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When a Pastime Becomes a Passion

Angela Hirsch
Board President, 67 40 Homes Inc., Queens

What an incredible learning experience I have had! As president of my cooperative’s board of directors, hardly a week goes by when I am not faced with another issue, or find myself researching or communicating with those involved in the daily activities of our building. I jokingly say to the newbies on the board: “Behind every door is another story.”

And for me, it all started over 20 years ago with a loose window.

My husband and I had moved into the Saxony, a 100-unit property in Forest Hills, about 30 years ago. At some point, our windows kept sliding down, and the only way I could keep one open was to prop it up with a bamboo stick. This was, to say the least, frustrating. And although rumors of new windows had been heard for years, nothing seemed to be on the horizon.

I needed to find out what “they” were really planning, so I attended my first board meeting. Before I knew it, I had volunteered to serve on the board – a pretty new group at that time since our building had only recently been converted to a cooperative. And all these years later, I’m still at it, but now I’m doing the prodding and the planning.

My commitment is definitely a passion rather than a pastime. And it’s been a long – at times stressful but mostly fulfilling – series of challenges. I’ve made a lot of friends, and sometimes enemies, along the way. I am so very proud of all our innovations and accomplishments and relish the feeling of tremendous satisfaction when a neighbor compliments me on my endeavors and ideas – yes, not everyone complains! New windows were only the beginning of our improvements. I am at ease talking about boilers, roofs, landscaping, storage facilities, elevator upgrades, fuel and electricity conservation, the whys and wherefores of house rules, proprietary leases, bylaws, legal this and legal that.

You want to talk mice, bugs, air-conditioning brackets – or the lack thereof – graffiti, painting, lighting, signage? I know a lot. My chief regret is that continuing education credits can’t be awarded for serving as a board member – I could have earned an MBA by now! Why, I even study the building code and New York Law Journal, and is one of my most often-consulted internet links.

I will confess that my biggest disappointment was not being able to convince the majority of our shareholders to agree to a bylaw change allowing a flip tax. In the scheme of things, it could be a lot worse since our co-op is in excellent financial shape, and our assessment will just have to stay in place until we reach that magic “comfortable number” our accountant keeps telling us about. A close second, however, might well have been when I was told by the then-board members that I was off my rocker for suggesting that the garage tenants should paint their allotted space, and that we provide the paint! The garage still hasn’t been painted.

What lessons can be learned from all this? First and foremost, you must be willing to be a “doer” and not just a “talker.” If you want something done, do it yourself but remember the Golden Rule.

But now I’m really thinking it’s time to give up my role. I’ve been contemplating this for a while, talked about it with my long-suffering husband, and even plucked up the courage to tell the rest of our board members and managing agent. “The choice is yours,” they said, “but we’d like you to stay.” Most everything has been taken care of – for now – except I’ve got to keep pushing for those new tree pits, our sidewalks need fixing, there’s that water leak under the terrazzo tiles in the lobby, and, of course, we are embarking on our next Local Law 11 façade project.

Oy, the guilt!

Yesterday – as I always do at this time of year – I started writing the outline for the annual shareholders’ meeting speech. We’ve long since changed our bylaws to allow for a staggered board, and this year my position is up for election. I got to the part where I say, “And this year there are two slots to be filled. We have a volunteer to run again and…” After a few minutes of pondering, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything about my slot. So, what do I do?

I’ve still got another few weeks to agonize before the proxies go out. Should I stay for just one more year?


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