New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Hiring: When Boards Bow to Mob Rule Instead of Making Informed Decisions

Bill Morris in Board Operations on July 25, 2013

New York City

Illustration for HABITAT by Liza Donnelly
July 25, 2013

When this co-op's longtime doorman was let go after years of sloppy work, the porter, with 10 years of experience in the building and a high level of respect from the shareholders, put in a bid for the doorman's job.

"It clearly was a popularity contest," says a co-op board member who spoke on condition of anonymity, noting that she considered the porter's shaky English skills inadequate for the job of doorman. "Who should get the job," she went on, "someone who's been in the building for years, or someone who's qualified for the job?"

"An Invitation to Chaos"

A group of "unruly" shareholders sprang into action, getting one-third of the building to sign a petition in favor of hiring the veteran porter as a doorman. "What they did was an invitation to chaos," the board member notes. "It's not up to the shareholders at large to make these decisions. It's up to the board, with the managing agent's advice."

But the board wound up bowing to popular sentiment and hiring the porter as doorman on a 60-day trial basis. "No disasters yet," says the board member, "but it hasn't been 100 percent satisfactory." In one instance, the new doorman was unable to understand the word "perishable" on a box that was delivered to the building, and the contents wound up spoiling.

Did the board member learn a lesson from the experience? "We should have had our candidate in place before the shareholders got their petition drive going." 

Boards need to remember that they have the legal authority to make decisions on hiring and firing staffers, and smart condo and co-op boards rely on internal debate and the advice of their property managers — not on the sentiments of fellow shareholders and unit-owners.

What to Do and Say

Bram Fierstein, president of Gramatan Management, says: "If a staffer is terminated or doesn't get promoted and residents ask questions, we tell them that personnel issues are the board's job, and we don't discuss them. The board and the managing agent should know who's efficient and who's not." 

The manager advises co-op and condominium boards that it's often the "right political move" to interview current staffers when a vacancy opens in the building — even if the board is looking on Craigslist or elsewhere for outside applicants.


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Illustration by Liza Donnelly. Click to enlarge.

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