There’s an old nickname for those who successfully serve on a co-op board: “member for life.” I was first elected to the board of my 21-unit cooperative in 1987, and except for a few years off in the 1990s, I’ve been on the board ever since. It’s not that board members enjoy dealing with shareholders, the city government, finances, lawsuits, and commercial tenants; it’s just that we have big enough egos – and enough on-the-job training – to think that no one else can do what we do.
But how do you explain someone serving on the board who doesn’t even live in the building? I don’t mean a sponsor rep or an investor. I’m talking about a former resident-owner who has sold his apartment and moved out but still serves on the board. A person like Peter Smyth, the longtime treasurer at Hastings House, an 18-building co-op complex in the Westchester County village of Hastings-on-Hudson.
“When I moved out, they asked me to stay as treasurer,” Smyth says. He had moved into Hastings House in 1983 with his wife and two kids, and a year later it became a co-op. Smyth, who was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, wasn’t seeking to join the board, but his upstairs neighbor, Bob Sharp, was on the board at the time and knew that Smyth worked as a mortgage broker. The board wanted a financial person because the original treasurer was moving out. “So they asked me if I’d be interested in the role,” Smyth says, “and since I do like to be involved in everything, I said yes.”
But why would he continue to serve after moving out? He has been effective at holding costs down – “we don’t go investing in any kind of risky assets,” he notes – and has also overseen the budgets for many projects, most recently a major garage repair. “It was still considered sound, but the engineer told us we should repair it,” Smyth says.
Smyth has strong thoughts about money. “We’ve only had two assessments in all the years that I’ve been there,” he says. “I think that’s rare for a co-op. Another philosophy I have is to pay down the primary mortgage. I know from my own experience some co-ops amazingly just never pay down the mortgage. Eventually, you run out of credit.”
Or maybe, just maybe, he continues to serve because he likes the property and the former neighbors who are among his current friends. “Being treasurer isn’t a great demand on my time,” he says. “And it keeps me in touch with people I knew from when I lived there.”
Or perhaps – with an accounting degree from Lehman College and a financial management degree from Pace University – Smyth, 64, simply enjoys the numbers game. After all, who gets excited over math puzzles like this: “Train A leaves the station traveling at 30 miles per hour. Two hours later train B leaves the same station traveling in the same direction at 40 miles per hour. How far from the station was train A overtaken by train B?” Smyth admits that when he runs across such puzzles he can’t help himself. He usually takes out his pencil and paper and figures them out. “I just love it,” he says, laughing.
He’s not treasurer for life. More like “Treasurer for Eternity.”