It is one of life’s eternal questions: is it possible to have too much of a good thing? That question certainly can apply to the matter of long-serving board members: those individuals who get elected and re-elected term after term and have been in office since the Truman administration. And like most big questions, there is no easy answer. Every community is different and every board is different. There are, however, a few pros and cons that tend to crop up in nearly every situation where a board has one or two long-term members.
Accentuating the Positive
Perhaps the biggest benefit of having a cadre of seasoned board members overseeing one’s condo or co-op community is the fact that they have unparalleled institutional memory. “There is definitely a benefit having veteran board members,” says attorney Leonard H. Ritz of the Manhattan-based law firm of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. “Institutional memory can be invaluable. Veteran board members will know why particular building rules and policies came into effect, how recurring problems have been dealt with in the past, et cetera.”
Steve Greenbaum of the New York-based management firm MGRE agrees. “Long-serving board members really have an understanding of how a board works, what’s been going on, what needs to get done,” he says. “They are educated. They know the ins and outs of union roles. They understand payroll and every line item and financial statement. They understand the time frames of projects and what can get done. These board members know what they’re doing. It’s important to have someone with experience because it can be hard to train new board members.”
Bruce Cholst, an attorney and partner with the Manhattan law firm of Rosen Livingston & Cholst LLP, not only has worked with long-serving board members, he is one himself, having just been re-elected to a seventh term in his own Upper East Side 368-unit complex. “There is no substitute for institutional memory when it comes to board intent on certain actions that were taken and followed,” he says. Meeting minutes just do not do the job when it comes to painting a clear picture of the past and while former board members may still be living in the community, “it’s not the same as being there and being accountable to your fellow board members.”
Nothing, Cholst says, beats actually being on the job. “You gain experience by serving on the board,” he says. “You learn decision making. You get training on technical facets. It takes a long time to train a person, but by being around for a while, you get a particular feel for the idiosyncrasies of the building and the shareholders and how they react to certain things.”