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It’s Nothing Personal, But…

During the five years I have been on the board of our two-building, 234-unit co-op – three-and-a-half as president – we have had many major projects. These have included the restoration of gas in one of our buildings, the construction of an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant handicapped-access ramp, and Local Law 11 façade work. Currently, we are working on four projects: the final phase of the façade work, roof replacement for both buildings, selected window replacements, and a new mailroom.

Despite the difficulty of being part of the management of these projects, which includes their financing, the most challenging situations I’ve ever faced involved personnel changes of our building staff.

Shortly before I became president, our superintendent of 18 years retired. The board established a search committee composed of both board and non-board members. After careful consideration, we decided that, from a managerial perspective, it would be better to hire someone from outside the property instead of promoting from within. When we made this decision, we considered the possibility that it might lead to disappointment among some of the staff and some of the residents who really liked certain staff members; however, we believed this to be the right course. We saw it as a way to introduce new ideas and a new work ethic.

I was elected president of the board right after we made this decision. I asked a former board president, Paul Ross, if he would accept the position of chair of the maintenance committee. Paul has been a tremendous asset to us in that position. We immediately established a weekly meeting with our new super and our property manager to help them better organize and track the work necessary for the proper upkeep and maintenance of our buildings, to plan special projects, and to offer any possible assistance in accomplishing our goals.

After about six months, we were assigned a new property manager, Jennifer Granda of Cooper Square Realty, who has turned out to be excellent. She has embraced the idea of the weekly site meeting and has been instrumental in helping us get maximum benefit from each one.

Largely as a result of this synergy, our new super was able to make the transition into our buildings quickly and effectively, thereby softening the blow of replacing a long-time employee. It also made it easier for him to deal with any morale problems stemming from our decision to hire from outside.

Breaking in a new super turned out to be only part of the challenge. After I became president, we discovered that a staff member was violating serious work rules. These violations led to his dismissal. He filed a grievance with the union, requesting an arbitration. After carefully reviewing our evidence, the union turned down his request for an arbitration, claiming that the termination was justified and proper. However, the problem we faced was with our residents, many of whom have lived here for many years and had grown very fond of this employee. The most difficult thing I have had to do as board president is stand before our residents at a lobby meeting to announce this employee’s termination. This was complicated by the fact that, at the time of the meeting, we did not know if there was going to be an arbitration or not; therefore, we had to be very careful about what we said. It is always difficult to fire someone, even when you know you should for all the right reasons. Fortunately, my colleagues on the board and I had earned the confidence of most of our shareholders, largely because of frequent and straightforward communication. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that credibility is the foundation of good leadership. When you have earned the confidence and trust of those you lead, even difficult and painful decisions can be better accepted.

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