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Fact Or Fiction – Or Revisionist History?

GOSSIP GIRLHow do you know what’s going on in your building? It’s not as easy as it seems.  High Rise Society is a little like high school.  If you belong to the in crowd, information gathering is as easy as stopping a board member in the hall. But if you don’t, the task can be a lot more challenging. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be, just confronting the reality of how it sometimes is.

So what can you do?  Start with the minutes.  Even if your leaders won’t tell you what they’ve been up to (and they shouldn’t disclose confidential information), the minutes should tell you what’s been going on at their meetings. That’s why they’re the first thing buyers’ lawyers look at to be sure there are no surprises that could quash the deal.  Even after you’re in, you should continue the practice because what you don’t see can be as revealing as what you do.

“Sorry,” the voice at the other end of the line says when you call to make an appointment to come to the office and read the minutes. (No, they’re not required to deliver them to your door or email them.) “We can’t find them.” This is exactly what some owners recently called to tell me they were told when they asked to see the past three years’ worth.  Unless a meteor struck earth at the very spot where your building’s data was stored, this isn’t an answer — though it may be a preview of what’s in store.

Maybe it’s just a few months that are missing.  “We lost our minutes,” someone recently confessed to me.  “I didn’t like the old ones anyway,” he said, “Can I replace them with new ones that have lots of good stuff about my enemy.” What do you think?

 Hopefully, you’ll be told, “Come on down.”  But you may be surprised by what you find. In theory, minutes should provide an accurate account of what happened at board meetings.  But in High Rise Society theory and practice can part company

“We have to sanitize the minutes,” I’ve been told more than once.

 “We’re running a corporation, not a criminal enterprise,” I say.

“Well, we can’t use names,” I’ve been warned.

“Why, are you in a witness protection program?” I ask.

 “No,” they look at me as if I’m brain dead.

 It’s just that I think constituents have a right to hold their chiefs to account and how can they do that if they don’t even know who voted for what.  I hope your building is not controlled by a paranoid cabal, because if it is you won’t find out much from the minutes.

You may on the other hand, learn more than you ever wanted to know. I’ve seen minutes that read like they’ve been ripped from the National Enquirer, laced verbatim with juicy exchanges. Even if every word is true (which you’ll never know) they all belong in therapy, not on the board, if they don’t know enough to know that minutes aren’t the place to settle scores.

history_logo390The only thing potentially worse than fighting words, are no words. Sometimes there’s such division among members that it takes months to agree on what the minutes should say, by which time they’ve probably forgotten what happened at the meeting, not that it matters because if it’s taking that long it may be because they’re busy revising, rather than recording, what happened.

And you thought getting the facts was as easy as a little light reading. Welcome to High Rise Society.  Stay tuned for alternate avenues to information gathering.

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