I live in a home with an HOA, and part of the reason why is that the HOA covers lawn work, exterior maintenance on the house, and snow removal. I could by an ordinary single family home and arrange to have all of that done, but I like letting the HOA take care of it. And just like you, I am on the board of the association because nobody else wants to be, and the same few suckers keep volunteering to keep the lights on.
No doubt some boards can be total asshats, and even worse, the nice laid back association you bought into can turn into asshats as soon as one or two busybodies decide they want to be on the board. But like you say, it is a form of local government. Go to the meetings, get a seat on the board, and speak up for being reasonable.