My Time on the Board of Directors, Pine Valley Estates

On October 15, 2018, I offered my services on the Board of Directors of Pine Valley Estates, Valley Lane, Kingston, and was elected. Communication with the owners had been terrible, and I thought my experience would be useful in fixing the problem. Over the next few months, I concluded that the other two board members didn't want the problem fixed.

At the June 8, 2019 meeting, it became clear that I was being systematically blocked from making any useful contribution. I left the meeting, and the next day I resigned from the board.

After I left the board, the minutes of that meeting lied. They claimed that a vote was held before I left, which there wasn't, and that I voted in it, which I didn't. The August mailing also contained a set of "minutes" from the February meeting where no minutes were taken.

Lies in the official record are a serious matter, and I want it to be on record that they were lies.

Trying to improve communication

The reason I wanted to be on the Board was to improve communication. As I mentioned at the 2018 Annual Meeting, I have over a quarter century of experience as the Clerk of MASSFILC, a Massachusetts 501(c)(3) corporation. During that time, I have regularly sent out notices of monthly and annual meetings as well as minutes. I'm a professional writer and consider written communication one of my best skills.

Communication from the Board was minimal, and it was often abrupt, bordering on rudeness. One "Important Notice" (it doesn't have a date on it, but I think it's from 2017 or early 2018) listed prohibitions running onto two pages, including a fine schedule, saying only at the end, "We are sorry that we have to be so strict but appreciate your cooperation." The requirements were reasonable, but saying something up front along the lines of "working together to make this a better place" would have made it more palatable.

I don't think this was intentional rudeness, but it was an area with room for improvement.

The water situation could especially have used better communication. On July 23, 2018, a special assessment was slapped on us without prior warning. This is the kind of situation that needs to be handled with special care. Saying "We're sorry we have to do this" up front costs nothing. The biggest concession in the letter was "We truly thank you for your cooperation" at the end. Again, it's just something the Board didn't think of doing, but it should be done.

There had been a vacancy on the Board from a month or so before. One person besides me offered himself as a candidate, but he withdrew because he liked my credentials. I was elected.

The two members who continued in office were Lawrence ("Skip") Walker and James Morrissey. I thought they would welcome someone who could improve communication and that I could make that happen. Instead, I ran into stonewalling, shifting rules, and outright lies.

Getting started on the Board

After getting elected, I asked Walker and Morrissey to set up some orientation for me. This never happened. In fact, there was no meeting of the Board for the rest of the year. Communication was sporadic. The only time the three of us got together in one place was a trip to the bank for paperwork.

The condo association has no website, except for a long-abandoned one on WordPress.com which is badly out of date. For the sake of providing some basic information, I added a page to my website (the site you're looking at now). They're personal pages, with no official connection to Pine Valley Estates or the Board.

New Hampshire law requires quarterly open meetings of the Board.

Not less than once each quarter, and at such additional times as may be specified in the condominium bylaws, the board of directors shall, subject to the provisions of RSA 356-B:37-d, hold an open regular meeting during which unit owners shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to comment on any matter affecting the association.

No such meetings, as far as I know, were held since I became a resident and owner in July 2016. I pointed out the legal requirement and started pushing for an open meeting. Walker and Morrissey were firmly opposed. Morrissey said there would be nothing to discuss except the weather. Walker wrote in a November 18 email message: "I personally think having annual owner meetings is adequate, and BOD meetings as needed."

Then they reversed themselves. I don't know why, but I don't think I can credit my insistence. A meeting was scheduled for February 6.

Failure to take minutes

On January 14, Walker wrote in an email: "Just so we are all on the same page, Greenstone will not be attending this meeting and Jim has offered to take minutes and make them available to Greenstone for review and distribution."

This surprised me, since I was the obvious person to take minutes. But if Morrissey was so eager to take on the task, I had no reason to argue with him. Near the start of the meeting, I asked him in passing about his taking minutes, just to confirm. I think he said something noncommittal. I didn't worry about it.

The meeting was a bit chaotic but didn't go too badly. Walker provided an old copy of the condo rules, which was the best anyone had yet found. Points to him for that. It was missing at least one recently added rule on water usage, but we had something to go by. A large part of the meeting was spent going over the rules and suggesting changes. No motions to change them were made there.

At the end of the meeting, I was very encouraged. An open quarterly meeting had happened. We had a set of rules and could work on fixing issues with them. Minutes had (I thought) been taken.

Except they hadn't. After a while, I asked Morrissey if he could make the minutes available for us. No response. I sent multiple emails with no response and the tried U.S. mail with no better results.

Eventually Morrissey told me on the phone that he didn't know who had volunteered him to take minutes. I still don't know what to make of this. Did Walker misunderstand him and claim he offered to take minutes when he didn't? If so, why didn't Morrissey say he didn't want to take them rather than just defaulting on the task?

New Hampshire condo law says "The board of directors shall make copies of the minutes of all meetings available to the unit owners within 60 days of the meeting or 15 days of the date such minutes are approved by the board, whichever occurs first." After the 60-day deadline, there was no sign of minutes.

A game of keep-away

When I realized there weren't any minutes, I got annoyed and put my foot down. I said that I was going to take minutes at the next meeting. Walker responded by saying he'd introduce a motion to have Greenstone Property Management take minutes.

This was when I realized that those two were playing a systematic game of keep-away. It's as if they were determined to keep anyone with qualifications from taking minutes.

I don't like to think that this was personal; the alternative is that they're control freaks, but that's the less ugly of the two possibilities. However, another incident makes me wonder if personal hostility was involved.

Early this year (2019), I wanted to add a storm door in front of my unit. Many of the units at Pine Valley Estates have them. I asked Greenstone if this was OK, and they responded that there had never actually been a ruling on this that they knew of. People just put up storm doors if they felt like it, without getting approval.

I wanted to make it right but figured it would be routine and not be worth the discussion, so I asked the Board (which, of course, included me) for approval for a storm door. I said that if I didn't hear any objections within a week, I'd assume it was OK.

This was the response I got from Walker on March 16:

Hi Gary, I am not able to vote on this at this time. As we are in the middle of revising our rules, I think this should be an issue decided by the BOD via the revised rule process. I would also like to point out to you again, that I only check this email every other week or even monthly at times. Unless there is an emergency that I am notified of. So, you stating, "My vote, as a Board member, would be to allow it …" and giving a 7 day deadline for response or else is implausible, as I may not have even received and read this email prior to 7 days from when you sent it, as you have been made aware of. I look forward to discussing this at the next BOD meeting in June.

This is wrong in so many ways.

  1. Walker has made it clear since then that he doesn't think he should be expected to respond to or even read any email in less than a week. For personal stuff, you can do as you like. When you're on a Board of Directors, that's plain irresponsible.
  2. He was telling me to wait nearly three months just to get a hearing. I don't know if this is how he treats all requests for approval of improvements, or whether he was singling me out for nastiness.
  3. Finally, both Walker and Morrissey already had storm doors over their front doors! I sent them photographs of their front doors and said that I now considered the matter closed and was going ahead with the storm door. It's been in place for some time now, and they haven't gone after me.

Gaming the rules

At one point, I proposed altering one of the existing condominium rules to allow home offices provided they didn't involve visitors and such. I wanted to make this a motion at a Board meeting. Walker replied on March 16, 2019:

Regarding rule 23, you cannot change this by bringing it forward as a motion. It would need to be an Amendment to our Docs, By-Laws, and Rules. To amend the Docs or By-Laws a Special Meeting of the Owners would need to called, for the specific Amendment only. This can be done in 2 ways; first, the a majority of the BOD can call for it, or second, 1/3 of the owners can, in writing, with a 21 day notice to all Owners. There would need to be a quorum present and a majority of the owners voting in favor in order for it to pass.

This is nonsense. The Board has the power to change rules. It has changed rules, such as adding a prohibition on outside watering. The condominium documents make this ability clear:

There shall be no violation of the rules of the use of the Units, or Common Areas, as adopted by the Board of Directors and furnished in writing to the owners, and the Board of Directors are authorized to adopt such rules...

I pointed this out to Walker. He didn't reply. He seems to think that motions are admissible or not depending on his whim.

The last straw

The June meeting was scheduled for one hour at the library, with at least two hours of agenda. One of the first items was to have Greenstone take the minutes, followed by the selection of a moderator. I proposed that we could skip at least the first one, since the very next item was to elect officers and then the Secretary could start taking minutes.

Walker responded that this was intended as a permanent change. The Secretary, whose enumerated duties include taking minutes, was to be permanently stripped of that capacity unless the Board revoked the change at some later point.

I expected to ask for the office of Secretary, for reasons which I won't toot my own horn for yet again. I certainly didn't want to be President or Treasurer, and Walker and Morrissey would have been hard-pressed to argue that either of them was more qualified. So this motion was directed against me.

A reason which Walker gave in support of the motion was that my recollection of the February meeting didn't agree with his. I suppose he was referring to an email which I sent to the Board after it was clear there were no minutes, where I offered my best recollections so we had something in our mail archives to go by. I made it clear that this was simply a recollection to the best of my ability. Walker seemed to be saying that an imperfect memory (or rather, one that disagreed with his memory) disqualifies a person from taking minutes. That's obvious nonsense.

Morrissey expressed his support for the action. At this point I realized that I was in a game where I couldn't win or even break even. I got up and left. No vote had been taken at that point. I have no first-hand knowledge of what happened after that. Shortly afterward, I sent in a letter of resignation, and there was some paperwork to do afterward.

The aftermath

This left the Board short a member. By the by-laws, the Board is required to fill in vacancies that occur. When more than a month went by, I sent Morrissey and Walker an email reminding them of their obligation. Nothing happened. I decided to put some pressure on them by sending two letters to all the owners pointing out that they hadn't filled the vacancy or even notified the owners that there was one fill. During all this time, it was impossible for the Board to have a quorum, which is defined as three members, at a meeting. If there had been an emergency, the Board would have been unable to function.

Finally in late August, they announced that they had added a new Board member. I wish him luck dealing with these two. He'll need it.

But in some ways, things got still worse at this point. The mailing included minutes of the June 8 meeting, which contained this item:

Vote was taken from Greenstone to record minutes of the meeting. Votes for No were Gary; Votes for Yes were Skip [Walker] and Jim [Morrissey].

That's a complete falsehood. No honest person present at the meeting could have thought that a vote was taken while I was there or that I participated in the vote. I wasn't going to participate in a charade to prevent me from using the abilities that qualified me for the board.

As a secondary point, the item fails to mention Walker's comment that the change was intended to be permanent.

To put it bluntly, the minutes lied.

The mailing also included "minutes" of the February 6 meeting. Just calling them minutes was a lie, unless someone took secret minutes and concealed them for months. Minutes are a record taken at a meeting, not recollections set down months afterward. This feels to me like an attempt to cover up the fact that no minutes were taken, which is a big reason why I was so outraged by Walker's second attempt at keep-way on the minutes.

I sent an email to the Board and to Greenstone pointing out these intentional misrepresentations. I got a reply from Walker saying my message had landed in his spam folder and asking me to resend it. My message to Morrissey's email address bounced; that address doesn't seem to work anymore. Contacting him by any channel has always been a major effort.

Other than those, I didn't get any response addressing my accusations. I suppose when any reply will just make things worse, you shouldn't say anything.

There you have it. It's ugly stuff, but it needs to be known. I admit my deficiencies in dealing with this. I'm poor at dealing with manipulative people. (Maybe even with people in general.) When I'm pushed, I push back. Someone with a different touch might be able to convince them that their game isn't worth playing.

Best of luck to all of us at Pine Valley Estates in Kingston.

Gary McGath, September 1-2, 2019