by Buz Whelan
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.
by Buz Whelan
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.
By Buz Whelan
With a Town Hall Meeting scheduled for 11 am, this had to be a fast meeting. It was. President Alex Leslie called the meeting to order at 9:33am and after thanking those who turned out and expressing the hope that they would stay for the Town Hall to follow, he turned the floor over to Treasurer Earl Frank. Frank reported that overall, we are under budget by approximately 10%. He stated that administration was under by $18,000, maintenance by $32,000 and the Community Center by $30,000. On the down side the bar and grill are $15,000 over budget. He further stated that the GM was taking measures to stem the bleeding in that area.
GM Allen Roth reported that Fred Spot of Fred Spot Engineering Associates, with whom Emerald Lakes has a long relationship, would be retiring soon. With that known, he said that he has sent out RFPs (Requests for Proposals) to several firms to get specifications and cost estimates for the Pine Tree Lake dam valve repair. He also reported that the paving of the compactor is largely complete but must be given time to cure. He anticipates that it will reopen fully functional on November 5th.
Under Committee Reports, it was noted that John Avrich has been elected chair of the Finance and Planning Committee, replacing David Pope who recently stepped down. Events Chairperson Stefania Johnson reported that her committee is working on a calendar of events for 2014/2015 and will be workshopping that at their next meeting, November 2nd. She also said there will be a Thanksgiving-style dinner held the Saturday prior to that holiday. Connie Simpson reported that she had been chosen as the new chair of CrimeWatch, lately referred to as the Neighborhood Watch Committee. She also passed out samples of a newly created form labeled “Eyes on Report.” These will be available at the admin bldg, and it is promised that any filled out will be acted upon. (The Emerald Lakes Free Press will shortly publish an exemplar of the form). It was also noted that Joseph Olall has been elected chairperson of the Communications Committee. There was also a note by the president that there is the possibility that one chairperson, unspecified, is not a member of the association and that a letter of inquiry has been sent.
Old Business had just one item, Clause 15 Properties. These are properties within the boundaries of Emerald Lakes, but whose owners chose not to join the association when it was formed. Board Secretary Carmen Broadnax, assisted by member Pat Galderisi, is currently researching to determine exactly how many of these properties exist, which ones they are and what their current legal status is vis a vis obligations to or privileges allowed by the association. In other words, after the elapsing of time, must they pay for such things as lake use and do they owe any monies for services from which they benefit? The association attorney is researching this.
Under New Business the board approved the aforementioned chairpersons. They also corrected a mathematical error by upping the quarterly late fees to 10% from 2.5%. This matches the 10% late fees charged in other cases. They also passed a resolution that would pass swipe fees, the amount charged by the clearing house for credit card use, to the user, ensuring that the association receives full payment on dues, fines and late fees. Transactions at the Emerald Bar & Grill will be unaffected. Under this new policy, which had been recommended by the Finance and Planning Committee some months ago, those paying dues with a credit card would find the fee added to their bill by the card company. GM Allen Roth found a clearer, Paylease, that would do the processing. Electronic checks would also be affected. Although the GM had explained this in detail at the Friday, October 18th workshop and the next day’s Finance and Planning Committee meeting, Directors Margaret Fitzgerald and June Solla abstained from the vote saying they did not have enough information. This was also true when the rest of the board passed an $11,000 change order on road repair. The change order was necessary when pavers noted severe problems with the base on a section of Clearview while preparing it for paving. The association’s Quality Control/Quality Assurance engineer validated the paver’s finding making the change order necessary as the scope of work had greatly increased. This information was made available to board directors prior to the vote, but Fitzgerald and Solla demurred nevertheless.
During the Public Comments section it was suggested that the board make the agenda of meetings available to the membership via an email blast on the day prior to the meeting. This would give members a chance to decide on attending a meeting based on an item of particular interest to them. President Alex Leslie said he thought this was a good idea and would work to effect it.
Pat Galderisi precipitated an extended conversation on criteria for voting at the annual meeting. Referring to a discussion she viewed on the Emerald Lakes in the Poconos Facebook page (unofficial), she said that posters seemed annoyed that some members with outstanding balances of less than $50 were permitted to vote. Some cited a literal interpretation of the bylaws that describe a member-in-good-standing as one who owed nothing at all to the association. Galderisi contacted several past Judges of Elections, all of whom took a slightly more liberal view. Most indicated that with small amounts, mistakes can occur and if an error is made it should be in favor of the voter. Galderisi read several responses that uniformly pointed to the importance of protecting the voting rights of those whose debts if, in fact, they existed at all, were de minimus, of little consequence. Board Secretary Carmen Broadnax, who served as Judge of Election for the last two cycles, said that was her motivation. Linda Shuey, present as an observer, volunteered that she had been initially refused a ballot based on an erroneous debt listing and thanked Ms. Broadnax for allowing her vote, to which, it turned out, she was entitled. Most of those in attendance agreed that this (allowing voting with small balances) was a legitimate case of judicial discretion.
President Alex Leslie called the meeting to order at 9:34 am on a beautiful fall Saturday. He began the meeting by telling the room that this President’s Message would be different from the usual. He then went on to describe, in somewhat vague terms, emails that seemed intended to undermine the board in general and himself in specific. He spoke of accusations of employees with arrest records, messages that hinted or charged outright that he and the board were not doing their due diligence in checking applicants’ backgrounds. He insisted that all prospective full time hires are given the same standard check and that one employee who had been singled out in the aforementioned emails had an arrest record that was made up of traffic violations. He also cited a recent Liquor Control Board surprise visit and inspection in which the association was given a warning. The initial warning contained comments on smoking violations and ‘gambling’ (bingo) violations. After a subsequent check of the law as written it was determined that as a private club we were not in violation of either smoking or gambling violations, and only an opened bottle in a restricted location remained in the citation. In all probability there will be a follow-up re-inspection, which the President is confident we will pass. He will be speaking with the association attorney on the matter.
As he concluded his remarks, the president expressed his belief that the emails indicated a lack of support for his leadership. He pointed out how easily he could be replaced and then, as chair, called for a motion to that effect. None was made.
Treasurer Earl Frank reported that aside from the Emerald Bar & Grill, we are currently under budget in all departments by the amount of $61,000. He said that the Bar & Grill have lost $12,000 in the first 4 months of the fiscal year. Some of this can be explained by overstocking caused by overly optimistic business projections. He also said that collections of delinquencies are far ahead of last year and if they remain on track we will collect over $100,000 more than fiscal year 2012/2013.
During the Committee Reports, Finance and Planning Committee liaison Frank relayed a number of recommendations from that committee. Chief among these was a declaration by the committee that a dues increase was not needed and that the committee would not participate in the upcoming Town Hall Meeting. The committee also reminded the board of their previous recommendation that swipe fees be charged to those members using credit cards to pay their dues, since the association receives a charge back commonly referred to as the discount. The swipe fees would compensate for that. The committee also reminded that they had recommended all late fees be raised from the current 10% to 15%, the maximum allowed by law. Of the more controversial recommendations were those involving the Community Center. One recommendation was that the center be closed for approximately 5 years with the money saved put into a building fund for a new state-of-the-art building, perhaps combining activity, meeting and administration venues. Another was to close the bar and grill or just the grill. Still another was to close the center for a year and use that savings to do necessary improvements.
Events Committee chair Stefania Johnson reported that the “Dancing with the Stars” event brought in $700 in revenue. Maintenance Committee Chair Bob Leon spoke of the committee’s task of ranking the major projects facing the association by priority. He also requested that the committee name be changed to the Property Management Committee with the committee assuming the responsibilities of the defunct Architectural Review Committee and the ad hoc Energy Conservation Committee. CrimeWatch chair Cookie Litwienski called for volunteers saying she was down to a committee of one.
Under Old Business the board passed a resolution filling the vacancy of resigned Director Joe Miller with the Annual Meeting’s first runner-up Margaret Fitzgerald. A resolution awarding the 2013/2014 paving contract to winning bidder Wayco was also passed. Wayco’s low bid was for $212,220.13 for road paving and $63,811.71 for the compactor area. The four road areas are Clover between Clearview and Sullivan Trail, Clearview from Clearview (no, that’s not a typo) to Clover, Glade from Roads End to Bull Run and the Glade/Ivy intersection.
Secretary Carmen Broadnax reported on a project to identify all Clause 15 properties and determine their status relative to the association. According to Broadnax, the deed covenants of these properties ran out in June of 1987. Ms. Broadnax explained that this is a slow, tedious process involving a great deal of research, including trips to the county recorder.
A reserve spending plan will be prepared when feedback from the F&P and Maintenance Committees on major project costs and priorities is received.
Under New Business the board passed goals and objectives for the standing committees and the ad hoc bylaws committee. Rules and Regulations were charged with eliminating redundancies and ensuring our regs are in harmony with the townships. Events was charged with producing a 2014/2015 annual schedule of events by early February so that the expected costs could be included in the budget. Maintenance and Finance and Planning were both charged with reviewing the latest reserve study and prioritizing projects using that as a guide. Bylaws was charged with producing a workable absentee ballot process. The board also approved new committee chairs, including Stefania Johnson for Events, Bob Leon for Maintenance, and Mark Davis for Real Estate. The Finance and Planning and Bylaws committees have not yet selected new chairs.
After public comments the meeting was adjourned.
- August 17, 2013 Annual Meeting Held (emeraldlakesfreepress.com)
On Saturday, September 8, Camp KCS on Long Pond Road hosted Woofstock to benefit the Monroe Animal League. Neighbors from Emerald Lakes joined hundreds of others in a day-long celebration of our canine friends. Vendors offered dog treats, portraits, and even personality profiles for your pets. PMRPD
had their K9 unit there, and the Jubilee restaurant and others provided food and drinks. Local bands provided music, including Identity Crisis (theidentitycrisisband.com), with singer and saxophonist Mark Mecca, who is an ELA resident. And, of course, dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, dogs of every size and color. Blankets
and camp chairs were spread out on the lawn and neighbors and their puppies spent the afternoon socializing and learning more about the products and services available to dog owners in our community. Please support the Monroe Animal League and Camp KCS for their hard work in bringing us this delightful day, and for all their hard work in helping the animals we love.
by Buz Whelan
EMERALD LAKES, Pennsylvania (ELFP) Emerald Lakes Board of Directors member Joe Miller tendered his resignation to the board via email Tuesday, August 20th. It was to be effective at midnight that day. In his email Miller states that increased demands from his business coupled with competing demands on his time from workshops, open meetings and liaison work are taking a toll. He further says that he believes someone with more time, preferably one who is a full-time resident, would be better for the association. He also pointed out that the new bylaw assigning a vacancy to the next highest vote-getter at the Annual Meeting puts Margaret Fitzgerald in his place, a situation he is comfortable with. Finally, Miller wished the board continued success.
In a ‘phone conversation, Miller was more forthcoming on his reasons for resigning. “I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with the board’s actions and practices over the last 18 months or so. Some of the things that have been done and hidden from the membership are just plain wrong, in my opinion, but the tight confidentiality agreement and the fact that these decisions are made under the cloak of executive sessions make it difficult for me to be more open. I don’t think the board members are evil, but I think they are misguided. I began serving on the board under the presidency of Buz Whelan when transparency was the watchword. Other members of that board, like Bob Lauri or Paul Capozzoli would never stand for secrecy. This board is the opposite. My conscience has really brought me to this decision. I’m sorry I can’t say more.”
Miller added, “I want to say something positive about Margaret Fitzgerald. She was frequently my only supporter and backed me in my objections to secrecy. I think she is a good person and I wish her well. I don’t know June Solla as well, but what I do know, I like. I think she’ll be a good board member and I wish her luck and success.”
- New Board Officer Selection Produces Only One Change (emeraldlakesfreepress.com)
by Buz Whelan
Immediately following the Annual Meeting the Emerald Lakes Board of Directors met to select the officers for the new elective year. Alex Leslie was returned as board president. Earl Frank was renamed treasurer. Once again, Carmen Broadnax will serve as secretary. For the only change, Daniel Glasgow will replace Millie Bishop as vice president. Per the election the board has one new member, June Solla. Director Joe Miller was absent from the reorganization meeting as well as the Annual Meeting. His absence fueled rumors of a pending resignation. Should this occur, Margaret Fitzgerald, the next-highest vote getter would automatically be elevated to the board. The bylaw change at the Annual Meeting mandating this came just in time for Ms. Fitzgerald. Under previous rules the board could select whomever they wished to serve as a replacement. The replacement, according to the bylaws, serves until the following Annual Meeting when the membership would select a candidate to serve out the term. In this case, with two years left on Miller’s term, the person elected next year would serve for one year.
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.
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)