Monthly Archives: August 2012
Mail-in Balloting Will NOT Pass
Mail-in balloting is one of the items on the agenda at this year’s annual meeting. It will not pass. It’s a shame, because it is the only way that many of our members would be able to voice their opinions about the direction of our community. Right now, if you can’t make the annual meeting, you can’t vote. And that is the way it will stay.
Many members have voiced the desire to have the option of mail-in balloting added to our bylaws. Many people were outraged when the hurricane warnings and flooding kept them from attending last year’s meeting. Vacationers spoke up. Commuters who are exhausted and busy on Saturday mornings spoke up. People who work on the weekends, part timers, and anyone who had obligations on that Saturday morning last August, called for mail-in balloting.
This is not the first time the idea of mail-in balloting has come up. It has been defeated before because it is almost impossible to change the bylaws, and this particular set of bylaws requires that the people who can’t or won’t come to meetings must show up and vote. Also, they have to show up in huge numbers, because the bylaws themselves require a two-thirds majority of the vote to make a change. So, for every person that goes to meetings, likes the way things are, and doesn’t want the change, TWO people have to be there to vote for the change. In other words, a “yes” vote is only worth half of a “no”.
Many people think that mail-in balloting makes sense. It seems really simple. You buy a property, you should get a vote. Every homeowner should get a vote, right? You pay the same dues, you pay your taxes, you own the property, therefore you should get to vote. Seems like a no-brainer. Many people think the measure will pass, because who would be against it? Who would be against the member who works on Saturday and can’t get to the annual meeting? Who would be against the single mother who chooses her child’s ballgame instead of an annual meeting? Who would be against the people who have vacations in August and won’t be in town? Who could be against the member who simply can’t stand the screaming and posturing that spill out at every annual meeting?
Well, someone, obviously. Actually, a lot of someones. Several were at last Saturday’s Town Hall meeting. They will vote against it because they think that if you don’t go to meetings, you can’t be well-informed enough to vote. They will vote against it because they think that if you are not a full-time resident, you should not have a say in what goes on here. They will vote against it because they are afraid you will spend all their money on programs for your children. They will vote against it because they refuse to vote for anything until their roads are paved. And they will vote against it because it means that they won’t be able to do an end run around the election process by running from the floor anymore. And they WILL show up to vote against it.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a story that warns about dangers to the environment. The Lorax holds the very last Truffula tree seed. He entrusts it to a young boy with the word “unless”. This year’s annual meeting is our last Truffula seed, and the bylaws changes will not pass. The same faces will hold our community to standards that didn’t even make sense when they were created decades ago. The same circus-like meetings will embarrass our community. The same people will be shut out of making changes in our community that will benefit more than just the small group in charge. Unless…
On the morning of August 25th, at the Pocono Mountain West High School, there have to be twice as many people voting for this change than voting against it or it will not pass.
Town Hall Meeting To Discuss the Proposed Bylaws Revisions
On Saturday, August 11th, there was a Town Hall meeting held at the Community Center to discuss the proposed changes to the bylaws that will be voted on at the annual meeting on August 25th. President Al Leslie opened the meeting by stating that he believes that “we must continuously update our bylaws to remain current” and that these changes were the result of hundreds of man-hours of work put in by the members of the bylaws committee. He told the audience that there would be no discussion of these matters at the annual meeting at all.
In addition to voting for the 3 open positions on the board, there will be 4 separate votes relating to the bylaws. The first of the four will be a group of 36 revisions that were deemed “non-controversial or cosmetic” or that “reflect the way that we already do business” by the committee. The other votes relate to three separate amendments that propose more substantial changes to our bylaws. Each of these matters will be voted on separately by the membership.
Vote on changes to the bylaws
The first presenter from the committee was Buz Whelan, and he spoke about the 36 revisions that were grouped together for a vote. He highlighted three of the changes in his discussion and described the reasoning behind each of them.
- Article 2 of our bylaws contains the association’s Statement of Purpose. Buz described the original statement as an “English teacher’s nightmare” that is so long and rambling that by the time one gets to the end, he or she has forgotten where the sentence began. The committee went back to the original association charter and used the Statement of Purpose from that document instead.
- The second revision discussed relates to conflicting requirements contained in our current bylaws. Currently the bylaws mandate that the budget be presented for review to the membership at the annual meeting in August, before it is passed. In another place, the bylaws require the budget to be completed before the beginning of the fiscal year, which is May 1st. The committee chose to resolve this by changing the bylaws to require that the budget be made available to the membership for 30 days prior to its passage on the last Saturday in April of each year.
- Finally, there is a provision in the bylaws that says that the association must pay all taxes on the properties that it owns. However, in practice, the community does NOT pay taxes on properties that it deems worthless, and this change will reflect that reality.
Amendment #1 – Using the CPI to adjust the dues annually
Next up was Mark Davis, chair of the Finance and Planning committee. He discussed the proposed amendment to tie future dues increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the Quad-State Area that is published annually by the US Department of Labor. This amendment states that in each year beginning with 2013, there will be a cost-of-living adjustment made to the dues, equal to the rate published for the previous year, but never to be more than 4%. This would allow the board to keep up with the rising costs of running our community. If the CPI is zero, or if it is negative, there would be no change to the dues for that year.
Mark displayed a slide that showed that, had this measure been in place since 2004, our dues would now be equal to what we are actually paying ($1,000), and Alex Leslie said that it would “take the politics out” of the funding needed by the association. He added that the CPI amendment would be a way of obtaining the funds needed to maintain our amenities, while eliminating the need for the board members to fight and plead for these increases, and preventing future boards from looking for larger increases (like the 25% increase approved last year). Mark stressed that the F&P committee and the ELA Board consist of members, and that they understand the concerns of all members, but also accept the reality that, as costs go up, it will take more to maintain the level of services and amenities currently available in our community. This amendment is meant to be a non-partisan way of providing for those needs.
Amendment #2 – Allowing mail-in balloting
The amendment to allow mail-in balloting was presented by Gilda Spiotta. She began by describing the excitement and enthusiasm she felt in 2004 when she came to our community. When the annual meeting came around, she looked forward to participating by casting her vote for the issues presented that year. She was surprised to realize that the meeting would take so many hours, and eventually had to leave to meet the out-of-town guests she was expecting. Before leaving the meeting, she handed her ballot to another member to submit. This kind of “proxy voting” is not currently allowed in Emerald Lakes, but is widely practiced by many members each year. Gilda went on to describe successive years in which she was sometimes able to vote and others where she was not, due to work or personal obligations.
Gilda explained that this amendment only takes away the requirement for a member to be physically present at the meeting to cast a vote, it does not require mail-in balloting. It provides for options to the membership, and it allows the board to explore these options and develop a plan that will then be presented to the membership for approval. These options will show the membership that their opinions are valued; it will show that the community is more welcoming to all its members. It will “invite dialog…and responsible participation” in our community.
Amendment #3 – Eliminating the possibility of running from the floor while serving on certain committees
The last presentation was made by Pat Galderisi, a 27-year ELA member and former director, as well as a member of many committees throughout those years. This amendment states that a member of the Nominations committee, Elections Committee, or the Judge of Elections must resign his or her position at least 2 days prior to declaring his or her intention to run for the board of directors. Pat stated that the members “deserve, expect and depend” on the fact that our election process is “legal, fair and completely above board”. The tasks assigned to these committees require them to determine the validity of the votes that are cast, to settle disputes that may arise, and to tabulate and account for the results. Excepting these people from running while holding these committee positions, is the only way to ensure that the process is “above reproach and transparent in every way.” The intent of this amendment is to ensure that the election process is transparent and is perceived that way by the membership. If the membership distrusts the process, it could have a domino effect and disrupt everything from the day-to-day operations, to the board’s ability to make resolutions and even collect dues.
After the presentations, the floor was opened to questions and comments. Some of these are included here. (Ed. Note – I took notes as carefully as I could here, I apologize if I missed or misspelled a name. If you are misquoted, or would like to elaborate on your statement, please leave a comment):
Connie Lewis stated that she thinks the amount of money that goes into the reserves should increase along with each cost-of-living increase as presented in Amendment #1.
Jerry Viola believes that if the mail-in balloting amendment passes and the CPI adjustment does not, then we will never be able to get a dues increase in the future, because we will be making it easier for members who don’t care about the community to vote, and they will automatically vote against an increase in dues.
Mr. Velasco (?) was uncomfortable with the way the call to meeting was written. He stated that in the past when there was a dues increase, it was clearly stated on the front of that document. He felt that the way this was presented as “an amendment” was deceptive. He thought that since there were 3 candidates and three positions available (“a slam dunk”), and only a vague statement about proposed bylaws changes, many people would not realize that this year’s meeting would include a vote related to dues increases. He also asked why the “Board’s wallet should have the same buying power when mine does not?”
George Haab told us that being president of ELA’s board was the hardest year of his life, but he understands the difficulties the directors face in paying for and maintaining amenities. He said that his road is not paved because of these difficulties and he believes the CPI will help remedy future cutbacks and revisions to services. He is for all of the amendments and hopes that they will pass, and asked everyone to please vote yes on them.
David Pope said that the problem is (and has always been) that the way our money is spent is never explained properly to the members. He believes that there must be a specific plan in place and communicated to the members that is then faithfully carried out. He also suggested closing the bar and grill because it is losing money and that, even though the survey was flawed and only a few people answered, the results should still be used in determining what the members need from the board.
Mark Davis said that since Mr. Pope is a member of the F&P committee, he knows that there was a beginning of a 5-year plan, designed by that committee, but that they are awaiting the results of the Kipcon report before continuing to work on that plan. This report will be vital in helping to determine priorities and scheduling work in the community.
Dale Walsh wanted to know if other communities use the CPI to determine dues increases and also what provisions will the board make for running from the floor if the mail-in balloting amendment should pass.
Alex Leslie answered that other communities do not use CPI because other communities allow their boards to determine when a dues increase is necessary. Gilda Spiotta explained that the amendment to allow the possibility of mail-in balloting must be passed before the board can work out the details of that process and, once decided upon, those details would again be presented to the membership for approval. George Haab added that it would have been wasteful for the board to spend money on legal opinions and spend time on working out the details of a plan before it is actually allowed by our bylaws. This amendment is step one, the actual provisions for it would come later.
Another member said that he was concerned because amendment #2 (mail-in balloting) contained the word “may” instead of the word “shall”. He thinks that this may lead to confusion as some years we might have it and others we might not, at the whim of the board.
Frank Girgenti stated that the fact that the federal government uses the CPI to determine assessments is not a good reason for us to use it, given the enormous government debt. He thinks that if this amendment passes then the board will be less diligent in looking for ways to trim the budget and oversee expenses. Buz Whelan responded that the F&P committee and the board directors are all members too, and they are subject to any increases that they approve, so of course they all care very deeply about doing whatever they can to keep costs down.
Joseph Fisch stated that he was comfortable supporting the amendments, but was very concerned about the wording in one of the changes in the 36 changes that were presented first, and could not support it as it stands. He was referring to Article X, section 3, where the words “and assessments” are stricken out. Buz told him that those words were taken out because assessments are discussed in sections 4 and 5. Mr. Fisch then pointed out that section 5 does not say that the assessments must be approved by the membership at an annual or special meeting. He believes whether or not the change was intentional, its effect is to lead us to an “insidious slippery slope” that would allow the board to begin charging fees for using the amenities, and it represents a huge change in the philosophy of this community; a change that he cannot and will not support. He also pointed to the recent fee added by the board for registering boats as the first step in this process. He believes that this is an illegal assessment and that the board cannot enforce it, according to the bylaws. He requested that those two words be put back in to ensure that this does not continue to erode our ability to use the amenities without additional cost.
Golfing in the Poconos
Does everyone know about golfnow.com? I love playing golf, but the price severely limits how often I can play. In our area, the weekday rate for 18 holes at the Mt. Pocono public course is $44 for two people, with a cart. It’s a serviceable but small course, with only 9 holes (so we go around twice). Pocono Manor and Mt. Airy have much better courses; longer, prettier, and much more challenging, but the prices are nearly double that or even more, so I couldn’t afford to go as often as I would like.
But then we found golfnow.com. Wow! Today we played the Pocono Manor east course and we paid $20 total. Including the cart. With golfnow.com, you get the best deals early on the morning that you want to play, and you can’t be too picky about your tee times, but if you are flexible, it’s really an amazing deal. I will be out again tomorrow.
Meet the Candidates: One View
On Sunday I wrote a straight report on the August 4th Meet the Candidates session. Now I’m going to give you my view on how it went.
For good news, all the candidates had a very positive attitude towards the community and service on the board. That shouldn’t be surprising, given the immediate circumstance. When they disagreed, they did so without being disagreeable. And they seemed to have a fairly good idea of how the board should function.
One sensitive area, one ripe for pandering, is that of youth programs and services. This is one of those questions that is a third rail for candidates. To say anything against such programs is to be against young people. The voting parents will punish the answerer. So, when asked what we should be doing, the candidates fell in line. They referred to past success, wondered aloud why we ever stopped our more extensive programs, and suggested we revisit them. The problem is that the numbers don’t agree. While we were spending approximately $100,000 per annum on a youth services director, assistants and activities, less than 10% of the community’s young people participated. Hard as it may be to accept, the programs were not cost effective.
There was a question about delinquency that seemed to throw them a little. The question involved delinquent members and went something like, “Given that we have a 20% delinquency rate on dues, what would you do to reduce this?” Margaret believed that if the board does a better job that would help. Bob Leon said that programs to increase involvement would help. Al looked to the newly instituted quarterly payments as an answer, and Joe said we already use a lawyer. Joe may have been closest. The problem with the question is that the actual long term delinquency rate is closer to 8% than 20. The 20% figure represents those who owe all or some of their dues at the end of the fiscal year. But most of that will be collected over the next 3 to 4 years through court action or property sale when all liens must be settled.
As I reported in the original article, one noticeable characteristic was the lack of rancor among the rival candidates, but that was far from the only takeaway. There seems to be a slow, subtle, but carefully choreographed dance away from the practices and values of recent boards and towards what I see as a dark place. The word to watch for now is ‘confidentiality.’ This was uttered more than once by the current board president and candidate Alex Leslie. The first question asked was about the principle of confidentiality and the oath (a signed paper, actually) that each member is asked to take. Al’s response was that confidentiality was “the key to board service.” It wouldn’t be the last time during the meeting that he would make such a reference. I found it to be at least a little curious, if not disturbing. While other candidates volunteered more nuanced responses, Leslie was adamant. Both Joe Miller and Margaret Fitzgerald were cautious in their answers, each indicating that this could be easily abused and should be used only when absolutely essential. Bob Leon, who had to answer first, merely stated that he believed the oath to be binding, while not going into detail on the concept.
The reason I found Mr. Leslie’s response curious was that he was on the board when we had our reorganization meeting immediately after the August ’08 Annual Meeting. I was elected president at that meeting, and my first statement involved the importance of transparency. The directors, both new and returning, all expressed the idea that, after 5 or so years of opaque boards, transparency’s time had come. We would, as much as legally possible, avoid executive sessions, and even our workshops would be open to the general membership. This new emphasis on ‘confidentiality’ seems to be a return to that opaqueness we, along with Mr. Leslie, had foresworn. In congruence with this I take note that we have gone from 2 executive sessions in 2 years to about 2 a month. Why is this new confidentiality necessary?
Then there was the question of the newspaper. “Should the board control the content of the association newspaper?” was the actual wording. As reported, Bob Leon sidestepped the question by giving the opinion that newspapers were a dead issue and online or electronic reporting was the next big thing in information dissemination. Margaret Fitzgerald was clear; she prefers a newsletter limited to event announcements and schedules. President Alex Leslie stated clearly that we hired professionals and they should decide what goes into the paper, under close board control. Only Joe Miller was unequivocal in his belief that the system previously in place with an editorial board of experienced writers should have editorial control, subject to pre-publication legal scrutiny.
What is the subtext to the meeting? Is ‘confidentiality’ a codeword for secrecy? And what ‘secrets’ must be kept? Any legal consultation between the board, GM and the association attorney must be kept confidential to protect privilege. Details of any disciplinary action directed at an employee, or any legal conflict between the association and a member or members must also be kept confidential due to the possibility of court action. And while there is no legal obligation, it is well to keep employee compensation confidential as a courtesy to employees. Virtually everything else should be visible to the membership, whether or not the information is ‘pleasant.’ Too many directors get the notion that election to the board endows one with special powers to process information that the run-of-the-mill member doesn’t possess. I don’t buy that. In conjunction with that, I agree with Director Miller. Those who control the finances should not control the flow of information. There is too much opportunity for mischief. Someone needs to be watching the watchers. We’ll do our best here.
Knock Your Socks Off Shoprite
The new Kinsley ShopRite opened Sunday morning at 8 and we went down for a visit mid-day. Big may not be the right word, but it’s a good start. You could park a blimp inside this cavernous 95,000 square foot extravaganza of groceries. It is huge.
I’ll start with pricing, since that’s what concerns many shoppers most. If you’re seeking bargains, you might be disappointed. Yes, they have quite a few opening week specials, but for the most part this is standard ShopRite pricing. They use the same flyer that most Pennsylvania ShopRites use. They have an additional booklet with specials and coupons for the grand opening period, but this store’s main draw isn’t going to be about price; it’s all about selection.
Opening day was like a food store celebration. Outside, folks were lined up for free pushcart hot dogs. Inside, uniformed employees carrying trays of snacks and hors d’oeuvres as well as cookies and tiny cakes circulated among the shoppers, encouraging them to take what they wanted. The atmosphere was surprisingly festive for a supermarket.
One of the big strengths of the store is sure to be its prepared foods. You can help yourself or be served, pay at the counter and eat in the little café area or take your food upstairs to an area that overlooks the shopping floor. There’s a Chinese section, with noodle and rice dishes, shrimp, chicken, beef and pork preparations, egg rolls, dumplings, crab rangoons and chicken-on-a-stick. Next to that is a Japanese area with all sorts of fresh made sushi packed up or made to order. There’s an American food section with barbecue and comfort foods that promise to vary by the day. Overhead is a large menu board announcing the 8 to 10 dishes that will be available on each day of the week. There’s also a wing section with varied types of cooked chicken wings.
If you like cheese, especially exotic hard-to-find (at least in the Poconos) varieties, you’ll think you’re in Heaven. They had any type of cheese I could think of, and I can think of a lot. Want blueberry Stilton? They’ve got it. How about chipotle Cheddar? Got that, too. Unless you’re a world class expert, you’ll find cheeses you never heard of. They even have a ‘mammoth provolone,’ so big it hangs from the ceiling and looks like it weighs as much as a VW beetle.
I thought the seafood was rather standard compared to these other sections. They have all the right stuff, the 10 kinds of salmon, the cod filet, the tilapia, the flounder, swordfish, shark and so on. Lots of shellfish, including whole cooked crabs and boxes of cooked crab claws. But if you’re seeking more unusual fare, grouper, Chilean sea bass, Gulf redfish, things like that, you’ll be disappointed. Maybe as time goes on they’ll become more adventurous, but for now they seem to be playing safe with the fish card.
The meat section was large and interesting. Pick a type of meat – lamb, veal, beef, pork, turkey or chicken and they have almost every variety. Take lamb, for instance. They had legs, whole and boneless, chops, loin or rib, racks, ground and more. Pork chops came in the standard cut, but the thick cut were more than an inch thick and quite well-trimmed. And there were many, many types of steaks and roasts in the beef section, all reasonably priced if not especially cheap.
The store was so mobbed we never got to the aisles. Wide as they are at eight feet, there were just so many shoppers each was a chore to navigate. So, we stuck pretty much to the perimeter, and still had a most interesting shopping experience. I’ll go back for a closer look at the aisles and frozen foods later in the week when the crowds may shrink somewhat. And I’ll let you know what I find.
To get to the new Kinsley ShopRite, take Long Pond Rd to Kuhenbeaker. Go left onto Kuhenbeaker and continue to the end, Rte 115. Go left at 115 and drive 7.5 miles. As you approach that mileage you’ll be going up a hill with a Jehovah’s Witness Meeting Hall on your right and then an elder care facility. At that corner turn right (the street has no name sign) and you will find yourself looking about ½ mile down the hill at the ShopRite building to your immediate right.
Don’t Forget the Good News
Like so many of you, I have been watching the Olympics. It is exciting, it is emotional, it is patriotic. The background stories are touching, the parents of the athletes are compelling as they cheer and cry. It is a welcome relief from all the bad news stories that we see everywhere.
In the newspaper business, there is a saying, “if it bleeds, it leads.” It is an uncomfortable truth that bad news is news, but good news is often forgotten. Millions of teenagers drove home safely last night. Hundreds of gas stations in our area were not robbed. No one killed anyone at the college campus downtown. One politician did not tell a lie this week. Hurray!
But it doesn’t make for very interesting news.
However we feel about our community, I think it is important to remember that it is still a wonderful place to live. There are still good and even great things that happen here every day. When we report on the struggles, the mistakes, the suspicious, it is because we want to make things better, not because we think that we are so buried in evil that we cannot be redeemed. Striving for improvement, ferreting out pockets of decay, bringing to light the bad is a way of showing love for one’s community, in the same way that filling a cavity is a way of respecting your teeth.
Unfortunately, we are all subject to anger and frustration. When we point to an injustice, discuss it and look for ways to improve it, and then nothing is done, or a course for its remedy is chosen that we don’t think is the best, we feel these things and sometimes react badly. We must remember that most people are good people, and most disagreements are over ideas, not over people.
For the most part, the ELA Facebook page has become a wonderful example of a place to discuss ideas, problems and changes without losing the respect that we need to have for one another. Without a doubt, some people are uncomfortable with the disagreement that happens there, but I am always excited to see ideas tested, challenged, and often modified after rigorous discussion, only to come out with a better, smarter idea in the end.
And, even better, we have guardians. These are those exceptionally smart, highly evolved members (we know who they are) who step in when things get too heated and remind us that we are talking to our friends, our neighbors and not just anonymous blips on a screen. They don’t ever try to stop a conversation, they don’t encourage us to ignore or hide from the problems, but they drop a tiny dose of calm introspection into a thread and we seem to magically go back to the discussion with respect and understanding. No one will disagree when I say that I have, on occasion, gotten carried away on Facebook (right?), but these guardians are always there, with a gentle word, a small piece of wisdom, to help me to take a breath and tone it down. Thank you to the guardians, wherever you are.
And now, for the good news –
The community center looks amazing with the new tile! I was in there, a few months ago, and the main floor was cleared of tables and chairs for an event. The rug was visible and I was horrified that, in a few hours, there would be dozens of children sitting on that filthy, stained floor. Joe Miller and the board, ex GM Gil Werner and new GM Allen Roth all worked together to get the bids, select the workers and tile and get this project done, and we now have a floor to be proud of, that should last for decades.
The maintenance crew has really been on their toes. They have trimmed trees around the stop signs, cut the long grass along the roads, and somehow managed to keep up with the mess and chaos that summer always brings to our community.
Have you seen the summer schedule of events? We have more activities this summer than I have seen in a long, long time. Car wash, basketball games, movies-under-the-stars, fishing derby. There are so many opportunities to get out and do something.
And on Facebook – Neighbors take care of stray cats, return lost pets and lost keys. They offer to help the sick and injured, they join to support charitable causes. Warnings regularly go out about traffic, weather, and other dangers that face us. Recommendations for local services and advice about home repairs can always be found. We share more than just politics and complaints, we are downright neighborly on Facebook.
That is good news.
Meet the Candidates: No Fireworks
by Buz Whelan
On Saturday, August 4th, candidates Bob Leon, Alex Leslie, Joe Miller and Margaret Fitzgerald sat for questioning from 10:03 am until 12:15 pm before an audience of approximately 50 of their neighbors in the bingo room of the Community Center.
If there was one characteristic that dominated the session it would have to be the absolute lack of rancor or disagreement among the hopefuls. In question after question, their answers essentially mimicked one another, the respondent often beginning his/her answer with the phrase, “I agree with..” followed by a reference to a previous response. They all agreed that teamwork and communication are good things. They all believe the Emerald Bar & Grill is an important amenity and should be kept open. They all like the new tile floor. They also agree that the board should try to get young people more involved in community life. And to a question regarding their potential response to losing the election each gave a variation on offering to continue to help the board and the association. There will be no sore loser here, if you believe the answers.
So were there any distinctions at all? Yes. To the question, “Should the board control the content of the association newspaper,” Margaret Fitzgerald said she preferred a newsletter that mainly gave information on what events were taking place. Alex felt strongly that the GM, under the watchful eye of the board, should decide what members read. Bob Leon seemed to avoid the question, saying newspapers were a dead issue, soon to go the way of the dinosaur. He believes the focus should be on electronic distribution of information. Only Joe Miller took a clearly contrarian view, saying he believed the previous arrangement with the Communications Committee making the editorial decisions was his preferred situation and that the membership deserved to know all that was going on, whether positive or negative.
On a question of whether emphasis should be on new paving or repair of currently paved roads there seemed to be some differences. Alex Leslie emphatically stated that we could not afford new paving. Joe Miller agreed saying that with our limited funds we should focus on keeping the paved roads we have in better shape. Bob Leon suggested we do some of each, though he did not offer an opinion on how to decide how much of each. Margaret Fitzgerald stated that she had heard promises of road paving year after year, often as part of five year plans, but still many roads go unpaved. She said she has hopes that a new 5 year plan might change that, and added that much of the damage done to roads is caused by school buses, and perhaps we should find a way to make them pay. The problem with that argument is that we lobbied for the buses to come into the community. The school district would be happy to pick up children at one or two stops on the edges of Emerald Lakes rather than have to pick up at the thirteen stops we sought.
Some of the questions were head-scratchers. One such was, “If elected, how would you protect the association’s reputation?” asked as if a directorship was a PR position. The candidates stumbled around this one, as if searching for some meaning in it. Bob Leon suggested that teamwork would do the trick, along with “using the lawyer.” Margaret Fitzgerald averred that the way was to “Be truthful. Don’t Lie.” Alex Leslie said he would use his common sense, keep confidential matters confidential, and further said, “You must know boundaries.” According to Joe Miller the method would be to “respect the chain-of-command and run the community as a business in the most efficient way possible.”
Another odd question involved private pools. Obviously perplexed the candidates all sought clarification. Was there a problem? What kind of pools specifically? Were we talking about all pools, in-ground as well as above ground and even the blow-up type? Alex mustered that pools are an attractive nuisance that must be fenced, but also that he was not in favor of them. He feels members should use the beaches and pools of the association. Joe Miller rattled off the specific height needed for fencing, but agreed with Al that members should use amenities. Margaret asked for more clarification before stating, “Well, I have a pool.” She went on to say that she complies with all safety regulations and the decision was and should be a personal preference. Bob Leon caused some laughter in the room with his unusually detailed knowledge of area personal pools. “If you Google Emerald Lakes,” he began and then went on to describe how many and just where in-ground pools were. He startled candidate Fitzgerald by describing her pool as in the backyard and not visible from the road. Judging by Fitzgerald’s reaction, the description was dead on. Leon ended his remarks on the subject by saying he believes in, “Live and let live.”
One curious and noticeable absence was that of the board secretary. Controversial Judge of Elections Carmen Broadnax was a no-show. There is no official requirement for the presence of the Judge of Elections at the Meet the Candidates event, but it is a rare break with tradition to fail to make an appearance.
Judging the Judge
At the beginning of the July 28th open board meeting, President Alex Leslie made a somewhat cryptic reference to a previous candidate who ran for the board while not a member. He did not say who that was, or when or why it happened. He did, however, admit that mistakes had been made and that the board would do whatever they could to make sure that this would not happen again. But there are some very relevant details that he and other board members left out, that we think you need to know.
By assuming that this must have happened in recent years, (or Mr. Leslie probably wouldn’t have mentioned it at all) and knowing who has run for the board, all one has to do is check into Monroe County public records to figure out who is not (or was not) a member. According to property records, we now know that this candidate was the late Barbara DeGeorge. The records show that Barbara DeGeorge ‘sold’ her property to her son Joseph DeGeorge on May 12, 2005 for the sum of $1. From that day forward, she was no longer an eligible voting member or candidate for any association office.
Nevertheless, Barbara ran for the board in both 2009 and 2011. In 2011, even while she planned on running from the floor later in that same meeting, she acted as a registrant, registering voters and handling ballots before the meeting began, and all of this occurred under the watchful eye of her friend, her running mate (though they had not told anyone else this part yet), and Judge of Elections, Carmen Broadnax.
If there is one quality a Judge of Elections must bring to the table it is absolute impartiality. There can be no compromise with this. It is an attribute necessary for any member of a Nominations Committee or an Election Committee. And it is not enough to have a technical impartiality; it must be one of the spirit as well as action. A person in any of these positions must be especially careful to avoid giving any electoral advantage to a candidate or candidates. When it comes time to vote, they can legitimately choose one candidate over the others, but not one moment sooner. Does Emerald Lakes’ current Judge of Elections Carmen Broadnax meet this requirement? Let’s have a look at the record.
During the late Winter of 2009, GM Gil Werner was having problems with the swim coach. There were disagreements over exclusive indoor pool use and travel and other expenses. As the GM was preparing to call the coach on the carpet, as they say, he received an email from Carmen informing him that she was now the Administrative Assistant to the coach and all future correspondence should go through her. Of course, Mr. Werner rejected any notion that a member could come between him and one of his employees, but the relationship between the coach and Ms. Broadnax was clearly established.
As the Winter became Spring, Ms. Broadnax was confirmed as Chairperson of the Nominations Committee. Four candidates signed the intent to run/agreement to serve forms. They were: Millie Bishop, Barbara DeGeorge, George Haab and Joseph Olall.
To celebrate the season, the swimmers and coach planned an end-of-season banquet to which the swimmers and their parents were invited. Only two of the candidates for the board, Barbara DeGeorge and Joseph Olall, were invited to address the parents, both known to be friends and associates of the chair of the Nominations Committee. Mr. Haab and Ms. Bishop were not informed of the occasion. As chairperson of the Nominations committee, was this the way to “avoid giving any electoral advantage to a candidate”? Or was this a case of a chairperson’s bias informing her actions? Or was it just a coincidence?
At an early August board workshop last year (2011) the board of directors secretary Louise Leon, pointing to the fact that her husband had declared himself a candidate for the board, recused herself from the position of Judge of Elections, citing the obvious conflict of interest. I was present at that meeting and, over my objection, Carmen Broadnax was appointed as the replacement for Louise. At that time, Pat Galderisi turned to Carmen and asked her point blank, “Do you have any intention of running for the board?” Carmen’s answer was an unambiguous, “No.”
What happened at the 2011 Annual Meeting is now common knowledge. From 9:30 to 11 am, as Judge of Elections, Carmen and Barbara DeGeorge (along with others) were supposed to determine who was and who was not eligible to vote and hand ballots to confirmed voters. Carmen was also charged with examining the bids from those members who had decided to run, checking to see that they had met the necessary requirements before being approved for placement on the ballots. Remember, we already know that Barbara was not eligible to vote at that time, and that she was not eligible to run for the board. And yet she did both, under Carmen Broadnax’s watch.
Shortly after 11 am, Carmen informed the assembly that she was resigning as the Judge of Elections to ‘run from the floor.’ Then, before she sat down, she used her position as judge to address the assembly for more than 7 minutes, explaining why she felt the call to duty. Before she sat down, she then, astonishingly, appointed her own successor. Vice President Millie Bishop, acting as chair in President George Haab’s absence, made no objection. And as her final act, Carmen selected the volunteers who would count the votes in an election in which she was now a candidate, even though, by this time, she had officially resigned.
Later, during her 5-minute candidate’s address to the assembly, Carmen cited Barbara DeGeorge and Diane Caldwell, both also running from the floor, as her running mates. While all other candidates were limited to 5 minutes to address the membership, Ms. Broadnax managed over 12 in her two speeches.
When the matter of Ms. DeGeorge’s eligibility came to light in recent weeks, President Alex Leslie presumably decided that the matter was confidential, as no public discussion was held at the workshop meeting. At any rate, apparently the majority of the members of the board decided that nothing would be done and that Carmen would remain as Judge of Elections at this year’s annual meeting. Board member Robert Lauri, out of town on vacation, was not informed of any of this. However, from other sources, he did receive notice of the records showing the sale of Ms. DeGeorge’s house in 2005. From thousands of miles away, he began investigating these claims, which were eventually confirmed by Mr. Leslie. Mr. Lauri tells us that he was very uncomfortable with the board’s plan to sweep these facts under the rug, and that he spoke to Director Joe Miller, who agrees with these sentiments. They both asked Mr. Leslie to discuss this matter at the July 28th open meeting, so the membership could decide what actions they felt needed to be taken. Unfortunately, Mr. Leslie’s vague references to “mistakes” did not really make clear the extent of the problem, and so, these two board members are supportive of our efforts to keep the community informed.
What all this means is up to the reader. Do Carmen’s biases inform her actions and decisions? Was there venality here or just sloppiness? Did Carmen know that friend and running mate Barbara DeGeorge was not a member of the association? Should she, as Judge of Elections, have allowed Ms. DeGeorge to act as a registrant? Given her failures in this matter, should she hold the position again this year? And should our Judge of Elections be, as the saying goes, “Purer than Caesar’s wife?” Psychologists like to say that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. On that score, Ms. Broadnax just might have “some ‘splainin’ to do.”