them.”
Shaughnessy -- “I am macro thinker and prefer to work in large chunks. I am not detailed oriented; that is a negative. However, serving on past committees, it provides a balance and complements more detailed members. My greatest quality is that I am a team player, I believe in everyone having a voice on the committee.”
Lattin -- “I think one of the aspects I need to work on is to ensure that everyone on a committee is working on the same sheet of music. Sometimes I assume that people understand things that clearly they don’t. I have learned that the most important thing is teamwork. If you don’t have teamwork nothing gets done.”
Beaty -- “It is difficult being a supervisor. I don’t wake up in the morning hoping to hurt someone feelings. But by the end of the day it is inevitable. At some point, there will be one person who feels really passionate about something the rest of group feels differently about. It’s best to be direct and honest and say ‘We respect your input, but as group we are going in a different direction.’ My strength is that I have a very good ability to build relationships, connect, and build consensus.”
Hildebrand -- “My profession as a commercial real estate appraiser requires the ability to analyze based on fact. You take an issue, research all the info you can, work on that particular issue, and make a logical decision. We have to think about the community and what is best for it as a whole. My biggest negative is when I have based a decision on facts, then I really try to stick to it.”
Being in the minority
Board members have to vote on various issues. As outlined in our Code of Ethics, board members “strive at all times to serve the best interests of the association as a whole regardless of their personal interests”. If the majority of the board passed and issue that you personally objected to; (A) Would you support the Board’s decision? (B) How would you defend the Board’s decision to members that may agree with your point of view?
York -- “The board votes and I will defend the board’s decision. I do have a commitment and duty to the people I represent. But once the vote is taken, I stand with the majority. For those that come up to me after the fact and question why the board voted the way it did, I would tell them: ‘If you want to see changes, then maybe you should run for the board.’”
Shaughnessy -- “Majority rules is how would I defend that. I don’t see that as a problem.”
Lattin -- “Once the decision is made it is paramount for the entire board to show strength for that decision. It is extremely important to communicate with members and explain the rational that the board had.”
Beaty -- “You don’t trash a decision of the board. When the board walks out, you have made that decision collectively. If I am in the minority, I simply explain this was my point of view, here is the data, and this is what the board based their decision on.”
Hildebrand -- “I would also support a final decision. Hopefully, through the process of discussion and debate I will be right all the time. We would come to a compromise. If I am completely wrong, so be it -- the majority rules. Nobody would ever hear it from me that the decision that board made was wrong. I would support it.”
Greaves -- “I would have no problem supporting the board. To this date, I have not seen or experienced an issue that is so polarizing that both sides of the argument can’t be discussed and figured out. It might take some time to bear the decision out, but the end result will mostly likely be the same. It will be just a different way of getting there. Or it may not work at all, and then we will have to revisit that issue. We can regroup and rethink it at that point.”
As a member of the Board, you will inevitably be at an event (cocktail party, dinner party, concert, etc.) where one person or a group of people will be upset with decisions you made, or that they assumed you were responsible for. Tell us about a similar experience that you have had and how you defused the situation.
Shaughnessy -- “I would support the board’s decision. I had a similar work related experience when I sat on the Board of a federal credit union in New York. I became president of the board and we finally resolved it. It all worked out fine. We took a lot of heat for a while but as time went by the people understood.”
Lattin -- “As president of an HOA Board in Michigan for a number of years there were numerous occasions when I was approached. I calmly explained the facts. If the person was irate I would ask them to please leave and come back when they could talk in rational manner. I found those to be very effective tools to use. Boards are always going to have issues, but the facts usually win out.”
Beaty -- “This is already happening I am not even on the board. At work, I have to go through this almost every day. I work with group of about fifty people. Decisions are constantly being made, and inevitably someone is not happy. That’s when you, as a director, need to shut your mouth and listen for a little bit. A lot of animosity comes from people feeling they didn’t have voice or their opinion wasn’t heard . . . . I am not going to spend time trying to change opinion. Here are the facts, and here is why the decision was made. They most likely are not going to change their mind and start agreeing with you, but that is how to handle those situations.”
Hildebrand -- “I have lived here only a short amount of time. I was at a party the other night and a friend of mine had an issue of how get something through when it currently was taking an inordinate amount of time. I told her if elected I would look at the issue to minimize the time it takes to get that accomplished. If it is an issue getting things done quickly, let’s visit it and ask how we can get it done in quicker manner.”
Greaves -- “I guess that I don’t make it to enough cocktail parties. I would try to find a similar past issue where it was a problem and see how it was handled. I have never had people come up to me and complain. If I am elected I will have to learn that trial by fire. I guess it is coming my way.”
York -- “Someone approached me recently and asked what had happened to the Advocacy Committee. It was a good tool to have at our disposal. If I am elected one of the things I would like to do is bring back the Advocacy Committee. It belongs to and is a voice for members.”
Being on the Board can be very rewarding but can also be difficult at times. As you look forward to your time serving your community as a Director, what to you anticipate the most difficult aspect of your service will be?
Lattin -- “The most difficult thing I would have to do as a board director would be spending someone else’s money or the possibility of having to ask someone to pay more in dues. I take that responsibility very seriously.”
Beaty -- “The biggest challenges if I end up on board would be handling the changing demographics of this community. It is a good thing. Younger families are coming in and that is good for all of us. Being able to manage where all these different families are at different points in their lives will be a challenge."
Hildebrand – “I know one of the issues can be a time commitment. I am very fortunate that I work 100 percent out of my home. But I do travel. Working out of the home makes me available for emergency meetings. I am married. I have two boys 10 and 13. I am skilled at dealing with people that are not happy with my decisions. I have the ability to explain to them so that they will understand."
Greaves -- “I have the time commitment issue to deal with. We have small children. I am not only volunteering my time, but hers and the kids as well. However, I do have a work schedule that provides some flexibility.”
York -- “The biggest challenge will be representing those whose have a hard time speaking up for themselves and making sure to hear what they have to say -- to provide a place for people to exchange ideas.”
Shaughnessy -- “The greatest problem I see is fiscal responsibility and what comes with those decisions. I think that is critical. Any problem that costs money, we have to give great thought to. We have young families just starting out and seniors on a fixed income. I see finding a balance could be the most difficult part of the project.”
Question -- Opportunities
During your time on the Board, as you look at our community what do you see as the greatest unrealized potential you would like to see realized?
Beaty -- “I look at all the different amenities that we have. There are different types of personalities and lifestyles. There is no reason it should not viewed as a premier community with the lake, golf, and horses. What else could you want? It might take a little bit of marketing on our part to develop some strategies to get the word out and brand it. I would really like to up the visibility of what we've got.”
Hildebrand – “This is a fantastic community. I work out of the house and could have chosen to live anywhere, but we decided to live here because it is a safe and active community. I would like to expand on that. I think the amenities we have are fantastic. But we could play more tennis if there were lights on the courts at night. More people would play when it is cooler. We need a walking path around Longleaf -- that would be fantastic and solve a lot of safety issues. I started the ground work for a ski club. When I decided to run, I backed off on that slalom course and put it on the back burner. I would like to start a ski club for kids like we have sailing and paddlers club. All of those things will create an active and healthier community -- and it gets the community together utilizing those amenities. The question is how can we do that economically and efficiently."
Greaves -- “The biggest asset that we have isn't inside the gates. It is outside. I drive to work past the abandoned furniture factory and don’t like it as much. I don’t know what is expected of businesses if they fail. Are they required to put the land back into a useable state when they leave it? I don’t know how much power we have, but I would love to see dialog with Seven Lakes North and the outside community. It would be amazing to make the outside as vibrant as inside, because that is where I feel things are lacking.”
York -- “The unrealized potential I think is finding commonality among the members. We are all connected and have the same desire to maintain a warm, healthy community. Recently, I was speaking with several of the folks that have been here for a while. They shared memories and enjoyed seeing the satisfaction of the fruits of their labor. I think that it goes back to people.”
Shaughnessy -- “The greatest unrealized potential are our seniors. We have had friends leave the community to go back north to be near their children or to Belle Meade or Penick Village. I certainly would encourage a developer to look into senior housing, so that, when seniors leave their present homes, they can continue to live in the community while downsizing.”
Lattin -- “Our most underutilized and greatest potential are the members attending tonight. I certainly did not expect to see this many members. I would like to see more coming out and participating. I was the Co-Chair of the Advocacy Committee. I would like to get that back to surveying the community and see where we are heading. Tap in to the younger community and grow forward. The minutes for committees should also be published. It would be helpful and make our membership more knowledgeable. Once they are published we can better understand what goes on behind scenes.”