Category Archives: Opinion
About Respect and Kindness and Smoking
Hi Daniel Glasgow, and hello to the ELA Board. This letter is for you.
The problem that many of us Facebookers have with the board is that they have always refused to see the opinions and discussions on the internet as valid. We are real people, and real ELA members, many of whom cannot or will not attend board meetings. Frankly, those meetings are very uncomfortable and confrontational and I personally have to steel myself against those feelings and work myself up to attending, which is why I don’t go more often.
Daniel, in your speech at the annual meeting, you said that you wanted to represent everyone in our community, not just the people who attend meetings. If you could do that for us at the next meeting – represent us and insist that our opinions should count too, that would be upholding what you said you were going to do. I am not saying you have to agree with us, (heck, we can’t even agree with each other!) but you could talk about the other side of this issue to the board, you could explain what you have read here and get that side of the issue before the board.
Honestly, don’t you think Read the rest of this entry
The Usual Suspects
By Buz Whelan
So there they were. Joe Olall, David Pope, and Renae Skubish, along with their candidate Donald Glasgow, forming their usual gauntlet of outrage. And there were the handouts screaming about the latest horrible and extreme changes about to be foisted on an innocent, unsuspecting membership. Ah, but luckily these saviors of the status quo were there to sound the alarm. “Old is good, new is bad,” they verily chanted to those arriving at the school entrance. Thinking is dangerous to these folks; misinformation is the weapon of choice to protect voters from anything that might move the association forward. And when they aren’t peddling misinformation, they promote absurd points of view. Here’s an example of their way of thinking: their tract states in boldface that they are particularly excised over the wording that would change the requirements for removal of a director from “with or without cause” to “for malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance…” They correctly point out that under the existing bylaws the burden is on the director to show why he/she should not be removed. In other words, a director is guilty until proven innocent. It’s an interesting concept. Hey, it works for China and North Korea. Why not Emerald Lakes? The whole concept of American justice is based on the principal of innocent until proven guilty. Maybe these folks would like to change that, too.
Incredibly, new lows were reached. Normally we have to get to the substance of debate, say a dues increase, before the fighting begins. But here we were, listening to the instructions for voting when up to the microphone marches Renae Skubish to protest. Yes, protest. She didn’t like the instructions, specifically regarding the necessity to place votes for candidates in one box and votes on bylaw revisions in another. Ever slow to grasp even the simplest reality, she wanted to be able to put votes wherever she pleased and she made a motion to that effect. Evidently, keeping votes separate because they would go to two separate counting rooms and because mixing them would only add a step of separating them immediately after the voting, and further because this process would create more opportunities for error was all too complicated for poor Renae to process. So she made her out-of-order motion to change the process to one she could more easily understand. You cannot make this stuff up.
Later, when the floor was opened to comments on the revisions and amendments this same person came forward to point out if the Consumer Price Index reached the maximum cap or beyond every year for the next twenty it would cost over $10,000 per property. This is about as realistic as saying if it rains every day for the next year, the dams won’t hold and we’ll all be flooded out. Hey, it could happen, right? Considering that we haven’t hit a 4% CPI even once in the last 10 years, it’s more than a bit of a stretch to suppose we’ll do so every one of the next 20. Yet here come the cheers from the slow learner section, all pumped up over this ‘clever’ observation. Whew. What a close call. We almost lost the opportunities to have vicious debates between association leaders who recognize a need for a dues increase and members who have never so much as glanced at an association budget. Thanks, Dave. Thanks, Joe. Thanks, Renae. All credit to you.
Virtually every claim made in this absurd document – the one they were handing out at the entrance to the meeting place – is based on a misunderstanding of the language used in the revision documents, or worse, on deliberate distortion. Beyond that, it is a cowardly attempt at manipulating the voters. For the entire time of its existence, since November of 2009, the Committee to Revise the Bylaws has been completely transparent. They have reported their progress at almost every single monthly open meeting since then. They have taken on additional volunteers. They have had public debates. Yet these pusillanimous disrupters have made no objections at times when they could have been debated. They waited until the Annual Meeting to put out their lies and distortions when time for debate would be past. As long as this small band of malcontents can manage to influence like-minded or low information voters, Emerald Lakes will be held back by its archaic bylaws. Thank you, Dave. Thank you, Joe. Thank you, Renae.
A Turn in the Barrel
by Buz Whelan
Combative. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think back on the Town Hall Meeting of Saturday, August 11. The subject was by-laws, specifically a group of revisions and amendments intended to modernize and streamline our antiquated, cumbersome and even contradictive current document. You would have thought we were unveiling plans to load people onto freight cars and ship them to ‘resettlement’ camps. I can only hope that the attendees at the meeting are not a representative sample of those who will attend and vote at the Annual Meeting on the 25th.
I’ve never quite come to grips with why people who attend our most important meetings, Town Hall, Special and Annual, are so angry with their elected officials and others who try to work to improve the community. If you’ve never been on the dais at one of these meetings, it may be difficult to grasp the depth of contempt and distrust attendees have for whoever is putting on the presentation. Many are repeaters, ones you can count on to raise the same standard objections at meeting after meeting. The best example would probably be David Pope. David’s complaint is always the same: you’re not prepared; you don’t have a plan. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard these same tired, clichéd rants. It’s all so disingenuous.
David was invited by me on no fewer than three occasions going back to February to help with the preparations. Evidently he had other priorities. Yet, there he was, fuming and fussing and saying that it was obvious we were unprepared. He went further. He went on about how we only had a financial plan, but no physical one. (I didn’t get it either.)
Now, David sits on the Finance and Planning Committee. He is well aware that we commissioned a reserve study by the Kipcon Engineering Co. He is well aware that we on the committee agreed unanimously (see, that includes David) to wait for the final document from Kipcon to use as an important source document in the preparation of a comprehensive 5-year plan. To bluster on about there not being a plan in place was intellectually dishonest. But Mr. Pope has been at this for a very long time. I wrote about this very thing in my Sept. ’09 President’s Message. As a candidate running for the board in 1998, Mr. Pope wrote in the Emerald News that the most pressing problem facing the community was the lack of a long range plan. If elected, he would make it his number one priority to develop such a plan. And still we wait.
There seemed to be great confusion regarding the amendment that would allow some form of mail-in balloting. The major complaint was that it was not specific or detailed enough. But the purpose of the amendment was not to prescribe the precise manner of voting but rather to remove the argument that our by-laws forbid any form of mail or absentee voting. Once that hurdle is overcome, a satisfactory method could be developed. To present a detailed plan is to invite those who may support the concept of non-attendee voting to object to a particular detail, thus making the passage of the amendment that much more difficult. The more the presenters tried to explain this, the angrier and louder the protests became. I can only hope that those who come to the Annual Meeting are a little more open-minded about this proposal.
Then there was the usual hand-wringing over the dastardly plot to tie Emerald Lakes finances to the area economy through a cost-of-living escalator. No one could claim the proposal wasn’t detailed. We would use Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics data, published online. Anyone could check it; there could be no fudging. We specified the quad-state (NY, NJ, Pa, Conn) Consumer Price Index (CPI) which is published monthly. We specified the figures presented for the previous calendar year, published mid-January would be our standard. We made it clear that the board could not, on its own, change this. We capped it at 4%. We explained that this would ensure that the purchasing power of our total income would remain constant, that it would greatly facilitate long-range planning, and that the ugly politics that characterize our dues increase meetings would be eliminated. It was all in vain.
One major objection was that dues amount was the only control the membership has on the board. But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? Time after time, people who have no idea how our association finances work get to decide how much we need to run this complex organization. They throw platitudes at the board saying, “Tighten your belts,” and, “Make the same sacrifices we have to make.” Silly stuff like that. They have no clue that for at least 10 years we’ve been existing on deferred maintenance, cancelled programs and scheduling cutbacks. There is no fat left in our budget. We are down to cutting meat and bone. But those who rail the loudest don’t know or understand this, so they cheer each other’s ignorance. So, little by little the community deteriorates, and with that go your property values.
I’ve worked, along with others, on the by-law revisions and amendments for 33 months. Everybody involved, at least in my judgment, wanted to do this for the betterment of our community. The response so far has been incredibly negative, as if those who protest believe there is true evil afoot. There was even a complaint that the amendments don’t appear until the end of the document, suggesting we are trying to hide them. Can you imagine? (Okay guys, let’s put them on the last page so no one sees them.) How absurd. Has any one of these folks ever read a constitution? First, you have a statement of purpose. Then you have the body of the constitution, how things are arranged and actions carried out. Lastly, you have the amendments. But don’t take my word for it; read the United States Constitution. Look for the amendments. There are 27 of them. And they come at the end.
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.
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.
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.”