by Buz Whelan
POCONO SUMMIT, Pennsylvania (ELFP) In the most civil Annual Meeting in recent years voters returned Millie Bishop to the Emerald Lakes Board of Directors and elected June Solla to her first term. Both are three year terms. The members present also passed all five suggested bylaw changes, though community life will be largely unaffected since they mainly bring the bylaws into congruence with current practices. Briefly, fines and appeals must be paid/filed within 30 business days rather than the 10 calendar days previously specified. Audits must be conducted annually by a certified public accountant or firm rather than every 5 years previously required. The Campgrounds Committee, moribund beyond anyone’s recollection, is officially dropped as a standing committee. Finally, when a board vacancy occurs midterm, the next-highest vote getter at the previous Annual Meeting automatically is installed until the next Annual Meeting when a vote would be held to fill out the term. If no next-highest vote getter is available, the board will select the temporary replacement.
The messages of President Alex Leslie and General Manager Allen Roth featured essentially the same highlights. These included upgrading association hardware and software, a new aggressive collection procedure for delinquencies, a system for tracking equipment and vehicle repairs, increased use of in-house maintenance projects such as road patching and basketball court repairs, landscaping projects such as that at Pine Tree Lake, outdoor pool repair, 12 drainage projects around the community, the looming purchase of a new public safety vehicle and single-stream recycling. The GM also reported that he and the board have decided to follow the Maintenance Committee’s recommendation to suspend repaving after the current cycle and concentrate on a long range plan to rebuild the roads. This would mean an extensive drainage and crowning project which would only then be followed by repaving. Pothole patching would continue as always. The intention is to create roads that would last 3 to 4 times longer than current. It seems that for the last several years we have been (chasing our tail, spinning our wheels, marching in place – choose your metaphor) falling further and further behind in road maintenance. This plan would correct that, but not without short term pain.
Treasurer Earl Frank reported under budget totals that are roughly balanced by revenue shortfalls. Our overall collections are running at about 75%. Our reserve fund stands at about $315,000 when professional studies report it should be around $1.6 million.
Our auditor Ray Zavada echoed Earl’s take on reserves, but gave the association high marks for adhering to Generally Accepted Accounting Procedures (GAAP). A high GAAP score indicates the proper handling of monies, but offers no comment on the wisdom of the spending choices made. Zavada also pointed out that our assets minus our liabilities leave a valuation of $3.8 million.
Attorney George Hludzik detailed the collection procedures his office is undertaking, emphasizing that we are ramping up our seizure demands by increasing the requests for liens and going after personal possessions of delinquents through sheriff’s sales along with house/property liens.
Finally, Finance & Planning Committee representative Buz Whelan went over that committee’s responsibilities and the availability of up-to-date association financial data. He pointed out that all F&P meetings are open to member visitors and are held in the Community Center at 9:30 am on the third Saturday of every month. He also said that anyone wishing assistance in understanding association finances would find willing helpers in the committee membership.
As has been the custom in recent years, no mention was made of the Pine Tree mugging, the Gap View murder victim or any other negative information such as break-ins, equipment and vehicle theft or personal assaults.
Board of Directors Vote Totals
Millie Bishop* 53
Margaret Fitzgerald 49
Sherri Ornitz 37
Connie Simpson 40
June Solla* 50
*Elected to board
by Buz Whelan
Saturday, August 17, 2013 is the Annual Meeting. We’ll be deciding on some minor bylaw revisions, mostly to bring the bylaws into congruence with actual current practice, and most importantly we’ll be selecting two board members to serve for three years as directors. Who should we choose? Why?
First, the good news. The most commonly heard complaint at open meetings and on our Facebook page is, “Why aren’t we going after the deadbeats,” or, “Why aren’t we doing more to collect delinquent dues.” The answer, frustrating as it may seem, is that we are. We are doing all that is legally possible to collect all monies owed to the association, including delinquent dues, late fees and fines for other offenses. Absolutely no one is given a pass. Our attorney spends the bulk of the time he works for us on just this matter. So, why then are there still outstanding debts? There are a number of problems, roadblocks if you will. Many of those who owe have abandoned their homes. They have simply walked away, and have very little in the way of assets that can be attached. Further, many have also obtained the protection of court-approved bankruptcy which prohibits us from further collection attempts. And when banks seize properties through the foreclosure process, they often fail to pay dues. To be sure, we go after them, but it is a long process, expensive and difficult because of the many avenues of appeals and delays open to a bank with a staff of attorneys. Frequently, back dues are collected when the property changes hands, when the bank sells to a new owner. In order to transfer the property, all liens must be satisfied and we stand ready to collect. But this is not always the case. So far this year we have collected $92, 000 in back dues, fines and fees.
The most grievous fault of the current board is its total lack of respect for the membership. This fact can be seen in action after action by the board, and it not only leaves the membership completely out of the loop in decision-making, it is costly – wasteful, actually – as well. Following are examples of this.
During the Summer of 2012 the association purchased new software called TOPS that was intended to be a complete, integrated control system for all our finances and records. Among the capabilities of this software was a website that would be more comprehensive and responsive than our then-current one. We already had a webmaster, Bob Leon, and he was doing a pretty good job. Bowing to the desires of the General Manager, Bob was ordered to close the website while two employees were tasked with learning the format and operational requirements of the new website supplied with the new software. What was wrong with this decision? Well, I’m an experienced helicopter pilot, military trained and combat experienced. If you wanted me to fly a new bird, it might take me 10 to 25 hours to familiarize myself with the controls, the cockpit layout and the flight characteristics. But it would take a non-pilot hundreds of hours. As an experienced webmaster it might have taken Mr. Leon a month or two to learn the characteristics of the new website. But the two employees selected, with much more limited experience, have not gotten the new website to be fully operational one full year later. This, despite the fact that one employee was upgraded from part-time to full-time at considerable expense to the association. Mr. Leon was doing the work as a volunteer, for free.
We have three members that I know of that have experience as editors of newspapers; Denise Wilson, Lola Lauri and me, Buz Whelan. From 2004 to 2012 one or the other of us was the editor-in-chief of the newspaper. We had one absolute requirement: that we would be free from board interference in bringing the news to the members of the association, whether that news was happy or sad, flattering to the board or not. We also insisted that we had a right to publish an editorial and letters to the editor. All of that was taken away at the July 2012 Monthly Open Meeting. The General Manager was given authority over the Emerald News, and in conscience, Lola and I were forced to resign.
I was far from a perfect board president. But transparency was my watchword, whether I was comfortable with what that exposed to the membership or not. Everyone in the association had a right to criticize me, employee, management or the board as a whole, through published letters to the editor. I held two Executive Sessions (closed meetings) in my two years. This board has held as many as 3 in a single month and rarely fewer than 2 per month.
In the past year, real estate decisions have been made without any input from the Real Estate Committee. Maintenance decisions have been made without input from the Maintenance Committee. And structural changes with major financial ramifications have been made without any input from the Finance and Planning Committee. This is against both the spirit and letter of our bylaws.
Now we approach the time of the Annual Meeting and you will hear speeches touting the successes of the board. Listen to them with the skeptical ear of the seasoned observer rather than the wide-eyed optimism of the uninformed.
Who Should I Vote For?
You should vote for the candidates who you believe will best serve your interests. What those interests are will vary with the member. There are five candidates running for two open positions on the board. Each open position is for three years. There are two current directors running for re-election: Vice President Millie Bishop and Director Margaret Fitzgerald. There are three other candidates who would serve for the first time: Sherri Ornitz, Connie Simpson and June Solla. Each has made her case in the July issue of the Emerald News and at the August 3rd session of Meet the Candidates. We cannot go over everything covered in those two venues, but we can summarize. If you like the way the board has operated in the last year you must return Ms. Bishop to the board. She has been instrumental in virtually all the decisions referred to above. Contrariwise, if you are unhappy with many or all of the board’s actions, Margaret Fitzgerald, who has been a dissenting voice, should be your choice. The choice between the three other candidates is more difficult. I have served on one committee or another with all of them. None would be a bad choice. Each has worked diligently for you. But here we (Lola Lauri and I) have decided to endorse Connie Simpson. She approached us, sat down for an extended interview and gave us, in the main, the answers we were looking for. It is more the congruency of our principles than anything that makes us choose Ms. Simpson. She is in favor of returning control of our communications, the Emerald News and the website www.elainc.org, to the control of members rather than employees. She believes members have a right to have their voice heard via letters published in the Emerald News. And as a member of multiple committees, most prominently Finance & Planning, she is a strong supporter of the committee system.
So that’s our take on the upcoming meeting and election. We hope to see you there.
In the article I attributed a plan to acquire and utilize abandoned properties to Connie Simpson. This was incorrect. The suggestion was made by Sherri Ornitz. I also failed to mention that Ms. Simpson feels that current landlords are undercharged and that we should raise our fees for rentals. She noted that A Pocono Country Place charges $175 per rental, regardless of length of time. My apologies to both Ms. Ornitz and Ms. Simpson. I regret the errors.
by Buz Whelan
As it began at about 9:40am on Saturday, August 3, 2013 in the bingo room of the Community Center the room was filled with eager candidates and members who came to hear what they had to say. And, whether it was the fatigue caused by time, or a somewhat confusing format, by the time it came to a tired end there were 6 spectators left. I was one of them.
The candidates were: Millie Bishop, seeking reelection; Margaret Fitzgerald, also seeking reelection; Sherri Ornitz, Connie Simpson and June Solla, all seeking their first term. I list them as they sat, left to right.
Instead of asking a question and letting each candidate in turn have a crack at it, questions were asked of a specific candidate and after the answer a different question was asked of the next candidate. Eventually the questions were recycled and a different candidate was given the earlier question. By the time we entered the third hour of the session, candidates had to repeatedly remind the moderator that they were being given a question they had previously answered. A number of questions were never answered by several of the candidates, apparently due to this selection method.
Millie Bishop listed 24/7 security and mailing out the Emerald News as her two top priorities, should she be returned to the board. She also said that in order to build community spirit we should have more events. She failed to offer any ideas on how these additions to the budget would be funded. Increasing security to 168 hours a week would require at least 4 full time employees and possibly at least one part timer to supplement in the event of sickness or vacation. Where would the $100,000 plus come from? Asked about her position on absentee balloting, Ms. Bishop dodged the question saying that this was a matter being considered by the Bylaws Committee. Asked to give her opinion on the association’s management hierarchy she was unclear, putting several different entities (the board, the GM) on the same plane. She also gave a confusing answer to a question about how she would respond if confronted with a situation to which she had no prior experience or knowledge. She seemed to be answering a question about conflict resolution, saying she would ask each side for their version of the facts and go from there.
Margaret Fitzgerald pointed to the need to improve communication as a priority, saying that we, as a community, engage in excessive rumor-mongering, and that the website and paper should be used to give clear and complete information on current events. This contrasted with Bishop’s position that the Emerald News and website should carry only good news and that all negativity be suppressed. Ms. Fitzgerald also felt that paving the compactor area should be done forthwith, and revealed that this is already being recommended favorably by the Maintenance Committee, the General Manager and the rest of the board. On volunteerism, she said that this makes the community strong and has the secondary benefit of bringing people together in forging friendships. When asked if there was wasteful spending she would cut, she answered that she knows of no wasteful spending and if she did, she would already be working to eliminate it. But she went on to say that there are differences in perspective and that it is always possible to rethink choices and shift priorities.
Sherri Ornitz pointed to her employment background in team building and supervising the execution of contracts and projects. She said that we should be preparing for long term goals rather than the short term planning and reacting that characterizes, in her opinion, current operations. She also cautioned, in response to a question on cutting full time employees, that she does not believe that could be done and still maintain the current level of services. One of her ‘pet peeves’, as she put it, is the association’s failure to develop alternate revenue streams, especially ones that may be considered non-traditional.
Connie Simpson began by reading a long introductory statement regarding her priorities and plans should she win election. Among many proposals was one to maintain or return foreclosed properties to the same standards of good repair and grooming as occupied homes. She also spoke of acquiring abandoned properties and utilizing them for meetings, events (private or open) and other association purposes, thus relieving strain on the Community Center. She emphasized the value of long term employees and the importance of treating them with respect. She proposed that just as we dedicate a portion of our annual revenue to road maintenance and reserves, a portion should be put into capital reserves with the intention of developing a plan to pave all unpaved roads. She also offered some specific advice on handling any repair contracts, including ensuring the association go with the best bid on projects, securing warranties on work and setting and sticking to cost overrun limits. When questioned on the recent decision to purchase a Ford Explorer as the new security vehicle, she said that a number of similar organizations (which she cited) used the less expensive Escape model, but she was also the only responder to suggest that other nameplates including GM, Chrysler and even foreign manufacturers such a Subaru should have been researched.
June Solla gave the most comprehensive answer on long term road maintenance. She cited the recent Maintenance Committee recommendation that we cut this year’s repaving to only the most severe sections, putting extra money into doing a complete drainage overhaul. This would begin the process of upgrading all road drainage to the highest standards. In the next few years, all roads would be brought to this standard, rather than the endless patch and repatch that we are currently doing. By starting with the fundamentals of road building we will eventually be able to have roads that would need far less patching, and could last as long as ten years before repaving was necessary. Asked to name her three most important issues, she cited finances, security and amenities. She said that realistically, a dues increase was in the future. She said security needed to be increased and that our aging amenities need repairs sooner rather than later because the longer we wait the more difficult and expensive those repairs would be. Asked about leadership she pointed to 12 years in the military and her organizing skills in planning and executing events here and chairing several committees.
By the end of the third hourly installment, fatigue had reduced the gallery to six members. The energy of the candidates, however, never appeared to flag. The takeaway seemed to be that if you are happy with the current board, Millie Bishop should be your number one choice. She has been instrumental, as she pointed out, in much of the board’s actions this year. All the other candidates, including current board member Margaret Fitzgerald, offered criticism of recent actions and pledged to change the way the board does business in the future. Margaret, speaking for a minority on the board, pointed out that she feels there are too many Executive Sessions (read ‘secret meetings’) and that she voted against the purchase of the new vehicle. The three new office seekers all agreed that transparency in doing business was important to build trust with the membership.
And here’s a final side note. An announcement was made at the beginning of the session to the effect that one or more of the candidates had been given advance access to the prepared questions, giving them unfair advantage. Therefore, all previously prepared questions were eliminated and spectators were asked to submit, on supplied note cards, questions they wanted asked. The questions obtained thusly turned out to be excellent. But for some reason, the General Manager was asked to screen the questions for duplicates. A submitted question that asked whether employees or members should control association communications (i.e., the website and Emerald News currently controlled by the GM) was never asked. This presents an amusing irony: did the GM, who controls our communications, ‘control’ the question regarding his control? Food for thought.
By Buz Whelan
President’s Comments and Treasurer’s Report
President Alex Leslie called the meeting to order at about 9:35 and the minutes of the previous meeting were approved without corrections. Mr. Leslie then gave an extremely brief President’s Comment thanking the year’s committee members and other volunteers for their efforts on behalf of the community. He then read the Treasurer’s Report for the absent Earl Frank, struggling somewhat with the wording of the report. Revenue is up by $11,000 and expenses are currently $32,000 under budget. Not counting the bar and grill, salaries and benefits are $11,000 under budget. It was not made clear what that position would be if B&G salaries and benefits were included. It was further noted that inventory purchases and the addition of a sous chef had caused the B&G expenses to balloon. In order to control expenses, a meeting between the chef/community center manager and the GM resulted in a hard look at the menu. It may be necessary to shrink the menu to control costs and reduce shrinkage. The assistant (sous chef) is being trained, according to the GM, to provide a backup for Chef Todd, now that he has additional managerial responsibilities and will, at some point, take vacation. Director Miller pointed out that the Snack Shack lost $1,100 in a single month, an unacceptable amount. Because of the problems with the Pine Tree Lake dam valve, a particular eye will be cast toward building up reserve monies. It was noted that the Finance and Planning Committee’s recommendation to increase the late fee to 15% has been adopted.
The Manager’s report focused on the dam valve problem. It is apparent that the outlet pipe is leaking, will at some future point fail altogether and must be replaced. The valve may also have to be replaced. (These exist because when Pine Tree Lake was established the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered them installed with a requirement that 90,000 gallons per day be released downstream. The valve can be manipulated to control for this release.) It was pointed out that in 2008 an estimate of $250,000 was given to replace the valve. While a successful fix negated that necessity, it now may be required due to the leak. Surveys, plans and receiving the necessary construction approvals could take as much as 4 years, and the cost will almost certainly be above the previously received figure. The valve and outlet pipe are as much as 30 feet under lake level. The lake will have to be lowered and a temporary dam installed to protect the worksite. It is a major construction repair project.
The manager also reported that Chris Tarvin has been assigned to help with the website which remains only partially operational. He will also assist with other TOPS (the association’s software) tasks. Directors Margaret Fitzgerald and Joe Miller both objected to bringing in Tarvin saying we have a capable webmaster in member Bob Leon who has volunteered his services.
There is apparently no love lost between Director Millie Bishop and Director Joe Miller. Every time Miller spoke, whether about road maintenance, Snack Shack, employee matters, or vehicle purchase, Ms. Bishop rolled her eyes, shook her head and wore an expression of annoyance, impatience or contempt, your guess which.
Committee reports included a notice that the bylaws and energy committees would not meet again until September, after a new board is installed. Bylaw Chairperson June Solla complained that a Special Meeting was not called to allow for detailed explanation of the suggested changes, especially the one designating the next runner-up in the previous election as the automatic replacement should a board seat become vacant (currently the board names a successor to serve until the next Annual Meeting). Board Secretary Carmen Broadnax responded that Ms. Solla had not made her request for such a meeting in writing to the board, or in any other formal way. After a brief ‘back and forth’ it was agreed that an agenda item could be added, giving the chairperson an opportunity to explain the reason for the change to the membership at the Annual Meeting.
Maintenance and Road Repair
The manager reported that he had prepared a map of primary, secondary and tertiary road sections, 5 in all, that would cost approximately $590,000 to repair. This would unfold over 3 or more years. Director Miller objected on several grounds. He pointed out that this had not gone through the maintenance committee. He also stated that he had seen a report that in 1986 a conflict of interest was found to exist between Fred Spot Engineering, currently the overseer of road maintenance and proposed contractor Waco, who has performed road repair for the association and is expected to do so in the future. The GM pointed out that this was 27 years ago and no such conflict is known to exist at this time. This exchange could be fairly described as heated. Director Miller went on to point out that recent work on Clearview Drive had deteriorated to the extent that a patch had to be made. Mr. Roth replied that this was temporary and that the paver was returning to redo approximately 25 feet of roadway under warranty. Miller said that labor and material would have been better spent repairing non-warranteed road defects.
Security Vehicle Purchase
A final recommendation on the purchase of a security vehicle was made by the GM. The board voted 3 to 2 to purchase a Ford Explorer from Ray Price Ford and equip it as a security vehicle (light bar, decals, etc). An umbrella amount of $35,000 was allocated, though the final cost is expected to be somewhat less. Voting for the purchase were Carmen Broadnax, Millie Bishop and Dan Glasgow. Voting in the negative were Joe Miller and Margaret Fitzgerald.
Under New Business, the GM reported that they are looking at a variety of solutions to the dehumidification problem in the Community Center. He also reported on several real estate issues, including a denial of Leisure Lane resident to purchase an adjacent lot (stating that it is needed for drainage and shouldn’t be altered) and a decision to purchase a property on Clearview Drive from repository for the amount of $800 and convert it into non-taxable Class 6.
Public Comments and Discussion
During Public Comments Anna Alicia, the Leisure Lane property owner cited above, requested that some sort of ditch be dug in the property adjacent to hers to ameliorate the flooding that often occurs, spilling over into her residential property. GM Allen Roth agreed to look into it.
Several residents of Seneca Court, a Ms. Shilinski and Beverly Divins, asked that their road be paved. They cited promises made by the Heuston board nine years ago that it would be paved within a year. They were even shown a schedule of paving, known to exist at that time. They produced estimates from a paving company that were considerably under those given by the association ($21,200 vs. $39,000, a difference of $17, 800). President Leslie stated that no new paving would be done this year, and that a request for a special assessment to pave all remaining unpaved roads (4.6 miles) was rejected by the membership at the 2005 Annual Meeting.
John Palmisano volunteered that there should be tar and chipping of main thoroughfares to extend their life.
Two landlords complained that the $25 per rental fee was excessive since they already pay their dues in a timely fashion.
June Solla suggested that communication between the board and the membership needs to be improved, saying that signage should be provided at work sites (such as the basketball courts, currently) stating what was being done and when it would be finished. She also suggested that a program be started for trapping and neutering feral cats.
In a final public comment, Kathy Leslie-Whelan read an email from Bob Lauri, stating that he asked that it be read at the meeting. It said, “I was very disappointed to read Mrs. Bishop’s bio where she takes credit for the ice rink within the community. I happened to be present when Mr. Whelan presented the idea as well as accompanying both Mr. Whelan and former GM Mr. Werner to the site. Harry was also with us at the site. The only thing Ms. Bishop did concerning this matter was to take credit for it when she had nothing to do with it.”
Full disclosure: the following remarks were delivered during the Public Comments by the author of this article.
Buz Whelan rose to state that he had a number of what might seem to be unrelated issues, but that they could be tied together.
He started by calling attention to the fact that the $590,000 road paving program had not been presented to the Maintenance Committee. He pointed out that such an elaborate plan, with color-coded maps, set priorities, and detailed cost estimates had not just dropped out of the sky, but had to be prepared over a matter of months. He said that if this isn’t a Maintenance Committee program, we should not have a Maintenance Committee.
He went on to state that the upgrading of the junior secretarial position in the office from part to full-time, with all its financial implications, including the adding of additional pay, benefit package, vacation and sick time had not been vetted by the Finance and Planning Committee and had not even been publicly discussed at any Open Meeting. He cautioned that this was not a personnel decision to be decided in Executive Session. Firing or replacing an employee, promoting one or disciplining another are all personnel actions. Changing a position from part to full-time is a structural change that should have been passed through F&P and publicly finalized at an open meeting.
He then pointed out the three real estate decisions just made had not been presented to the Real Estate Committee.
Whelan then reminded the board that in July of 2012 as the TOPS software was being installed, two employees were designated as the co-webmasters, essentially dismissing previous webmaster Bob Leon. Using himself as an example, Whelan said, “If you want me to fly a new helicopter, it might take me 10 to 25 hours to familiarize myself with the flight characteristics, instrumentation and controls, to be ‘checked out.’ But I’m a helicopter pilot. It would take a non-pilot hundreds of hours to learn to fly the bird.” This is essentially the mistake that was made with the website. Instead of training Mr. Leon, an experienced webmaster, two employees with no such experience were installed. A year later, the website is still not fully operational. Did the board finally turn to Mr. Leon? No, they doubled down by promoting Nikki to full time as discussed. That still didn’t work out, so Chris Tarvin was recalled and given more hours to make the site work.
Finally, Mr. Whelan discussed the Emerald News. We have at least three experienced editors in the community: Denise Wilson, Lola Lauri and Buz Whelan. But in July 2012 the editorship was turned over to GM Allen Roth, a person with no editorial experience whatsoever. The latest edition of the paper is a prime example of the foolishness of that decision, with 3 pages devoted to the Emerald Grill menu, a puzzle page and on page 15 an ‘article’ titled “Wing Eating Contest 2013” under which appear 4 photos. What are the subjects of the photos? Who are these people? Who won the contest? How many wings did he eat? Did he have hot sauce, sweet sauce or no sauce at all? Who came in second and how many wings of what kind did he eat? And on and on. No details of the contest given whatsoever. This is embarrassing. And it’s also wasteful. We pay for this paper. Yet a menu that could be on one page is on three. Puzzle pages and pictures without explanations or captions all cost money. Is your money being spent wisely? And finally, where are the letters to the editor? Your board is telling you, “We don’t want your praise. We don’t want your suggestions. And we damn sure don’t want your criticism.”
What ties all these things together is a complete contempt by the board for its membership. They disregard the committee system established by our bylaws. They appoint employees to control association communications. And they tell you they do not want to hear from you. On Facebook, the Emerald Lakes version of a town square, robust discussion takes place. And just as the mayor and council members might visit the square and schmooze with the citizens, a few of your directors join in. We see Margaret Fitzgerald, Dan Glasgow and Joe Miller talking to us, explaining what’s going on as best they can. But the same directors who don’t ever visit the square are the ones who voted to take away communications and ban your letters. Think about that when you vote.
- June 22, 2013 Board of Directors Monthly Open Meeting (emeraldlakesfreepress.com)
by Buz Whelan
After the usual pledge to the flag and acceptance of the previous meeting’s minutes (with the standard minor corrections) President Al Leslie gave his message. Prefacing his remarks with the call for a short meeting due to a scheduled party and his not feeling well, he admonished the community in general to eschew rumor-mongering and instead go directly to the source of the concern. He pointed out that the GM is readily available as are the various directors.
During an unusually brief Treasurer’s Report, Earl Frank pointed to an article in the Pocono Record that indicated approximately 66% of Pocono Mountain West High School students were receiving some form of public assistance. This would have some explanatory value, he said, in understanding why delinquencies are running so high.
General Manager Allen Roth informed the room that the deadline for the special July edition of the Emerald News is Tuesday, June 25th. This issue will have the candidate bios and campaign statements.
Deadlines come and go, and bog removal in East and West Emerald Lakes is a sure example of that. This issue has been tossed around for at least two years, maybe more, and today GM Roth informed us that the June 20th date for work initiation had been missed. Contacting Joe Gallagher of Ecological Solutions, the firm hired to do the removal, he was informed that it was preferable to wait until the bogs rose to the surface of the lake, since their appearance would ease removal. Last year the bogs appeared early, in late June, due to an unusually mild spring and early summer. But in 2011, a more typical year weatherwise, the bogs did not appear in East Emerald Lake until the third week in July and West Emerald Lake in early August. Adding to the confusion was the memory of some members that last year we were told that it was easier to remove the bogs before they surfaced.
The GM also reported that with the beaches open the hot dog wagon would be making appearances and the Snack Shack at the outdoor pool is open.
During Committee Reports, the recommended changes to the collection procedures were discussed, and a recommendation that the board begin preparing for a Special Meeting in late October or early November was made. The purpose of the meeting would be to ask for a dues increase. The manager’s recommendation of a three-year program with increases of $60, $50 & $40 respectively was noted in the recommendation.
Under Old Business the board approved a resolution for payment of the repairs to the outdoor pool, in the amount of $13,700. The 2012/2014 budget, recently passed, contains a line item of $20,000 for outdoor pool repair. This was an estimate, since the precise scope of work could not be known until the repairs were well underway. The board also passed a resolution accepting the Finance and Planning Committee’s recommended changes to the collection procedure. When a delinquency first occurs, a 10% penalty will be attached and the entire amount of the Annual Dues remaining shall immediately become due.
Under New Business, the board approved the selection of Mark Davis as chairperson of the newly re-formed Real Estate Committee. The chair had been elected at the committee’s first meeting and he reported that the committee is made up of short and long term landlords, renters and non-leasing homeowners.
The board accepted the ad hoc Committee to Revise the Bylaws’ recommendations for changes to be put to a vote at the Annual Meeting in August. Among those that bring the document into congruence with already existing practice are recommendations to require a complete audit every year (as opposed to current bylaw for every fifth year), to extend appeal and payment deadlines for citations from 10 to 30 days and to eliminate from the bylaws reference to the moribund Campground Committee. The committee also recommended formalizing the process for replacing a mid-year board vacancy by going to the next highest vote getter at the previous Annual Meeting, then going to the next highest after that if the first next (is this getting confusing?) is unavailable. When all losing candidates have been exhausted, or if there weren’t any, the board may choose a replacement who would serve until the next Annual Meeting when a vote could be held to fill out the term, or select another director if the term is expiring.
During a discussion of roadside mowing, it was reported that the mower was expected to be repaired by early next week and mowing would then continue. The board also directed the GM to research the cost of a new mower, including choices of manufacturer, models and vendors. Should a new mower be purchased, the current one would become a backup.
During Public Comments Paul Capozzoli suggested sealing cracks in our roadways. He said that his research shows that we can significantly extend the life of any given road segment by doing this. He reported that he had spoken with individuals involved in county road maintenance and this is something that they do and recommend.
Pat Galderisi brought up the problem of chickens running loose in sections of the Estates. Of course, our Declarations forbid the keeping of livestock. Phyllis Shedlock said that she had observed chickens on Sage Road. After much joking about chickens crossing the road and so on, it was agreed that the GM would have the Code Enforcement Officer Ralph Musto investigate.
Progress on Cabaret ’35, to be held August 10 was also reported. It was underscored that this is to be a total night club experience not just another singing performance. Audience members are encouraged to come in period dress (‘20s & ‘30s) and prizes will be given. Tickets ($10 advance, $12at the door) are currently being sold at the Community Center.
by Buz Whelan
After the traditional call to order, pledge of allegiance and acceptance of the previous month’s minutes, President Alex Leslie gave his President’s Report. Mr. Leslie thanked Director Margaret Fitzgerald and all who assisted her for the organization of the Relay for Life, to be held that evening and night, and for meeting the fund raising goal of $3,500. Mr. Leslie also announced that the board was adopting a new and revised collection procedure, prepared with the cooperation of the association attorney. The essentials of the procedure provide for a series of notices and deadlines, with a penalty fee of 2.5% of the money owed initially charged at the time of 10 days delinquency. A series of steps that include notices that all fees assessed by the association attorney will be added to the monies owed. At the 90 day mark (of delinquency) the attorney will take charge of the account and all further communications shall be between him and the delinquent member. At the 105 day mark a Notice of Claim of Lien will be recorded and the member notified. Should the delinquency continue, all legal remedies, including the filing of suit will proceed according to the best interests of the association as determined by the attorney in consultation with the association general manager. This procedure was formally adopted by resolution passed under New Business.
Treasurer Earl Frank reported that $1.394M in dues has been collected for fiscal year 2012/2013, now closed out. This is down from $1.440M collected for fiscal 2011/2012. While Mr. Frank reported that we are under budget in spending in all departments except the Emerald Bar & Grill, the growing delinquency rate is our most serious financial problem. He expressed some hope that the new, more aggressive collection policy would stem this trend. Member Pat Galderisi and Director Joe Miller both stated that the association should be going after bank owners who have seized ownership through foreclosure. They should be required to pay dues and maintain their properties according to the same standards to which individual homeowners are held. Failure to do so should result in citations.
Following the Treasurer’s Report the manager reported that all dams have been inspected, with reports to follow. Permits have been received for bog removal in East and West Emerald Lakes, though no schedule for the actual work is currently available.
During the Committee Chair Reports section of the meeting, Finance and Planning Chairperson David Pope reported that his committee is working toward a recommendation for increased revenue to be presented at the Annual Meeting. Several levels and types of increases are being examined, from a simple set increase in dues to several types of multi-year escalators. These will be hashed out at a special F&P meeting to be held the week of May 19-25 at a time TBD.
Director Carmen Broadnax reported that the Nominating Committee is currently emailing invitations to run for the board to all committee members and that notices will be on the website and in the next edition of the Emerald News. Several members present reported that they had received the email solicitations.
Appeals Committee Chairperson Paul Capozzoli reported that two appeals had been postponed until next month.
Author of this story Buz Whelan, reporting as a “committee of one” told the assembly that the May 4th Comedy Night earned over $1,100 in ticket sales and did more than $1,000 in food and beverage business.
ELDAS liaison, Buz Whelan reported several recommendations from the society to the board. Among these was a suggestion that the Communication Committee assign someone to take pictures of all committees, publish them in the paper, on the website and in an Annual Meeting program. It was also suggested that the recognition plaques for past presidents and volunteers of the year be moved from the admin bldg to the Community Center where they would be more visible to members. Another suggestion was to obtain an estimate for the cost of updating all ID badges. During this process, census data could be taken since all members would have to participate in the updating. The ELDAS members are also willing to volunteer to serve as liaisons, freeing up directors who often must serve as liaisons to multiple committees. And lastly the society recommends that planning begin for a series of events to be held during our upcoming 40th anniversary year.
Under New Business, Secretary Carmen Broadnax read a resolution to approve the purchase of a new public safety vehicle. The motion included make and model, amount of purchase, and selected bidder. It was for a Ford Explorer, and Ray Price Ford, the middle bidder in terms of amount, was named as the seller. It was explained that the vehicle being replaced was also a Ford Explorer and that Price Ford was the closest bidder, a supposed advantage for service needs. At this point Director Joe Miller objected. He reasoned that a Ford Escape could perform public safety tasks equally well, would get better gas mileage and would cost in the neighborhood of $5,000 less. He further reminded the room that a vehicle can be serviced, including warranty work, at any same brand dealership, regardless of purchase location. Gallery member David Pope echoed Miller’s opinion, as did numerous directors and members who followed. The matter was finally removed from the table for future consideration and discussion.
Resolutions to adopt a new committee procedures manual and new collection procedure, previously cited, were passed.
Director Miller then went off the agenda to bring up outdoor pool maintenance for discussion. Miller’s point was that the work had not been approved by board motion nor had the work been put out for bid. He objected to the GM’s selection of a vendor to begin the work, currently under way, without these elements. He asked Mr. Roth for the expected cost of the work, which was not immediately available (the 2013/2014 budget lists estimated cost at $20,000).
During Public Comments, several members (whose names we are withholding) complained that a home on Doe Drive is unsightly, with much debris, junk and bags of garbage strewn about. They also state that there is constant traffic in and out of the home with short term visits occurring at all hours. The CEO will check for the unsightly premises, but it was recommended that regional police be contacted regarding the frequent short visits.
Several residents of Seneca Court, formerly North Glade Court, complained that their road is virtually impassible, with mud pits and ruts and a complete lack of gravel. The GM will look into possible relief.
Director Margaret Fitzgerald ignited a furious exchange over the early closing of the Emerald Bar and Grill on Friday, May 17th. Apparently a large contingent of folks who had attended the bonfire on Pine Tree Beach decided to top off the evening with a drink or two at the bar. Arriving at about 9:15 they were told the bar was shortly closing and they could order a single drink. Various reasons were given including slow business and possible intoxication of patrons. After much ado, protestations and a visit by the board president, they were escorted out by public safety before 10 pm. President Leslie took full responsibility, promised published hours would be adhered to in the future and agreed that it was important to do so.
Heidi Castro of Cedar Drive reported a creeping wetland in her backyard, fearing it could reach the house. She has contacted the Army Corps of Engineers and was told it was a local matter. GM Allen Roth will look into it.
Finally, there was a comment about the failure of many homeowners to post the new address signs required by the county. The problem as stated was that even if a particular homeowner is in compliance, failure by his neighbors could slow emergency vehicles as the approach that location without progressive signage. It was suggested that Rules and Regulations ‘address’ the address problem.
by Buz Whelan
Emerald Lakes, Pennsylvania (ELFP) Saturday, March 16th was a busy day for the Emerald Lakes Association Board of Directors. At 9:30 am they met with the Finance and Planning Committee for the presentation of the budget for fiscal year 2013/2014. After a discussion period the directors present agreed to accept the budget as presented and bring it to a vote at the open meeting which would follow. Directors present were President Alex Leslie, Vice President Millie Bishop, Treasurer Earl Frank, Director Joe Miller and Director Dan Glasgow. Secretary Carmen Broadnax and Director Margaret Fitzgerald did not attend. Following the budget discussion it was decided that the next F&P meeting, to be held on Saturday, April 20th would have as the sole agenda item the consideration and arguments for an enhanced revenue stream. This would include several different approaches to dues escalation, possibly tied to the Consumer Price Index. The board-set deadline for the committee to decide on a recommendation had been April 20th, but in consideration of the fact that that is the next meeting date of F&P the board members said they would extend the deadline for a brief, but not indefinite, period to be decided.
At about 11:00 am the monthly open meeting was called to order by President Alex Leslie with all seven directors in attendance. Mr. Leslie said that there has been a good response to the committee survey sent to committee members, but that he would appreciate those who had not yet returned the survey to do so as soon as possible. He also said that the board is seeking volunteers for the Real Estate Committee, moribund since around September of 2008, with a special eye to establishing a subcommittee to work on problems involving rental properties. He restated his hope that this committee could be made up of residents, landlords and renters, so all sides of the questions could be fully represented and examined. The manager reported that the dues statement mailings had been completed. He also reported that the engineers are completing their road study report and will have recommendations on repair by type and location.
Treasurer Earl Frank reported that we are still on track to come in under budget by approximately 10% and went on to report figures on the cost of operating the bar and grill, by his count around $8,000. Director Joe Miller took exception to both the amount and the necessity of the report itself. Mr. Miller’s objection was based on the fact that the bar and grill, taken jointly, is but one of several amenities, and the only one to produce a revenue stream. If there is a report on them, where are the reports on the other amenities? How much did it cost to operate the indoor pool year-to-date, he asked. The matter was eventually left unresolved.
During committee reports, Sherry Ornitz reported that the Events Committee has 13 events scheduled, with 7 additional events being considered.
There was a discussion on finding new and creative ways of dealing with delinquent accounts. A proposal from a collection agency has been received and will be studied. The board may then hold a Q&A with a representative of the agency.
Under New Business the board voted to accept the budget as prepared by the General Manager and submitted to the board by the Finance and Planning Committee. Directors voted in the affirmative with a single director, Margaret Fitzgerald, voting to oppose. No reason was given for her opposition.
Director Miller raised an objection to the report by Fred Spot Engineering on Quality Assurance/Quality Control citing a lack of specificity on many key elements. Terming the report “a joke”, he made a motion to require the submitter to issue an addendum of sorts that would include the missing and needed data. Following the passage of the motion, Joe agreed to work directly with Spot to ensure they understood and fulfilled association requirements.
A study is proceeding to produce a plan to upgrade the insulation rating of the indoor pool area, possibly by replacing windows with solid wall, among other possibilities. The outdoor pool shell needs to be sandblasted and cracks filled and then resurfaced.
During public comments member Heidi Castro stated that she has observed members bringing personal alcoholic beverages into the Community Center to be consumed with a purchased meal or snack. She further stated that on at least one occasion the person bringing the beverage was underage. The GM will alert staff to this, and a sign will be posted forbidding importation of personal alcoholic beverages into the center. It is against both association rules and Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board regulations and is considered a major violation by the LCB.
Melanie Balzano suggested that employees wear identification badges that they might be easily located when needed, and to be visible as employees when entering employee-only spaces such as behind the bar.
by Buz Whelan
The Finance & Planning Committee met today, March 2, 2013 to accept and review the 2013/2014 budget prepared by General Manager Alan Roth and his staff. The budget had actually been emailed to the F&P members the previous day in order to give them a chance to review the document before the meeting. The meeting went smoothly and aside from a few wording changes, the committee voted to recommend the budget ‘as prepared’ to the Emerald Lakes Board of Directors when they meet on Saturday, March 16th. At that meeting any questions, suggestions or amendments can be discussed and agreed upon so that the board will have a finished document to vote to approve at the March 23 Open Meeting. The budget will then be made available to the general membership for their review and comment before its final passage at the April Open Meeting. A final, board-approved balanced budget must be in place for the start of the fiscal year. This is defined as May 1st by the association bylaws. While members do not vote to approve the budget, any interested member may obtain a copy of the budget before its final passage and pass on whatever comments or suggestions they may have to the board. The budget will be available at the Administration Office following the March 23rd meeting and until the April 27th approval date.
By Buz Whelan
I write this in the first person because I want to take full ownership. I speak only for myself, and, of course, everyone who agrees with me. This is a subjective piece, my take on certain actions and decisions by the Emerald Lakes Association Board of Directors, and if that makes you angry or uncomfortable stop reading now.
The first area of concern here is communications. I write of the Emerald News and the Emerald Lakes Association official website, such as it is. We had a functioning website. It had up-to-date information on events, meetings, schedules and the like. Want to see a current Emerald Grill menu? It was there. Want to know when the Maintenance Committee is having its next meeting or when the community center is open? It was there. What happened at the last board meeting? Check that website. And so on.
Then the association got new software that included a website. So, the old website, that worked quite well, was shut down. Its capable webmaster, Bob Leon, was fired. Employees would manage the new website. That was late July 2012. How’s that working out so far? Seven months later we are still being told that the website, the official website, is a work in progress
Then there’s the Emerald News. Remember when the Emerald News was a monthly paper with up to 24 pages of news and information? Remember when you could read about the most recent board meeting? Remember when actual news of Emerald Lakes, things like shootings, house fires, power outages and home invasions were reported? Remember when there were articles like where to buy the cheapest gas for your car or LP for your home were published? Remember when there was humor along with the serious reporting, things like “Whirled Gnus” and “From the ‘Net?” Remember those things?
Check out the current version of the association paper. That’s what happens when the board fires experienced journalists, takes over the paper, appoints the GM editor-in-chief, and makes sure only good news gets printed. Now we get a 12-page Emerald News that hits the stands on Feb. 8th, but uses almost a full page to advertise the Superbowl Party on February 3rd and the Valentine’s Day Dinner, for which you must sign up and pay by Feb 7th. You could have read about the December board meeting here within 24 hours of its occurrence. But it didn’t make the Feb 8th Emerald News. No news, no fun. Good move, firing those editors and taking the paper over.
The board authorized a budget of $1,500 for the newly resurrected Events Committee. The cost of each event would be deducted from that total. I asked the board if an event made money, brought in more than its cost by, say, $1,000 would that be added back into their budget. A quick ‘No’ was followed by directors exchanging curious glances. It was apparent that this possibility had not been considered. After some discussion it was agreed, I believe, that the budget would be restored up to the original $1,500 but not beyond.
My final comment is on the monthly Treasurer’s Report, a standard agenda item at these monthly meetings. Along with the overall statistics, we are regularly informed of the cost of the Emerald Bar & Grill year-to-date. Now, up through the 2007/2008 fiscal year that unit had a hefty line item allotment of $40,000. That allowed its managers and the treasurer to brag that at an annual cost of as much as $38,000, the bar and grill were $2,000 under budget. Beginning with fiscal year 2008/2009 we began cost saving measures. We closed the amenity down on the slowest nights. From seven nights a week, we went to three. We replaced a mediocre cook with a chef. We hired new staff and a community center manager to oversee the process. We purchased a point-of-sale system that accurately tracked sales and inventory and cut shrinkage by more than 80%. Yet now we are singling this amenity out for its cost, currently $4,000 year-to-date. Why?
A Saturday night visit will reveal to the observer a full bingo room with players having soft and mixed drinks at their places. Around the room you will see plates of finger foods such as quesadillas, wings, French fries and others. You will observe couples and families dotting the main dining room. You will see an SRO crowd at the bar. And, in the pool, you will see a lonely swimmer or two doing laps under the watchful gaze of a lifeguard. We are never told how much it has cost year-to-date to maintain the water temperature, the air temperature, the board-of-health-mandated purification chemicals, or the salary of that bored lifeguard. Why is the only amenity that produces a revenue stream singled out for scrutiny? I favor, without reservation, keeping the indoor pool open. It is a valuable amenity. But if cost per member served is your criterion, the Emerald Bar and Grill is the single most cost effective amenity we have.
(Editor’s note: If you have any comments, questions, or observations about these issues, we encourage you to leave your comments here, but also, PLEASE let the board know how you feel by attending a monthly open meeting or by sending them a letter.)