Marianne Schaefer in Board Operations on June 11, 2020
The 980-unit Morningside Gardens co-op in Upper Manhattan went ahead and held its annual meeting on May 19 despite the pandemic. The 2,000 residents did not gather in person, but the meeting was held virtually on Zoom with 31 participants, including the board, management, accountant, several staff members, a few committee chairs and the attorney.
“I heard that other co-ops postponed their elections,” says board president Tiana Norgren. “I think that’s foolish, because they’ll end up doing the same thing we did, they’ll just do it later. It’s not like anything will change and people will be gathering in person later in the fall.”
To keep order during the meeting, shareholders submitted their questions beforehand, and the 31 participants could talk when Norgren called on them. “We answered about 40 questions,” Norgren says. “Often, several people had submitted the same questions, so they were grouped together, and we would read out the names of the people who had asked that question.” Since the meeting was recorded and shareholders can access the video when it’s convenient for them, they were not beholden to show up in person at the exact date and time of the meeting. “I’m quite pleased, despite this new strange world we’re living in, that we could keep things on track,” Norgren says.
The 11-member board was already holding virtual board meetings via Zoom and had discovered its many advantages. Before the pandemic hit, board meetings often lasted late into the evening and forced the professionals to commute home late at night. Now they attend without leaving home.
“The other advantage we have seen is that it’s so easy to share a document on the screen when we’re working on the wording of a motion,” Norgren says. “You can just put it up there and play around with the wording. That’s really easy to do.”
The board election was also done virtually. At a separate event, the candidates presented themselves virtually, and again the questions were submitted beforehand. Shareholders could vote online or fill out paper forms, which could be dropped off in a ballot box at the management office or mailed to the Honest Ballot Association, the company that oversaw the voting. Proxy voting was done via regular mail. A quorum was met, and online votes outnumbered proxies by almost three to one.
“We send the package to proxy voters, and co-ops and condos can save money by not doing the mailing to everybody,” says Linda Gibbs, president of Honest Ballot. “If people can vote online, then it’s perfect, then you don’t have to do any mailing. But some residents in co-ops and condos don’t want to do that because they don’t have a computer, smartphone or tablet. Or they just don’t trust the technology. That’s when we send out the package.”
Even though Morningside Gardens is a NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community), Norgren did not receive any complaints from elderly shareholders over difficulties with the technology. However, Gibbs thinks that other co-ops could run into such a problem. “A lot of these elderly people might not vote or participate virtually,” she says.
While Gibbs and Norgren both see numerous advantages to virtual annual meetings and elections, they also acknowledge the drawbacks. “There are some aspects where a gathering is just nicer,” Norgren says. “For instance, we do these staff awards. Last year we congratulated a person who had worked here for 50 years. There was a sustained standing ovation for one whole minute. It was very emotional. You cannot replicate that in a virtual space.”
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