Government on a small scale


For those who regularly read my column, let me thank you. I am grateful to those of you who have written to tell me that my column is the first thing you read on Sunday. It makes me question your sanity, but I do appreciate it.

If you have been reading, you know that I have been ruminating over my years of law practice. My first boss described it as hours of absolute boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Nothing is worse than to be at an annual meeting and realize that you have zoned out in Hour No. 4 with all eyes upon you. It is an "annual" meeting, after all, and to say, "I will research it and get back to you," just does not cut it. That is really when the pedal meets the metal. Tap-dancing backwards in heels.

I was the first person in my family to attend college, let alone seek an advance degree. I remember the old saw of "doctor, lawyer, Indian chief." My distaste of blood ruled out the first option, so I was fortunate the second option worked, or I guess I would be in a headdress right now. I can say that because my great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland to the U.S. and married a full-blooded Cherokee. So, I have to ask, where are my cheekbones? Life is not always fair.

I was in law school at the age of 19 because what else can you do with a degree in political science except teach political science or go to law school? I knew what I did not want to do; I just did not know what I wanted to do. I wanted to practice "happy law." No personal injury, no criminal defense, no divorce law. I admire the good attorneys that can do that, but in so doing you have to see people at their absolute worst. No, I wanted to hand out bottles of champagne at closings to congratulate people for being able to move into their dream homes.

I stopped representing associations for the most part about 10 years ago, although I am doing it again now. I quit because I could make more money representing developers. In my field of practice, this is known as exchanging a "white hat" for a "black hat." I never really viewed it that way. Because I had represented associations, I knew how to draft provisions in the governing documents that would benefit associations long after the developer was gone from the scene, and which were absolutely meaningless to the developer. "Win-win" was my motto.

I lived this way for a long time, believing that the color of my hat did not matter. I still wanted everybody to just get along. Then, 2006 happened, and I figuratively fell off the condo cliff. I had a cabinet full of closing files that diminished and was not being replenished. To accommodate my then-husband's career, I closed my practice in Naples and moved to Sarasota. I had to learn the hard way the definition of "starter wife."

So, why do I tell you this? Think of your community as a microcosm of governance in general. Leadership has its foundation in good people doing the right thing at the right time. If people do not participate, they lose their right to complain when their oxen get gored. Always remember that if you chose to live communally, as a result, to a certain extent, your neighbor's problems become your own.

I have preached at you enough, so in light of Veteran's Day being last Monday, I would like to tell you about my first managing partner, Jack Forsyth. He was a fighter pilot in WWII and went to Harvard Law School on the GI Bill. He was the perfect example of the "Greatest Generation." I never expect to meet another man like him.

By the time I went to work for his firm, Mr. Forsyth was suffering from a brain disorder than mimicked Alzheimer's, but it was not. I was barely out of my teens and very snotty. I did not treat him with the respect and deference he deserved, and I will always regret that.

The lesson that I learned from him is that life is largely luck. Sometimes you get a break; sometimes you don't. Mr. Forsyth risked his life for his country and was rewarded with a Harvard law degree. My dad worked three jobs to put me through school, and I was lucky. Mr. Forsyth taught me to always respect the people that worked for us. Just because we got breaks that others did not, we were no better and (hopefully) no worse, and there was no "we" versus "they."

If you are a board member, try to be fair and strive to keep matters in perspective. As I will always remember Mr. Forsyth telling me, if you are having a bad day, go get an ice cream cone and walk around the block. When you return, everything will look better. I promise you.

Tamela Wiseman is a Florida Bar board-certified real estate attorney with 25 years' experience. The subjects discussed in the above article are not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and are subject to principles that may change from time to time. Questions may be modified for clarity or for brevity. Reader questions may be directed to Tamela Wiseman for possible inclusion in a future column via email to

Tamela Eady

Tamela Eady is a Florida Bar board-certified real estate attorney with more than 25 years experience, concentrating her practice on community association and real estate legal matters. The subjects discussed in her columns are not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and are subject to principles that may change from time to time. Questions may be modified for clarity or for brevity. Email questions for possible inclusion in a future column to
Last modified: December 30, 2012
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