Tom Soter and Bill Morris in Board Operations on September 20, 2012
Paul Morejon had no experience taking meeting minutes or preparing agendas when he was tapped last year to become the secretary of his new 115-unit co-op in Harlem. The learning curve has been steep.
"Since we're a young board, we had to feel our way," says Morejon, who works as a web and social-media developer. "We were guided by our property manager, Lynn Tiews, and the sponsor, Gale Kaufman. They kept reminding me that minutes are not supposed to capture the meeting word for word; they're about summarizing the discussion and recording the decision, if there was one."
After each meeting, Morejon also produces and distributes an "action list." Says he: "It's information that's useful to shareholders. For instance, it lets them know we're buying patio furniture for the courtyard. We don't include discussions on the budget, or personnel discussions. The financials are revealed at the annual meeting."
Morejon likens the secretary's job to being a traffic cop. "We had to learn that the minutes and the agenda are there to keep us honest and to keep us moving forward," he says. "Thanks to the minutes, we aren't constantly kicking the same ideas around and revisiting them." He has one more word to describe the job. "I think the role of secretary is thankless."
Carolyn Hahn agrees with others that "nobody wants to be secretary." She has been secretary of her 136-unit Upper West Side co-op since 2002, interrupted by a two-year stint as president. "You have to pay attention and you can't coast. Writing meeting minutes is a good training mission. It forces you to listen and figure out what's got to be covered. It's not creative writing — it's a business — but I've learned to be concise because everything can wind up in the pages of the New York Post."
Hahn's workload was lightened considerably last year when the board hired Cooper Square Realty, whose management services include taking minutes at board meetings. The lighter workload hasn't changed Hahn's philosophy.
"I didn't think of the minutes as my thing," she says. "I think of it as a tool for the board and the building. If you're going to do it, do it with an open heart and do it well. And leave out the acrimony."
Ron Brawer served as secretary of his Flatiron District co-op's board for nearly two decades, beginning in the pre-computer dark ages, when he had to write meeting minutes and agendas longhand.
"It was a more casual kind of note-taking than is now the norm," says Brawer, a screenwriter and Emmy Award-winning music director who moved into the seven-unit loft building in 1975 and became the board's secretary after the conversion to a co-op in 1981. He held the post until 2000 and still sits on the board, as do all seven of the building's shareholders.
Like other secretaries, Brawer, the husband of actress Tonya Pinkins, learned during those years of service that some things are better left out of the meeting minutes. "Some things are omitted because there's an awareness that they'll be seen by a potential buyer, or that they might get subpoenaed for a legal proceeding," he says. "You need to be careful that things don't come back to bite you."
His philosophy, in its essence, is simple: "Keep the important things in mind. If there's a discussion about people leaving things in the hallway and people get excited and angry — you don't need to get into all the 'he said/she said' stuff. Try to keep the emotional issues out."
And how do you do that? "By sticking to the facts."
Photographs by Tom Soter and Jennifer Wu
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