Incumbent slate wins again

Votes were counted this evening and the results are not surprising: the slate of candidates with incumbents Gary Altman, Rachel Ehrenpreis, Larry Goldman, and newcomer Reuven Bell defeated three challengers, including Mary Jo Burke and Julian Swearengin.

Of the four winners, Reuven Bell received the least number of votes, so will be awarded a two-year term to fill out the term of Tommy Schlanger, who passed away this summer. Altman, Ehrenpreis, and Goldman each win a three-year term.

For kids: Corlears Hook holiday tree decorating party Saturday

This Saturday, kids from around the neighborhood have the chance to hand-craft decorations for the holiday tree in Corlears Hook Park.

Saturday, December 10, 2016
2:00 – 3:30 pm
Vladeck Houses Tenants Association Community Room
328 Madison Street (at corner of Gouverneur Street)

The holiday tree complements a menorah that has traditionally been set up in Corlears.

For more information email contact@FriendsOfCorlears.org.

2016-holiday-flyer

Annual report shows $3 million swing from surplus to deficit

A partial, unaudited financial report has been distributed to apartment doors this evening revealing a $3 million swing from last year’s $1.7 million surplus to a $1.4 million deficit this year. An additional $700,000 expense was amortized — ten times more than usual — presumably for last year’s costly laundry room repairs.

This represents the worst financial report for the coop in at least a dozen years.

2016-deficit

No balance sheet was included in the report, nor was cash flow statement included, as is normally the case. And the numbers were presented unaudited, more than five months after the close of our fiscal year.

I spoke with board member Lee Berman, who confirmed that he and other board members had not been able to review even these unaudited financial reports before they were distributed this evening. He wrote me, “The board does not always receive financials at its monthly meetings, and if the board is lucky enough to receive financials some random month, they are never provided in advance. Board members simply cannot exercise their proper fiduciary responsibilities to the corporation and to you the shareholders without this financial information, along with detailed analysis. It is inexplicable why the majority of board members do not find it troublesome that critically important timely detailed financial information is withheld from them, or from you.”

Berman also said that receiving these numbers less than 24 hours before our annual meeting makes it “impossible for [shareholders] to fully review and digest the material, or even afford them the opportunity to discuss it with their financial advisers so they could ask intelligent and informed questions regarding the finances at the meeting.”

Coop financials still a mystery

In our cooperative survey conducted this fall, 20% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the financial health of the coop, while 58% were very or somewhat dissatisfied. Considering that for many of us this is our largest financial investment, that number could stand to be improved.

What’s the source of that dissatisfaction? We didn’t ask that question, but I suspect it can be summed up in one word: mystery.

  • Our audited annual report is late again — even later than last year. That means that shareholders cannot adequately review the coop’s financials before voting.
  • The budget for the current fiscal year is late again — even later than last year. We’re now five months into the fiscal year that began on July 1, and the board is operating without a budget.
  • Last year’s budget was filled with inflated income meant to hide a looming deficit that board members did not want to have to address before the election. (Board members Lee Berman and Peter Herb wrote last year about that budget was passed by the board with only a cursory review.) Only after the election did the board acknowledge the deficit and raise our monthly maintenance.
  • The coop has no capital budget or reserve fund for large-scale repairs, meaning we could face an unexpected assessment the next time our aging infrastructure cracks.

This mystery would be easily dispelled if the board were to adopt a few new practices like pledging to release audited financials at least 30 days before our annual meeting and budgets at the start of the fiscal year. Using the directors’ occasional newsletter to report more substantive ongoing financial information would also help, as would a mid-year Q&A for shareholders.

Meet the Candidates tonight at 7pm

Tonight is your one chance to ask questions of the candidates for our board of directors.

Meet the Candidates

7:00 – 8:30 pm
East River Community Room
477 FDR Drive (section M)

You’ll be able to write questions on an index card when you arrive; questions will be screened by Ellen Gentilviso, who chairs the election committee. (Generally, she allows only questions addressed to all candidates, not to only one.)

Cooperatively Yours has endorsed Mary Jo Burke and Julian Swearengin, who will both be there tonight. You can read more about them here and sign a directed proxy for them here.

Change starts at home

Friends,

Last week’s election has affected us all in different ways. In many ways it was a reminder of all the values that are as appropriate to our coop as they are to our country — respect for individuals, elected leadership accountable to their constituents, and the power of voices, when raised appropriately, to be heard.

Many of us are feeling like we could have done more to help shape the future. Here is your chance – as the saying goes, “All politics is local.” You can still help shape the future of our community. Action for positive change starts at home.

We are running for the board of directors to open up communication with all cooperators — to ensure you are consulted and heard before maintenance fees are increased, before shareholders’ heirs become absentee landlords, before 8-foot tall fences are built, and before potentially inadequate planning saddles you with unexpected assessments. Our goal is to add relevant management expertise and fresh, new ideas to the existing board while increasing transparency into major decisions so that your voice is heard.

Please add your name to our campaign.

We just posted the complete results of our recent survey. You can see that the largest area of dissatisfaction among the hundreds of responses is the board’s lack of transparency and the board’s failure to seek input on major decisions. We agree with you! If we are elected, your opinions and input will be solicited, considered, and valued. The financial health of our coop is very important — but equally important is your enjoyment of living here and your satisfaction with the services we receive.

We plan to put just one letter under doors, signed by our supporters. Over a hundred cooperators signed our letter last year — let’s raise that number and show our neighbors that we are no longer willing to be ignored and intimidated.

Please add your name to our campaign.

There is so much we agree on. The diversity and affordability of our coop need to be protected and we want to facilitate an open, respectful conversation about the best way to achieve these goals. If you support us for the board, we will advocate fiercely for transparency, shareholder involvement, and substantive communication.

Cooperatively yours,
Mary Jo Burke
& Julian Swearengin

mary-jo-and-julian

Can we please have a civil board election this year?

A neighbor sent me an article last Wednesday about the election. No, not that election, this one — our upcoming coop election. This article quotes realtors and management professionals and even an attorney from East River’s own counsel about how coop board elections in NYC can get so dirty that what just passed for a presidential campaign would seem tame in comparison.

In one story, the managing agent ran off with the ballots to protect the incumbents. In another, two board members carried a playground grudge for decades. In another, a smear campaign against the board president led to accusations of Nazism and a defamation suit.

Sound familiar?

Since 2014, when our members urged us to run candidates to challenge the board incumbents, Cooperatively Yours has been a lightening rod. We’ve asked pointed questions, challenged coop orthodoxy, and exposed the thin skin of incumbents. We’ve also made neighbors feel harassed by flyers, turned peaceful gatherings into political rallies, and antagonized the status quo.

In return, the status quo has not sat still. They’ve smeared our candidates with anonymous flyers, belittled our efforts at dialogue, and mocked our defeat. In the end, many more shareholders are now participating in our annual election — a 40% increase in the past three years — but the whole thing feels dispiriting and ugly.

Will this year be any different? We hope so. We live here, just as you do, and we don’t want our elevators and lobbies and playgrounds to be places of malice and distrust. We will continue to ask questions, but we’ll try to lower the volume, and focus on the positive. We hope the other side sings a new tune too, and finds a more gracious way to win votes.

With that settled, I’m pleased to introduce you to our endorsed candidates for the board this year, Mary Jo Burke and Julian Swearengin. Mary Jo is an architect and a graduate of Columbia University’s Sustainability Management program. She served on the house committee and helped to establish the community garden behind building 1. Julian is an attorney and MBA with extensive experience serving on and advising corporate and non-profit boards. He also served a stint on the house committee here, helping to write the house committee newsletter and cooperator’s guide for new owners. They will both be keen advocates for transparency from the board and for greater opportunity for input from shareholders. Please give them your strong consideration.

If you’d like to support them, and Cooperatively Yours, you can do one thing right away: add your name to their campaign.

Footnote to history: Clinton won East River Coop

Precinct-by-precinct results from this week’s election show that Hillary Clinton was the clear winner over Donald Trump among East River precincts, though with only 77% of the vote — less than the city-wide average of 79% and the Manhattan average of 86%.

 ClintonTrumpJohnsonStein
Bldg 1 / ED 44468117910
Bldg 2 / ED 4544312137
Bldg 3 / ED 473137273
Bldg 4 / ED 463129555
Total15364052425

Memo: new intercoms, tall fences, and defense of unlimited sublets from Gary Altman

Board president Gary Altman, who is up for re-election next month, distribute an update about two new initiatives:

  • Lobby intercoms will be reconfigured to permit communication with any kind of phone, including cell phones.
  • 8-foot fences are being fabricated by maintenance staff and will be installed along Grand Street this spring.

Airbnb adIn addition, Mr. Altman again defended the board’s decision over a year ago to allow unlimited sublets. And he praised a new law in New York State that allows authorities to fine Airbnb hosts thousands of dollars. (Ironically, there’s an Airbnb ad on a phone booth on Grand Street that shows East River Coop in the background.)

Full memo below:
Continue reading Memo: new intercoms, tall fences, and defense of unlimited sublets from Gary Altman