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March 16, 2013 Board of Directors Open Meeting

by Buz Whelan

   436978-Royalty-Free-RF-Clipart-Illustration-Of-Employees-Sleeping-During-A-Board-Meeting[1]  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.

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.

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