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Having Trouble Passing a Referendum? Simplify, Simplify.

Gilbert Kunken, President, 66 W. 94th Street and 689 Columbus Avenue in Board Operations on May 9, 2013

66 W. 94th Street, 689 Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side

Gilbert Kunken. Photograph by Jennifer Wu.
May 9, 2013

Now, I don't have any scientific analysis to say exactly why this happened, but I do think it's possible that there is a natural resistance to major change, that there is always suspicion about change and that there is voter apathy in terms of getting people to turn out. We had about 150 people voting on the bylaws, but there were about 230 apartments that could have voted.

We changed strategies in the third year. We took a look at our priorities and said, "What are the most important issues to us? If we can only get a couple of things, what will we choose?" And the majority of us felt that board member eligibility requirements and decreasing the size of the board were the two most important things. We also believed that those were the two things that would resonate the most with people in the building.

Paring to a Pair 

We simplified the bylaw revision proposal to just those two things. We also made a decision in year three to say, as far as eligibility goes: "Okay, you have to be current with your finances, period, the end." We coupled that with the revision regarding the size of the board; we argued that a smaller board would be more effective. 

And, lo and behold, the revisions passed. We needed about 117 votes. We passed the amendment by 121 to 10. We think that to pass a bylaw revision and get only 10 dissenting votes is quite remarkable.

In the bigger picture, I think that by simplifying what we were asking for and making it clear why the changes benefitted everyone probably brought along some votes that we hadn't gotten in the past. When you are only presenting two major things to the residents that you are asking them to vote on, it really simplified things for people. They weren't looking through multiple pages of documents with word changes. That tends to make some eyes glaze over.

You have to build consensus. You are not going to get everything, and I think if you go in with the attitude that a decent-size slice of the pie is better than no pie at all, it increases your chance of success.


Photograph by Jennifer Wu

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