Attending the Annual Meeting: What You Should Know
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.