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“I Abstain!” Is It Shirking Responsibility?

Opinion

by Buz Whelan

   QuestionMark[1]  There are occasions when a vote of abstention is appropriate and even mandatory. When minutes of a previous meeting are put up for approval, for example, a member who did not attend that meeting must abstain. When a complicated piece of business has been examined and discussed while a member is ill, that member may not feel qualified to vote in judgment. But when a vote to abstain is cast simply because the voting member does not wish to take a public stand, that is failing to perform one’s duty.

     At the July 21, 2013 meeting of the Finance and Planning Committee a discussion centered on the cost of credit card discounting to the association. Whenever a credit card is used in a transaction there is a discount fee which varies with the card and the merchant’s agreement with the clearing house. If you paid your annual dues with a credit card and the discount rate for that card was 3.5%, the association would receive only $965 rather than the full $1,000. At this meeting it was agreed by the committee members to pass a recommendation to the board that whenever a credit card is used to pay dues, the cost of the transaction should be borne by the payer. General Manager Allan Roth was present at the meeting and soon after began seeking a vendor who would cooperate in the charge back. Eventually, he found several and prepared a packet of detailed information along with a recommendation that the company best suited to association needs was Paylease.

     Approximately one week before the October 18th board work session, the packets of information were distributed to each director’s mailbox so that they would have time to prepare for the discussion and have any questions ready for the GM to answer. At that meeting, Mr. Roth made a comprehensive presentation, explaining how the new system would work and why he felt Paylease was our best choice. At the conclusion of his presentation a discussion period ensued, with the GM answering all the directors’ questions and concerns. When no further questions were forthcoming, it was decided that a resolution would be prepared for a vote at the next weekend’s open meeting. The meeting then moved on to the next topic.

     The following day, Saturday, October 19th the Finance and Planning Committee met in the same conference room. Present as observers were several board members including President Alex Leslie and Directors June Solla and Margaret Fitzgerald. By sheer coincidence, committee member  Walter O’Neill asked the GM what had become of the credit card recommendation. Mr. Roth repeated his presentation from the day before for the benefit of the committee members. He again took questions and, as at the previous day’s meeting, the topic was exhausted and the meeting moved on.

     We now come to the October 26th open meeting. Secretary Carmen Broadnax reads the resolution regarding the new credit card policy, the chair gets a second and a vote is called. Earl Frank, Millie Bishop, Carmen Broadnax and Dan Glasgow vote in the affirmative. It is now Director Margaret Fitzgerald’s turn. She says she is abstaining because she does not have enough information. The chair calls on Director June Solla who says she is abstaining for the same reason as Ms. Fitzgerald.

     To recap, a packet of information has been given to each of these directors. They attended two successive meeting in which the change was discussed in detail. They knew the vote was coming and had a week to seek out any additional information they felt they needed. And they abstained.

     The very next vote was to endorse a change order in the amount of $11,000 for additional work needed to resolve foundational problems discovered during road paving. Again, this issue had been previously discussed, again the vote was scheduled a week in advance and again both Ms. Fitzgerald and Ms. Solla abstained.

     This is an opinion piece. It is labeled as such, and it is my opinion that these directors have failed to perform their duty. Perhaps they have an explanation that I have yet to fathom. But when detailed information is provided and sufficient time elapses without any effort to obtain whatever clarification the directors feel they need, then they are not acting responsibly.

     We elect directors to make decisions. That’s what they are supposed to do. It is their main job. Anyone can make the easy decisions that have little effect on the way the association does business. It is when difficult decisions on complex issues must be made that we separate the strong performers from the weak ones. Here are two examples of very weak performance.

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December 14, 2013 Monthly Open Board Meeting

by Buz Whelan

meeting[1]     It was a short and sweet board meeting last Saturday. President Alex Leslie called the meeting to order at 9:30 and announced that the proceedings would be recorded due to the absence of the recording secretary Roxanne Chumacas. Present were the GM, the President, Vice President Dan Glasgow, Treasure Earl Frank, and Directors Millie Bishop and June Solla. Absent were Secretary Carmen Broadnax and Director Margaret Fitzgerald. Leslie also pointed out that since the recording device being used had a one hour capacity, the meeting would have to be limited to that time.

     As he made the President’s Comments, Leslie thanked June Solla for her work in organizing the Veterans’ Day ceremony. He also thanked the GM for his and the maintenance staff’s efforts in keeping the roads drivable during the late Fall storms we’ve had. This was accomplished in spite of equipment problems that presented challenges in addition to the snow and ice.

     Treasurer Earl Frank also kept his remarks brief stating that revenue exceeded projections by about $34,000 while the overall budget was under by approximately 10%. This in spite of the fact that the bar and grill are approximately $14,000 over costs. We have collected in total $1,093,000 in dues and other income which is on a par with the previous year. The reserve fund stands at $262,000, with new capital reserve at $10,000 after the paying of the paving for the compactor.

     General Manager Allen Roth reported that with the current snowfall expected to be substantial, he had a shift that would continue to midnight and then would be relieved by a shift beginning then and continuing into the next day. All equipment is (was) currently operational. He also reported that he had put out an RFP for a new auditor. In response to a question from the November meeting, he told the room the association currently bills 1,633 improved lots (homes) and 349 unimproved. He also announced that the Emerald News would be delivered to the community on Friday, December 20th.

     Under old business a report on Clause 15 properties was postponed due to the absence of Secretary Broadnax. In response to a question, the president explained that these are properties that are within the borders of Emerald Lakes but whose owners opted out when the association was established. According to preliminary opinion of counsel, these properties may be obligated to join the association and pay dues since they enjoy many of the services provided. More on this will be revealed next month.

     Only one engineering firm has so far expressed interest in the Pine Tree Dam Valve and evacuation pipe repair project. Ace Engineering has offered to provide divers to determine the precise scope of work. According to GM Roth, the current leak may not be as severe as previously believed and, therefore, the time frame for repair may be more like five years than two or three.

     There was a third and final reading of Resolution #24 which will restore the late fee charged on dues from 2 1/2% to 10%. When the association went to quarterly payments, some math-challenged individuals changed the late fee to two and one-half per cent on the mistaken notion that four quarters of that would equal 10% annually, which, of course, it does not. It equals two and one-half per cent. This is now corrected.

     There was also a third and final reading of Resolution #25 which will put the burden of credit card transaction discount on the member using a card. (When a credit card is accepted, the accepting party receives less than 100% of the total charge. Generally they are charged a fee of 2 to 4% by the clearing house. This is referred to as the discount fee.) The new rule will be effective with the 2014/2015 billing, generally mailed around the 22nd to 24th of February.

     Under New Business the GM reported that he has an appointment scheduled with an engineering firm to examine what needs to be done to bring the community center up to snuff. Among the repairs and improvements needed are a new HVAC system and improved insulation. The condition of the roof and underpinnings will also be examined.

     President Leslie announced that the new Committee Chair Council will be meeting at a time and date TBD, probably January or February. The purpose of the committee is to improve communication between the committees, with an eye toward greater cooperation on common projects. The president also said that he will allow the council to brainstorm at its first meeting to set its own goals and objectives.

     It was announced that the newly renovated conference room in the administration building has had new chairs delivered. A new conference table is also expected soon.

     After a motion to welcome new members, three of which are repossessing banks, the meeting was adjourned at 10:22am.

August 17, 2013 Annual Meeting Held

by Buz Whelan

Millie Bishop

Millie Bishop

June Solla

June Solla

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

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.

June 22, 2013 Board of Directors Monthly Open Meeting

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.

 

 

Budget Process Moves Along

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.

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