Longtime board members can be a strong asset to a community association. They often are well-versed in the property's daily operations, policies, procedures, finances and building construction. They may know many, if not all, the residents by name and unit number, and perhaps even their pets.
But newcomers also can serve their associations well. They may bring fresh energy and expertise to a board that has functioned in much the same fashion for decades.
Some associations dictate the amount of time, usually a specified number of terms, which board members can serve. After a waiting period, they may run for election again.
Term limits are a great idea, said Brad Schneider, president of CondoCPA in Elmhurst and a former condominium board member.
"This would stop the tyrants from ruling their kingdoms," he said. "It would also stop the board members from working on their own interests."
Steven Dahlman, publisher of the Marina City Online and Loop North News websites and a tenant at Marina City Towers Condominium Association, opposes term limits.
"If someone is doing a good job, there shouldn't be anything standing in the way of that person serving as long as needed," he said.
In his view, a bigger problem is proxies, which allow the owners to cast other owners' ballots.
"When bad people are in charge, and the proxy system allows them to control the votes, there is no way to get rid of them," he said.
Association attorney James Arrigo of Tressler LLP in Bolingbrook sees both sides. Comparing serving on an association board to serving on a corporate board or holding political office, he said: "There is the power of incumbency. Someone gets in and starts doing things perhaps to his own benefit. There is no evil motive necessarily, but human nature is to try to get the advantage if you can. Term limits can limit opportunities for that kind of behavior."
Many associations are challenged to find enough owners to run for the board in the first place, and term limits could reduce the number who are eligible. However, term limits might be attractive to owners who are willing to serve but don't want to feel stuck with the job term after term.
"You have a built-in exit strategy," Arrigo said.
"Each association has to do what is best for them," said Beth Lloyd, president of the Chicago-based Association of Condominium, Townhouse and Homeowners Associations. "There are no hard-and-fast rules."
Lloyd has served the board off and on at Partridge Hill Townhome Association in Hoffman Estates, where she lives. The association limits board members to two consecutive two-year terms. They must sit out a year before rerunning, but they can be appointed to fill a vacancy.
"For us, it works out OK," she said. "We've always been able to get people."
A big negative to term limits is the loss of continuity and history of the organization when involved members leave the board, she said.
Staggered terms, in which a number of board positions are up for re-election yearly, prevent complete turnover and can help preserve institutional memory, CondoCPA's Schneider said.
Dahlman said Marina City does not have term limits, but over the past two years, the board has changed dramatically. Twelve of the 15 current board members have been elected since 2013. He isn't worried about the freshmen getting up to speed because the management company and office staff remain in place.
"My sense is that new board members look up to these people to teach them what they need to do and what the concerns are," he said.
Arrigo's advice for assuring a smooth transition: "Make sure to keep very good records and functional minutes, so when questions arise, as they will, someone can go back and find out what was done and why."