Tom Soter and Bill Morris in Board Operations on September 18, 2012
Ed Torres is a certified public accountant, so he was a natural choice when the board at Park Lane North, a 204-unit high-rise co-op in Forest Hills, Queens, was looking for a treasurer. But Torres regards financial matters as only the beginning of the treasurer's job.
"It's not just about keeping an eye on the books and investments; it's also about supervising projects, estimating costs, making sure the funds are in place," Torres says. "I used to walk the hallways, walk the property, always taking notes. A few years ago, we hired an engineer to do a complete review of the building"
Thinking outside the box comes naturally to this board. One member owns a carpet-cleaning business, but he tapped his interest in technology to guide the installation of new security cameras. Another member who works in marketing helped the co-op build its website. An architect on the board got involved with projects to redo the roof and hallways.
"Most of us have certain expertise, but we also do other things," Torres says. "This board is very active, very hands-on. We're looking to improve amenities while keeping down costs — and that requires a hands-on approach."
Marti Dressler used to run a ballet studio, so she knows a thing or two about how a business works. But she's not an accountant. So she isn't shy about asking for help when doing her job as treasurer at The Normandy, a 128-unit co-op in Forest Hills, Queens.
"There are two CPAs on the board who have more experience with numbers and financial details than I do," Dressler says. "I go over the books very carefully to make sure we're not paying too much, and I trust the CPAs to make sure the financials are balanced. If they see something, they bring it to the table. We don't miss much because we don't rely on one pair of eyes."
In years past, says Dressler, officers on the board tended to stick with their assigned roles. But as new people with different expertise came on the board, the exchange of knowledge and ideas opened up.
"Now it's more of a sharing process," Dressler says. "We work together as a team instead of compartmentalizing. Everyone feels responsible for the financial well-being of the building, and we question each other when we don't understand something. We have a dialogue."
They key to Dressler's philosophy is overcoming fear: "I was never afraid to ask someone with more experience for help."
William Slobodsky has been a resident of Park Plaza, a 440-unit co-op in Rego Park, Queens for seven years. In the spring of 2010, Slobodsky, who works as an accountant in a law firm, joined the board as treasurer. The co-op has not had a maintenance increase in three years, a dream that, this treasurer realizes, cannot last forever.
"It's a juggling act to get the work done but make sure money is coming in," says Slobodsky. "We're going to talk to the property manager and shareholders soon to figure out how to replenish the reserve fund. You're trying to keep the majority of shareholders happy, but you also have to think about the building's long-term future. You can't keep the maintenance level forever."
The best way not to drop the airborne juggling balls, Slobodsky has discovered, is for board members to be specific about their expectations.
"My philosophy is to set goals and deadlines," he says. "If an employee knows what's expected of him and how long he has to do it, he's going to react differently.
Photographs by Tom Soter and Jennifer Wu
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