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The 27-Minute Meeting

Melvin Doby,Board President, Hilltop Village Co-op No. 1, Queens

Twenty-seven minutes. And then it was off to the coffee and donuts.

Twenty-seven minutes is the length of our last annual shareholders meeting. No kidding. I have been to meetings that lasted for several hours and been filled to the brim with heated discussions and name-calling. The secret to our success? Information.

Located in Hollis and Queens Village, Queens. Hilltop Village Cooperatives is a 55-year-old property consisting of 900 units divided into four sections. In Co-op No. 1, there are two seven-story buildings with a total of 200 units.

I’m a retired New York City police officer who served just short of 30 years and retired soon after September 11, 2001. I joined my co-op board about ten years ago and, after a six-year stint as vice president, became president. When I came on the board our buildings looked like they were 70 years old and there were no plans or money to make any improvements. After some major personnel changes, we set our sights on bringing our buildings into the 21st century.

The first order of business was to make sure that all shareholders were informed and stayed informed on all changes that we planned. When I first moved here communication between the board and the shareholders was non-existent. My many years with the NYPD has been a great asset in teaching me how to communicate with and understand people.

We began a monthly newsletter that informed shareholders on everything from the proposed color of the new lobby floor and how much it cost to the twins born to the Smith family. We established an internet address and encouraged communication from the shareholders with a guaranteed response from a board member, the site-manager, or myself. We created a “Meet and Greet Your Neighbor Luncheon,” held on the last Saturday in June with outstanding success. Not only are we communicating with our shareholders they’re communicating among themselves. How great is that?

Almost every area of our property from the lobbies to the roofs and from the laundry rooms to the courtyard benches was upgraded. If I were to rate them over a five-year period, our buildings and landscape went from “Poor” rating to one that could be summed up for potential buyers as: “This place is great. Where do I sign up to live there?”

Sharing of information helped us when we had to make unpopular and difficult decisions to pay for all that work, such as adding a flip tax and passing assessments. Because we had put the information out there, our shareholders were more understanding, coming up to us and saying, “Although you raised our maintenance through the roof, the lobbies and hallways look great.”

Communication is not only verbal it can be visual also. We as board members must speak to our shareholders and they must speak to us and everyone must listen. I know it’s hard increasing maintenance to pay the outrageously high energy and insurance costs and the average shareholder has no clue why. This is when visual communication comes into play. Visual communication is when shareholders see things being done like new door locks and better lighting in and around the property. It doesn’t take or cost a lot sometimes for people to see progress. As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

A well-informed shareholder is a great asset to a co-op and its board, and it is up to the board to keep them informed. We are not going to make everyone happy. But at least they won’t be surprised.

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