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Who Should Run for the Co-op Board?

Michele Cardella in Board Operations on February 8, 2019

New York City

Cardella: Prez & I
Feb. 8, 2019

When socializing with other shareholders, I sometimes launch parlor games about our co-op. During a round of “Who Has Guns in Their Apartment?” or “Which Apartment Is Going on the Market Next?” we end up revealing more about ourselves than our neighbors – unless we get to the least interesting of these games, “Who Should Run for the Board?” It’s not that we lack qualified contenders in our 24-unit building. The nominee pool is limited largely because, with rare exceptions, each couple in our building has only one designated candidate. 

In my apartment, that person is my husband. 

It’s the right call. My husband works better with others than I do. He can wade through all sides of an issue (no matter how unreasonable) and craft resolutions that take into account everyone’s desires (no matter how self-indulgent) and finances (no matter how obvious their recreational spending). These traits have proven essential to maintaining peaceful coexistence among our assorted seniors, singles, and young families who purchased their units many decades and dollars apart. On the other hand, when it comes to building matters, I prefer to take the shortest route to what I see as the obvious solution. This makes me an excellent choice for a one-person board in a one-unit building with unlimited funds. 

In our apartment, my husband and I try to optimize our different approaches to problem solving. He takes the lead when diligence is required (like reading the fine print in a contract or scraping dried scrambled eggs out of an iron skillet without ruining it). I snap to in situations that require quick reflexes (like a burst pipe or unexpected dinner guests).

Still, it might surprise our neighbors to know that in private we are not always the people we seem to be in the lobby. This is especially true when it comes to money.

On the board, my husband is painfully cheap. He works tirelessly to spare shareholders even the most modest assessment for even the most necessary work. If I served, I wouldn’t apologize when our only elevator breaks at the same time we are replacing the water tank and doing Local Law 11 work. And I doubt I would try yet another patchwork repair in an attempt to squeeze a few more years out of an elevator that will need to be replaced before much longer – when it will only be more expensive. More likely I would push for an assessment and a new elevator. 

But in our apartment, the spending roles are reversed. I will kneel for hours on the kitchen floor trying to repair the dishwasher with instructions from a YouTube video while my husband offers his only home-repair advice: “Buy a new one.” He says the same thing whether I’m restringing window blinds or gluing together the pieces of a shattered bowl. In our apartment, I can’t bear to part with a dime while my husband walks around like Daddy Warbucks

Assuming the other units in my building are inhabited by people who are equally riddled with contradictions, when it comes to deciding which member of a couple should serve on the board, it seems that the better choice is the person who is more frugal with other people’s money. But it’s more than that. While in the right setting I am equally capable of penny-pinching and getting stuff done, I do not remain calm the way my husband does. And I definitely do not have his ability to generate support. When something goes wrong in our building, he so empathizes with shareholders that instead of complaining about having to walk up the fire stairwell, again, or shower without hot water, again, they are more likely to apologize to him for the extra work the problem has put on his plate. 

Maybe it’s time for a new game, “What Would Happen If the Other Spouse Was on the Board?” Then again, maybe not. Some insights are best left in the dark, even among friends.

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