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Is This the Perfect Boot Camp for Co-op Boards?

Bill Morris in Board Operations on June 17, 2019

Lenox Hill, Manhattan

Gerry Maughan

Gerry Maughan, former politician, on the roof of his Lenox Hill co-op (photo by Bill Morris).

June 17, 2019

Gerry Maughan may have discovered the perfect boot camp for co-op and condo board members. Maughan, 66, a retired financial executive, spent nine years on the town council in suburban Park Ridge, N.J., listening to his constituents and making sure the town ran smoothly, handling everything from budgets to garbage pickup to tax collection. 

“You learn to adjust and be flexible,” Maughan says of his brief political career. “It’s not about telling people what they want to hear; it’s about doing what’s in the communal interest. You do the right thing, which is why people elect you, then re-elect you.” 

Today, as board president of the 137-unit co-op at 401 East 65th Street in the Lenox Hill section of Manhattan, Gerry Maughan, snowy-haired and ruddy-faced, is putting those political lessons to good use. One of the keys to his success – and the success of his four fellow board members – is that they view themselves and their neighbors, correctly, as fellow owners of a corporation. While some attorneys advise boards to keep as tight a grip as possible on corporate documents, this board leans in the opposite direction. 

“Everybody’s a shareholder, and they’re entitled to have their voice heard,” says Maughan, who grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, with four siblings, playing stickball and hoops while their father worked in advertising on Madison Avenue and their mother kept house. “What the board knows, within limits, shareholders should know. Personnel matters and lawsuits are confidential, but finances, operations, the building’s condition – these things are publicly available. People want to hear that kind of stuff. And we want an environment where people drop the veil a little bit and stop in the hallway to talk.” 

Maughan met his wife, the former Joanne Heintz, at a summer camp in the Catskills. After raising their three kids in the suburbs, the couple, who both worked in finance, wanted to stop renting and own a home in the city. They confronted the age-old question: co-op or condo? 

“There’s a lot more freedom in a condo, and that can be appealing,” says Maughan, who earned a business degree from Villanova University after graduating from Jesuit-run Brooklyn Prep, now closed. “But a co-op offers less volatility and turnover. This building’s a community, and that’s what we wanted – a population that’s a mix of professionals, families with kids, retired people like us. Also, it’s well maintained and has a healthy reserve fund.” 

After moving into the co-op in 2007, Maughan hit it off with board president Carol Schwartz and wound up succeeding her in 2014, with backup support from his wife. “We thought, who better to look after the money than us?” Maughan says. “We have financial acumen, and we can look around corners. You don’t have to be a CPA to serve on a board, but you have to have a certain level of expertise to understand how funds flow, and if you’re operating at a deficit.” 

This co-op is not operating at a deficit, thanks to a 5 percent assessment that was instituted in 2012 – and then extended with the approval of shareholders. That is not a typographical error. Maughan explains the unusual willingness of his neighbors to pay more than the monthly maintenance: “People were surviving paying the assessment. When they saw the results and what they’re getting for their money – the added value – they were not inclined to complain.” 

What shareholders have gotten for their money, shortly before and during Maughan’s tenure on the board, is impressive. It includes a new gas-fired boiler, a gym, bike storage, hallway renovation, replacement of both elevators, an upgraded laundry room, and installation of a roof deck, site of a building-wide party every September after residents return from summer vacations. The boiler room and common areas are spotless, thanks to the six staffers and Juan Ruiz, the building’s super who has been on the job since 1984. Next up: renovation of the 1960s-vintage lobby. And after receiving an engineer’s report, the board is aware that the roof’s life expectancy is about to run out. 

Shareholders are made aware of such things by Maughan and the building’s property manager, Rebecca Farley of AKAM Associates. She sends out frequent emails to residents, while Maughan operates on the principle that nothing is trivial. “He likes to communicate things to shareholders even if it seems insignificant,” says Farley. “For example, we have individual electric meters for every apartment. When they were audited recently, Gerry let everyone know. Those little things make a difference.” 

It all goes back to those nine years on the town council in Park Ridge. “This isn’t just a building with four walls,” Maughan says. “You’ve got 136 neighbors, and they don’t feel isolated because we communicate and we have events and people get to know people. New York can be a rough place to live, but you can still look forward to coming home.”

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