Lee Berman: ‘Even directors are kept in the dark’

Dear Neighbors,

I know a lot of cooperators at East River are concerned about the lack of transparency here — how little explanation is given for maintenance increases, and how questions asked at our annual meeting are often deflected and ultimately ignored. But the hard truth I learned when I served on the board from 2009 to 2012 is even directors who ask questions are treated as trouble-makers.

Five years ago the co-op faced increased costs and a sharp decrease in flip tax revenue due to the real estate market’s downturn — in fact, for two years in a row the co-op ran a deficit because it spent more money than it earned. I thought we could do more to draw revenue from new sources and cut costs related to large contracts for regular maintenance. So I asked to review some basic records from management: invoices from outside contractors, an up-to-date list of commercial tenants, and parking and storage room lists and waitlists.

These requests were made to management over the course of my first two years on the board, and made more than once — but the records were never produced. I didn’t like being kept in the dark, but I gave our management staff the benefit of the doubt: they were very busy, and they were clearly not in the habit of fetching paperwork for board members.

Still, I persisted. When it came time to vote on a new budget in 2012, I made my request more forcefully. In response, I was told by the president of the board that I was not entitled to any of the records I had requested — no invoices, no contracts, no lists, no commercial leases: nothing.

Of course he was wrong. New York law gives a sitting director an absolute, unqualified right to inspect corporate books and records. Nevertheless, the board approved in April 2012, over my objection, a new policy whereby “all requests for documents and information” — such as mine — would be forwarded to management only at the discretion of the president.

Now I knew I was being kept in the dark deliberately, though to this day I still don’t know why.

I’m running for the board again not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but because I grew up here, I’m raising my own family here, and I don’t believe the status quo is right or prudent — nor do I believe that it is sustainable. By joining with other forward-thinking candidates and cooperators, we can preserve all the things we love about East River while strengthening our financial security and sharing information and ideas with openness and respect.

Let’s come out of the dark — vote for Peter Herb, Heather Hubbs, Don Mathisen, and me, and together we will reaffirm the guiding principles of cooperative living.

Cooperatively yours,

Lee Berman