New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
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Happiness is a well-run committee.
Boards should know how to use committees to lighten their load.
I first became a member of my condominium’s board of managers three years ago, when the seat held by the sponsor representative became available after the sale of its last unit. As a new unit-owner, I was eager to make a difference and have an input on matters that affect my biggest investment.
What I didn’t expect was just how much work and time were required of a board member. Our monthly meetings were not only lengthy – often running longer than three hours – but frequently contentious and unproductive. There was simply too much discussion over minor issues. As a co-op and condo attorney, I knew that well-run committees were what we needed.
Committees to the Rescue
Since then, we have streamlined the process by creating committees to undertake some of the investigative legwork our many projects required. We initially established a gardening committee and a social committee, and we have recently added a buildings committee and a safety committee, each of them a standing committee. Though it was initially difficult to garner resident interest, the committees have not only relieved some of the time pressures on board members, but they have also created a bridge for communication between unit-owners and the board. The feedback received from these committees often results in quick action by the board, making the residents feel that they have a voice in their community.
We also established temporary committees to assist in one-time capital-improvement projects. For example, two years ago it was necessary for us to undertake a renovation of our three elevators. Under our bylaws, the financial commitment involved required a majority vote of the 262 residents. A special meeting was scheduled, and committee members chaired tables and stuffed goody bags in an effort to get out the vote. The hard work paid off. The required majority voted in favor of spending the money, and now the elevator renovation project is underway.
Not Always the Answer
A committee is not the answer to every challenge a board faces. We briefly contemplated forming a finance committee, then rejected the idea. While the board has a duty to keep sensitive information confidential, committee members do not. The possibility that the identity of owners in arrears would be disclosed or that the board’s business decisions would be undermined were risks that were too great.
For the most part, we have benefited from the committees we’ve established. But in a few instances, however, we have had to remove certain committee members. One had become overbearing and disruptive, which discouraged other volunteers from continuing to serve. Another was in significant arrears. To address these situations, we created a “mission statement” for each committee that includes rules of decorum and participation, which have been incorporated into our house rules.
Do It Right
The committee’s parameters should be clearly expressed to potential members from the start. A committee is created to provide counseling and advice for the board or to handle a task on the board’s agenda. But remember: any recommendation made by a committee needs to be approved by the board, and the board is not obligated to adopt or implement a committee’s suggestions. Committees are more effective when their charter and scope of work are clearly defined by the board.
I can say from experience that a streamlined committee structure makes board work easier. The formation of an effective committee of building residents and unit-owners – to address both ongoing concerns and project-specific matters – can be invaluable if they’re properly generated, guided, and governed. n
Michelle P. Quinn is a partner at the law firm Gallet Dreyer & Berkey.
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