Monday, May 29, 2017

Political Action Experiment

My political education came from my family and it came early. By the time I graduated from college and went to work, I was a “free enterpriser”. I was married at age 21 and we bought our first house shortly after. It was in St. Charles County, 20 miles west of St. Louis Mo. It was a 4 bedroom ranch with a basement on an acre, in a subdivision next door to my brother and his wife and 4 kids.

My brother told me to come to the next Homeowners Association meeting or they would elect me President. I missed the meeting and they did elect me President.  I headed down the road to talk to other Homeowners Presidents and thought we should form a group.

I wrote a charter and bi-laws and called it the St. Charles County Council of Homeowners Associations and sent it out to several other Presidents. We had our first meeting and I suggested that the President should be the head of the largest subdivision. We elected him and did very well. The following year I got a call and they wanted me to lead the group. They elected me as Founder and President.  We had 300 subdivision Presidents and represented 68,000 homes. Our mission was to benefit the homeowners. There were no dues, just a list of Presidents and phone numbers. I held open monthly meetings in a meeting room in a large mall.

We had a Public Service Commission Committee that attended their meetings and other committees. We were very strong on property rights of owners, but we were flexible and backed local subdivision advice.

We showed up at an open hearing when the water utility wanted to raise their rates. We showed up to support the rate hike if they would soften the water.  We had a dozen very entertaining homeowners who brought their encrusted pots and pans and sawed off bottoms of hot water heaters. We had the TV channels there to cover it.  The water company agreed to our deal and our water got softer.

Some housewives showed up at a meeting and complained that the price of large appliances was rising to high and too fast.  We had them form a team an go to the appliance stores to negotiate. Dozens of these housewives went to the mall and offered less than the sales price and when it wasn’t agreed to they left. The next weekend the prices had dropped.

To save on groceries, we suggested that subdivisions do some co-op purchasing and send some guys with a truck to the farmers market to bulk purchase. They would return with cases of things and the neighbors would pull their wagons out and buy their share.  A lot of them did this. 

For the stray dog problem, we had subdivisions get a volunteer to be their dog-catcher. That took some skill and a little equipment.  That worked until the county could catch up and set up a pound.

I was liaison to the county CEO we called the Presiding Judge of the county. His name was Doug Boschert and he was watching the Zoning Board like a hawk.  He called me one night and asked what was going on in Bonnie Ridge.  I called the Bonnie Ridge President, found out and called him back. A developer wanted to put a trailer park next to them and they wanted a 50 foot treed buffer zone.  I told Doug and he wandered into the meeting.  He told them that Bonnie Ridge would approve if they included the buffer zone.  They never found out how Doug knew about everything that was going on.

My bi-laws had a termination clause.  It said that the group should disband as soon as the high growth was under control.  I had moved to Kansas and gave the President job to a understudy.  He called me in Kansas years later to ask about terminating the group.  I asked him how we did.  He said the group resulted in dozens of members seeking and being elected to office.  We had done well.  The group functioned for 10 years to support the growth of St. Charles County, which at that time was the fastest growing county in the nation.

This experiment proved to me that individual citizens can take effective action when they need to weigh in.  I sensed a tipping point and confirmed that timing was right for this particular exercise.  It help that I had gotten to know Doug Boschert well and I credit the other Homeowners Presidents for making this experiment successful.

Norb Leahy, Dunwoody GA Tea Party Leader

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