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Ex-board pres: “No good deed goes unpunished”

By: Teri Karush Rogers

December 15th, 2009

Dysfunctional co-op boards are nothing new, of course, and Curbed alerts us today to a Dear John letter posted by a departing UWS board president on his blog.

“Even after my first year on the board, I underestimated the ferocity of the warfare, the conspiracies it engendered and the passivity of most of the seven board members,” writes the ex-president, who resigned before his two-year term had expired.

The letter depicts a board that has lost its ability to govern through consensus, a topic we’ve explored in The Downside of Power Plays.

“Some boards get into having alliances, with one group voting as a bloc, and ultimately when that happens the board loses and the building loses,” Roberta Axelrod, who sits on 10 New York City-area co- op and condo boards in her role as a sponsor’s representative for Time Equities, told us then. “It becomes more about one group versus another group, more about party politics than the good of the nation.”

To “no good deed goes unpunished” (the final words of the departing board president) we would venture to add a corollary: “Nice guys finish last on co-op boards too.”

It’s an unfortunate fact that those in favor of governing their multimillion dollar corporations through consensus are often out-shouted (or simply filibustered into submission) by neighbors sporting assertive personalities and splintered agendas.

According to a recent Cooperator article, the most common personal agendas have to do with parking spots, playrooms and grudges.

One way off the battlefield is to vote in a new board that can work together better, but that assumes sufficient political will and enough neutral, qualified candidates.

Another idea, for boards who can admit there is a problem, is to invite a facilitator to board meetings to let members air their concerns and grievances and keep discussions on track. The non-profit Safe Horizon Mediation Centers will provides facilitators at no cost.

One real estate lawyer recommends that dysfunctional boards embrace hundred-year-old parliamentary rules such as those laid out in Robert’s Rules of Order.

“One of the best things is that the rules allow you to make motions,” says attorney Adam Leitman Bailey in the Cooperator article referenced above. “It causes you to deal with issues. Here’s what you’re going to talk about. If you want to discuss putting in new windows, you make a motion and get a second motion to discuss the issue. You end by calling a vote. It allows a group who can’t get along to get along.”


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