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.