Board president Leslie Siegel
Grover Cleveland Tenants Corp.
Forest Hills, NY
Leslie Siegel has been the president of the Grover Cleveland Tenants Corporation, a cooperative, for three or four years. “I’m not sure,” she says with a laugh. “Time seems to fly very quickly.” Married, with two grown children, Siegel spends her days teaching preschoolers. Once a month, she attends the Presidents Council, a local Forest Hills co-op/condo membership organization, where, she notes, “board presidents get together to discuss what’s taking place in the co-op/condo world, and to offer a referral system if you need a lawyer, a contractor, or a roofer.”
Besides those activities, Siegel is kept busy with various projects at her building, a 204-unit structure built in 1948. “Basically, we’ve [done] many renovations,” she reports. “We’ve added a gym. We [added] a seating area [in the courtyard] for the residents of the building. We built a new boardroom [that] we now rent out [to] people who want to have functions and need more space than their apartments can hold. We have the local public school [that] uses it as a book club, for instance. They meet once a month or once every other month depending on their schedule.
“We also have done renovations to the property itself. We have a tremendous building, so we’ve done more landscaping. We also take part in the free tree giveaway program, which the city [sponsors]. Every year, they give away about 250 trees to buildings. We’ve [participated and] acquired trees to plant on our property. We’re very proud of that. As a board, we also write a [monthly] newsletter [for] the residents to discuss what’s taking place in the building.”
What’s the makeup of the building? What kinds of people live there?
I think it’s representative of New York City, from every walk of life. We have people who were here when the building first went co-op, so we have an older population. We have a new population of people who are young professionals who have moved into the building. We have single people who are looking to establish some kind of equity rather than renting. We have young families. We opened up a playroom in the building as an amenity. This way, they have a room set up with toys for young families. Nannies can go [there] if they’re babysitting for children. It’s a nice, safe environment. We’re really representative of the city itself, all ethnicities and everything else.
Why did you first get on the board?
I attended the annual meeting. Everyone in the building is invited to listen to what’s taking place, what the future projections are for the building, and everything else. There was a discussion taking place, and I really didn’t like what they were saying.
I stood up and asked for more accountability. It became banter back and forth with [members of] the existing board at that time. The lawyer for the cooperation said, “Well, if you’re not happy, you should run for the board.” The next thing I knew I was nominated to run, and I was elected. That’s how I got on. I became president after the first year.
What did you do when you first came on the board? What was it like?
I learned [what takes place in] the running of the building. Most people really don’t realize what’s involved. It’s like running a business. You have different decisions you have to make. You have to deal with all the residents and their personalities, as well as the contractors, the super, management, and everything else that happens to take place.
During the day, you teach?
I have a nursery program and a UPK – the universal pre K program – established by the city. I do both. It’s in Forest Hills as well. I’ve been teaching for [more than] 20 years. But when I graduated college, there were no teaching opportunities available. I worked as a computer research analyst. Then I had two children. Afterward, I went back to teaching.
Did you like doing research work?
I thought it was very interesting. In those days, [we didn’t have] the computer systems we have now. No one had iPads and iPhones. The technology was these huge mainframe computers. It was very different [from] the world that we’re living in today.
Did you learn anything there that helps you to deal with people on the board?
I think it helps you establish a foundation [for] dealing with people in general, whether it’s on the board [or not]. When you’re doing a merger acquisition study, you’re dealing with all different types of people. When you’re on a board, you’re dealing with all the different personalities as well.
How about teaching the kids? Has that prepared you in any way?
In the classroom, there are rules we establish to teach them to work as a [cohesive] group, [and] if there are any kinds of disputes, how to solve them. We’re teaching them basic life skills that they need to succeed later in life. [When we put in a gym], we formed a committee to see what kinds of equipment would be needed, what [the committee] would recommend for it, [and] how to go about building the gym itself.
It’s no different with children. If the children are building with blocks, they have to work together to figure out what they’re going to build, how they’re going to build [it], how they’re going to interact with one another. It’s [a similar situation] on a very different level.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to travel. I love to read. I’m always busy. I love the theater. In fact, this past vacation, my husband and I saw four shows in one week. I like to read the current bestsellers, both fiction and nonfiction. Every morning before I leave for work, I read the newspaper cover to cover.
Do you ever find it’s too much? Do you ever think about stepping down?
I don’t find it to be too much. I have a wonderful board – very cohesive – [and] we work beautifully together. Everyone who [serves] on [it] really works for the betterment of the building. We work by majority vote on our particular board, and so we can go back and forth on certain issues. Tonight, we have a meeting and a screening for someone who is a potential buyer into the building.
What advice do you give others who want to serve on the board or are starting service on the board?
My advice would be to be active in your building, to be a cohesive group, to work together for the betterment of the building, to [urge] management to make recommendations to the board. Ultimately, the final decision is the board’s, but it’s nice to deal with people who are involved.