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Total Recall

Removing elected officials before their time, isn’t easy. Remember that California gubernatorial election back in 2003.  Gray Davis was the first governor recalled in that state’s history, and only the second in U.S. history.  It’s probably harder to get rid of directors in High Rise Society. The folks in California only need signatures of 12% of those who had voted in the past election. In most buildings, you have to get anywhere from 25-50% of your fellow owners to sign onto a petition just to call a special meeting for removal.

So I wasn’t altogether surprised when I picked up the phone recently, and a dejected voice announced, ”We lost.” I knew she was referring to the vote that night to remove their co-op’s directors.  No need to get into the gory details, other than to say there were questions about where board members were when money apparently was siphoned out of their bank accounts. Not a pretty picture.

The climax was a long time coming. First rank and file owners had to get sufficiently riled up that they finally decided they couldn’t just move forward but had to look back and clean house. (See, Let’s Move Forward.) Then the idea had to coalesce into a movement and the movement had to generate insurgent leaders and the insurgents had to decide what to do, which led to a lot of internal dissention causing the group to almost split apart till they realized it was better to unite against their common enemy than fight each other.

Not being trained revolutionaries, it took them several tries till they got the petition right.  Only instead of sending out the notice of meeting, the powers that be in their building sat on it.  No one wants to have a proxy contest during the holidays, they said.  And when the notice was finally sent out, they had converted the shareholders’ demand for a meeting to remove directors without cause, into one for removal with cause, which in my book isn’t kosher because it wasn’t what the dissidents demanded, and would only make it harder to get rid of those entrenched.

Rather than just conveying the message about the special meeting, which is all the Secretary is supposed to do, not that the stuff was even sent by the Secretary, those in control enclosed their own campaign manifesto, denouncing the very meeting they were legally obligated to call, and calling for their own retention. Talk about dirty politics.

I could go on, but there were too many mistakes to catalogue.

“Mistakes?” one of the insurgents laughed aloud at my naivete. “They did it on purpose,” an explanation so cynical it immediately made sense.

“They figure we’ll ask them to send out corrected notices and proxies, and that’ll only give them an excuse to drag out the process till after the annual meeting, which is exactly what they want cause they figure by then everyone will forget about it all and just re-elect them.  But we’re gonna call their bluff.

For a week, they went door to door soliciting proxies as if they were selling Girl Scout cookies, posted stuff on the bulletin board, only to have the other side take it down and put up their stuff.  Sound familiar. (See, The Bulletin Board.)

After the ballots were counted, the Old Guard was still in, aided by votes from a sponsor around after decades (a problem in lots of buildings).  But the insurgents had come so close that they vowed to take up their cause again at the annual meeting.

The moral of this saga: Don’t wait till revolution is at your door step to get involved.  No one wins that way.

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