July 27, 2013 Monthly Open Board of Directors Meeting
By Buz Whelan
Yesterday’s open board meeting was one of the most contentious of the year. After several months of relatively serene and compact meetings, the room exploded on a number of issues.
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
Under Old Business the manager reported that he is looking at used mowers and attachments to determine if we could save money without losing significant dependability by going that route.
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)