Election Update - Another Year, More Tricks by Kevin Wine, Oct 17, 2023, 1:11 AM, reply, branch, edit
I have been meaning to send a message 3 weeks ago, but a problem with Cablevision (email SPAM filter issues - long story) wasn't fixed until a week ago, and then I was busy with other projects in between. Sorry about the length - a lot has happened since the last communication. The executive summary is that I am still supporting the 3 candidate team of me, Anthony Blanco, and Zahid Khan, in spite of the problems the Board is creating for Mr. Khan. Details below.
The first attempt at the 2023 election is coming up on Tuesday, Oct. 24th. The Board sent a mass VOTE VOTE VOTE email on the 13th, but no further details were given as to the number of proxies/ballots received. Up until 2018, we used to provide weekly updates after the election key-holders would meet to check the mailbox. Usually there are about 100 proxies/ballots received by late October, and I assume it's the same this year, and the meeting will have to be adjourned.
For every election over the last 5 years, the Board seemed to come up with some new twist on how to manipulate the process, and this year is no exception. The first twist is that for the first time in 37 years, the mailing did NOT contain the candidate bios/profiles! I'm sure the cover story is "we are saving money on postage", but I bet the real reason is different. Did everyone receive the email copy? Did you notice one of the profiles was missing in the on-line version?
Secondly, for the first time in 15 years, they decided to NOT provide postage on the return envelope. We already discovered years ago that providing postage helped significantly with voting participation. I assume they Board knows this, and maybe wants to discourage participation?? Or at least drag out the election process.
Thirdly, one of the candidates had a question mark by their name on the ballot - Zahid Khan. What does this mean? On October 2nd it was revealed in the Board's mass email that an "unfortunate clerical error" had been made on the ballot, and that Mr. Khan is being disqualified from the election, and should not have been on the ballot in the first place.
As eluded to in the Board's emails, Mr. Khan is being disqualified for allegedly being delinquent. It turns out that Mr. Khan had offered a payment plan for the outstanding special assessment balance to the Association's attorney, Ms. Radom, back in August. After hearing nothing back in spite of repeated follow-up attempts, he assumed the plan was agreeable and sent money. Immediately prior to the candidate nomination deadline, Mr. Khan got through to someone at Ms. Radom's office and was told that everything was good. It is still unclear at this time as to exactly what failed in the communication, but apparently the Board was not aware of the payment plan or didn't consider it valid for some reason. There has been no further detail provided by either Ms. Radom, the management company, or the Board, again in spite of multiple follow-up efforts.
Since I am running in the election this year, together with Zahid Khan and Anthony Blanco, it is no surprise at all that even the slightest gray area concerning our qualifications is being scrutinized and exploited. The law is very clear (N.J.A.C. 5:26-8.8(c)3) that owners who are on payment plans must be immediately reinstated in standing, and be eligible to vote and run for the Board. The fact that Mr. Khan is on the ballot, with a question mark, and excluded from the candidate profile/bio package suggests there was some internal discussion and indecision on the matter. Although I still think this issue can and will be corrected, some damage may already have been done and the Board may have achieved its political goals.
In talking to Mr. Khan about the situation, I heard a very familiar story about repeated attempts to contact the management via phone and/or email to no avail. Phones are rarely answered, messages not returned, and emails not answered. To date, there was no effort made by the Board, the management, or the attorney to proactively reach out to Mr. Khan and resolve the matter. The only contact was a confrontation at the clubhouse by the Board President when he denied Mr. Khan access to the clubhouse for the candidate's night.
This is certainly not the way I would have handled things, and would have instead made an effort to contact the candidate, regardless of their affiliations, and at least figure out what went wrong and try to get it resolved. Clearly, the Association has no incentive to do this since they have a personal bias against this candidate as a result of his connection to me. The interesting takeaway here is that the Boards actions are once again consistent with its punitive, arrogant, conflict-seeking attitude towards the homeowners.
Irrespective of this issue, I will still be voting for all 3 of the candidates on our team. If further investigation demonstrates and confirms that the Association is in the wrong, this matter will be pursed legally. The Board should not be allowed to manipulate the process and arbitrarily disqualify candidates it doesn't like with no push-back.
All 9 candidate profiles are available on savethehill.org at:
On a related topic, the Board held the first Meet the Candidates night since 2018, on October 2nd. Our former Board President Mr. Zhou had zero interest in such events. The event logistics were awkward with the candidates in-person at the clubhouse but the homeowners present only via zoom. The room was not setup well and the audio clearly wasn't tested beforehand as it didn't work at all, and eventually a Board member's cell phone had to be used as the microphone. You would think after all these years of COVID and Zoom these issues would have been resolved. The entire event was recorded, but to date the recording has not been made available to my knowledge.
Although this wasn't quite the "Kevin bashing" event as some of the prior candidates nights (2017 sticks in my mind), there were still multiple accusations and attacks made against me in the form of anonymous "questions" with 30 seconds allotted for me to answer. So much for all the "moving forward" messaging from some of the Board members last year. It's just me that isn't supposed to bring up the past.... I see. It was very obvious that the "questions" were intentionally crafted to favor some candidates and attack others - so much so that this may be why they don't want to release the recording.
To address a few of the important topics, some questions related to the recent special assessment and the possibility of future special assessments. I know I have already talked about this in the past. After being deeply involved in the day-to-day maintenance of the complex, I had a clear picture of the things that could go wrong and possible future repairs. The chance of major surprises was low since resources were directed towards maintaining things to proactively avoid such surprises. Even when things did come up, we were configured such that handling them could be done efficiently and economically with internal resources. We didn't have to expose ourselves to exploitation by outside contractors. We had no special assessments during that time, and didn't plan on any. We worked very hard to find other ways of reducing expenses and were actively implementing those plans. Yes those plans cost money, but again there are ways of handling things that don't result in a heavy financial burden on the owners, if the leadership is willing to think outside their boxes. As I answered at the candidate's night, all the major catastrophic surprises are covered by the master insurance policy, and NO, I would not be expecting, promoting or supporting any future special assessments. In fact, I would circulate a bylaw amendment to require the board to get approval from the owners for any large future special assessments. What happened here last year was insanity from the twisted mind of a former Trustee (and others), and somehow the rest of the board (two of whom are running for election now) went right along with him.
Oddly, one of the questions directed towards me was regarding my ADR request submitted months ago to address multiple disputes including the special assessment. Such requests are not public record so it is interesting that an "anonymous homeowner" would know to bring this up. It turns out that I had resolved the outstanding balance nearly 3 weeks prior to the candidates night, and yet someone still decided to bring this up. Either their records are horribly out of date, or the Board was behind these questions and they thought this would further their agenda.
There seems to be considerable miss-understanding of the concept of a conflict of interest. The fact that I was on the board and employed administratively at the same time came up in another "question" with 30 second to answer. Potential conflicts of interest come up all the time - the issue is over their disclosure and whether there is material gain. It was well known that I was wearing two hats for those years. The board is free to hire all the relatives, friends, and business associates of itself it wants. The point is that those relationships must be made known, so the voting public can decided for themselves on whether it is an issue or not. I had no such hidden relationships with anyone. The ironic thing is that some are experiencing a false sense of security (or perhaps delusion) that the conflict of interest danger is long since past. This couldn't be further from the truth. Remember what happened last year? And where were all the COI crusaders over the prior 5 years?? I know for a fact that former President Zhou and his wife/employee managed dozens of units for non-resident owners (finding tenants, collecting rent, handling repairs, etc.). Were they providing this service for free?? Was there a "material gain" from the activity? Should this have been disclosed?? I also received some disturbing information, now from two separate sources, relating to the $2000 special assessment, but I am not in a position to confirm it so I shouldn't get into the details at this point.
The management company issue came up, again directed toward me I'm sure. The question was essentially how could the place possibly function without a management company. It was surviving fine from 2008 to 2018, with no management company and no attorney on retainer. As "irresponsible" as that may seem, we had low maintenance fees, no special assessments, community events, we kept the sprinklers working, the trees trimmed, the grass mowed, the snow plowed, the litter picked up, the streetlights working, there was a useful website, frequent community updates, no secret board meetings, we ANSWERED THE PHONE, and "ON & ON". The insurance premium didn't double, the buildings didn't collapse, and the property values went up. Several large-scale projects were underway, and all the problems were handled. And then a handful - and I mean literally 10 or 20 people - blew the whole thing up, and then tried, and still try, to blame the consequences of their destruction on me.
Their weapon of choice - more attacks on me for helping various owners over the years, and a few in particular. I had nothing to gain from any of that, and am not too sure what is being insinuated by their phrasing ".. to bail his friend out of jail.." In retrospect I should have avoided such intersections, just stay to myself, but that is not the nature of a such a leadership position. There is a whole other component to a board in this setting, beyond just "counting the beans". With a couple thousand people living here, and a staff, there is responsivity beyond just collecting their money or signing their checks. The decisions of the board impact peoples lives, in ways the board may not realize or even comprehend. This is not as simple as it might seem where everything can just be run as a stone-cold machine.
The Debate That Never Was
What I have witnessed in board output over the last 5 years is the total, 180 degree opposite of how it ran and what I was trying to do when I was there. I would not have given up on the original plan and hauled away the hill if it was going to cost us half a million dollars. With that kind of money to throw around there are other better/cheaper solutions. And if it really came down to a special assessment, I would never have tried to make that much money due in such a short amount of time. That is totally disconnected from reality to expect everyone to have $2,000 in their back pocket, and yet there is was - the output of 7 supposedly rational thinking "volunteering their time for the benefit of the community with the best of intentions" board members. How did that conversation even go?? We will never know, because it was all behind closed doors. I would never have assessed people in the first place without knowing what is was going to cost. And if it really did come down to the hill must be removed, I would have tried to manage that by hiring trucks, rent excavator, etc., and save the $200,000 contractor premium.
This years debate should be over the exact same thing that should have been the debate for the last 5 years - are we going make the in-house services model work, or are we going back to the management company/contractor/condo industry model. The board has been able to avoid that debate all this time by making me the debate, instead of the issue being the debate. They know they are on the losing side of the argument, so they do everything they can to avoid the argument in the first place. They shouldn't be allowed to get away with this. At the very least, they should be forced to have the debate, and I will continue to do everything I can to achieve that.
If they really insist on staying with a management company and contractors, then this board needs to be far more sophisticated and proactive than it currently is. The Boards needs to understand and recognize that the "industry" is not looking out for us - it's looking out for itself. We are a profit center for them - at the end of the day they are just interested in getting our money, and if no one gets in their way, that is precisely what they will do. We don't have another 5 years to train up a new batch of board members on this reality, re-learn all the old lessons yet again, while we sit here writing bigger and bigger checks. The time is up for them to find a "good" management company, if one even exists, if they really want to continue down that road. They are working in fantasy land if they think magically things are going to get better - the trend over the last 5 years has been the exact opposite. This reminds me of the board in 2004, where a very expensive and under-performing contractor was kept, at the insistence of one board member, against all logic and reason. If the board is dysfunctional to the point where it is incapable of reacting to a very obvious problem, then we have the wrong board. The problem with the contractor was resolved in 2008 when enough logical, rational owners finally had control of the board, and the contract was terminated.
I know I am writing mostly to supporters here, and those that really need to be involved in this discussion will likely never see it. The Board should be proactively encouraging interaction and discussion amongst the owners, but instead is working to further divide and polarize us. They are censuring comments and discussion they don't like on one of the on-line discussion platforms, they are creating private chat groups and excluding others, they are hostile to certain owners at the meetings, and doing a very good job of angering as many people as possible to further discourage volunteer participation. Anyone is free to register their email address on savethehill and receive these emails - I have never unilaterally removed anyone from the list. Anyone is also free to post messages directly on the site's home page.
I will conclude with addressing the relationship with the town. This is a complicated topic, with the full history and story needing several pages. Two of the factors impacting the Association's relationship have been conveniently overlooked by some of the other candidates. Remember the affordable housing lawsuit? When the town tried to capture over $10,000,000 of affordable owner equity when the plan expired in 2016?? Some of the new board members weren't here at that time. The Association sued and prevailed - the town did not have the authority to do what it was trying to do - a contract is a contract. But just like the Board here, the town did what it wanted to do anyway in the spirit of "if your don't like it, sue us". They weren't happy about how that worked out for them. Plus they had to cover our attorney fees. We had a very good lawyer (two words you will rarely see me write together). Secondly, some of the other candidates forget to mention (and I'm 100% sure they know about this) that me and another past board member, a few other Society Hill owners, and hundreds of other Piscataway residents were getting involved in local and county Board of Education, Party Committee, Town Council, County Commissioners, and even State Senate races. The party establishment did not approve of this - and was very upset that anyone would exercise their constitutional right to run for office in a primary or general election. Their reaction involved multiple and viscous personal attacks on many people I know, including Atif Nazir, one of our former Board members and former BOE member. The attack on Mr. Nazir was completely unwarranted - there is nothing on him, so they simply starting making stuff up. Sounds familiar. So the issues with the relationship with the town is not about the pile of dirt or the permit drama with Henry Hinterstein - this is about shutting down voices, quelling dissent, and remaining in power at any price.
I will end it there for now..
VOTE VOTE VOTE :)