Board President Mary Ann Hamilton
Birchwood on the Green
| Mary Ann Hamilton says that her experience as a physical education teacher has helped her enormously in a demanding job: serving as board president at Birchwood on the Green, her home since 1988. “Being a phys ed teacher, I think of us as a team. I don’t treat anybody differently, whether you’re my maintenance staff, my super, my property manager, or my landscaping companies.” Hamilton grew up in the town of Seaford, in Nassau County, and has three siblings, including a twin sister who lives nearby and two brothers who are twins of each other. Now retired and living alone except for a dog and two cats, Hamilton seems happiest when she’s busy. “I’m constantly walking the property and taking pictures,” she notes. “I look and say, ‘This tree doesn’t look good. This should come down. This needs to be fixed.’ I’m the liaison between the rest of the board and my property manager and the maintenance staff.” The 334-unit co-op sits on about 20 acres in Oakdale in Suffolk County, and has an unusual arrangement: there are seven members on the board, with two alternates.
Having alternates is a good way to satisfy a bunch of needs, right?
Definitely. We just had a new shareholder move in, who said, “I want to be on the board.” I said, “You’re more than welcome to come on as an alternate.” She’s the second alternate, because sometimes, when we have the election, we have more candidates than we need. And circumstances happen in people’s lives, and they have to leave, so it’s better to have somebody there as an alternate. It’s almost like they’re in training. They don’t get to vote, but we do listen to their suggestions and their ideas. For their part, they learn how the business runs, because it is a business, which a lot of people don’t understand. The president serves a three-year term, and the vice president, treasurer, and secretary serve two-year terms. The rest of the board members serve for one year. It’s good because you don’t swap out a whole board.
Why do you serve on the board?
I’m devoted to community service. My dad was a New York City policeman and my mom was a lieutenant in the Navy.
How did you get elected?
Some of the people in my little area felt we weren’t being listened to by the board, so I did a presentation to the board members. That was about 10 years ago, and then they called up and asked if I would like to be on the board as an alternate. But by the time the first meeting came up, the secretary had left, so they moved me right into that position. Being on the board is totally different when you’re just a member compared to being an officer, like the secretary or the vice president. Being the president – which I’ll have been three years, this May – is almost like you’re working 24/7. I’m constantly text-messaging with my super and with my property manager, Jodi Sarisky at Midboro. I know more about landscaping and sewage treatment plants than I ever expected to, simply because I want to learn. I ask a lot of questions.
You have something called a shareholder’s handbook. What’s that?
It’s a book of rules. It took us 18 months to redo it. It was a lot of collaboration. I think it came out really well. We went rule by rule and said, “OK, since these rules were made up, things have changed. Let’s look at them.” For instance, we had a one-dog rule, and the dog had to be under 30 pounds. I said, “Some people have two dogs, and between the two of them they weigh over 30 pounds.’’ That is the biggest challenge: trying to get people to follow rules. You need rules so that you don’t have chaos.
What is the most rewarding thing about being on the board?
That I go to sleep knowing that I did the best job I can. Over the years, each president has done their job. I could do it the same way or differently. I tend to take the bull by the horns and run with it. I accept my responsibilities.