I live in a 29-unit condominium building and, for reasons that always escape me, I occasionally volunteer to serve on the management board. I'd bought the unit instead of a house because I didn't want to think about who's going to mow the lawn, make sure the heat and air conditioning work, blacktop the driveway, etc.

But someone's got to manage such things — and manage them well. Otherwise the place slowly but surely falls apart, taking the value of each owner's investment down with it.

At first, to save money, we self-managed: beat up contractors on landscaping, snow removal, garbage collection; renegotiated insurance every year; collected assessments and chased down late-payers; scheduled elevator, boiler, and fire equipment inspections; developed the annual budget; etc. The best part (she writes sarcastically) was taking calls at all hours from folks who'd locked themselves out or didn't want to call the police when a neighbor was being obnoxious. Whaaaaaaaaaat a hassle.

Finally we hired a management company. But this, too, takes work: finding and interviewing candidates, teaching them the little quirks and unique needs that only someone who lives in a building knows, evaluating their efforts and providing effective feedback. The monthly assessment increases every year regardless of who's managing the property because — guess what? — stuff costs money.

Yes, the joke's on me: I'd have been just as well-off (if not better) buying a house. Que sera, sera.

But I now accept there's a price to pay for being a member of any successful community. No one likes paying for things that aren't “fun,” especially if they're so fundamental we don't consider them a service; but no one likes living without them, either.

And that's what you do, isn't it? Public works is like holistic health care for a community. In addition to keeping our face clean and attractive, you take care of our innards — the circulatory systems of water and wastewater, traffic and garbage flow — so we're freed from the burden of satisfying basic needs to concentrate on pursuing wealth and happiness.

Though we know better, we abuse our innards and expect the doctor (that's you) to miraculously restore them. Sometimes we think someone else could do the job better, and learn otherwise. There's a reason property-management companies exist, just as there's a reason public works as a service and as a profession exists.

So thanks for another year of keeping us alive and well despite ourselves!

Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief