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Thursday, November 15, 2007

GNWCIA Meeting Report: My Notes...

I made the short trip down the street to attend the meeting of the Great Northwest Community Improvement Association board of directors this evening. Herewith my notes, but first, I really need to make something clear to those folks that live in the community who read my take on things.

There are in fact a few factions of homeowners who attend the meetings, belong to the board and are former board members or want to be board members. I fall into none of those categories. That is to say, I do not turn away from conversations with anyone at the meetings nor do I take cues from anyone when I write these notes. Yet, I have been told to my face by members of both groups that they know I am secretly for the other side. The funny thing about it is, if someone was keeping track, I routinely agree with and write about positions supported by a faction and a paragraph later, poo poo the ideas of the same group. But in my opinion, the bizarre part isn't that people are convinced I'm part of one faction or the other, the bizarre part is that there are different factions of people who attend these homeowner meetings.

When my wife and I attended meetings and we were the only residents in the audience, we sat there and reacted to things the same way we do when the audience is packed - we either roll our eyes and laugh when we hear something stupid, or we shake our heads in agreement when we hear something we agree with. The strange thing is, when we were alone in the audience, there was no one there to tell us which side we were supporting when we had our little reactions. And frankly, there still is no one telling us how we should agree or disagree with the things the board of directors say or do.

Having said that, read on and hopefully I'll write something that falls into your faction!

This was the first meeting with the new Community Manager officially present, and Mr. Darin Laracuente set the tone from the beginning. As the directors began to find their seats complete with the new awesome sounding audio system in place, the projection screen behind the board alternated a logo of the Great Northwest and guidelines for participation in the meetings. The bottom line was, if you fell to show respect, follow the rules or get out of hand, you'll be asked to leave. If you don't leave when asked, you'll be escorted out. Bravo Mr. Laracuente!

Residents to speak included a guy concerned about his filthy neighbor who never mows his yard, has a back yard that looks like a city dump, has junk yard dogs assembled in the city dump-like backyard barking and howling and when the dogs aren't barking and howling, they are howling and barking. He asked the board to look into efforts to do something about it.

The same gentleman went on to lambaste a writer to the Passages who called for doing away with the GNW Security staff. Good Call.

Next up, senior Silver Creek Resident, Ms. Olivia queried the board about a rumor she heard regarding the management of pools. Chairman Lee Besing nipped this in the bud, stating that yes, the board had looked at some options but found that our staff does a much better job for a lot cheaper.

Finally, Mrs. Rodkey had two points to make to the board - her first was to offer praise to Director Richard Garcia for his continued graffiti abatement efforts. As I wrote previously, Director Garcia is out and about painting over graffiti and fighting the good fight to keep the neighborhood free of the stuff. Kudos!

Mrs. Rodkey also asked the members of the board to please work together and vote their conscience, and not necessarily for or against other directors based on which faction they seem to be aligned with. I have it on good authority (Mr. Joe Martinez) that every current board member has been aligned with his Sentinel faction at one time or another, so I'm not quite sure how they line up now, but regardless, I believe Mrs. Rodkey was quite correct in her observation.

I should tell you at this point that the continuing display of the "Rules" must have been working as there were no real outbursts by audience members or board members alike.

As they moved into the agenda, Director Besing introduced Mr. Laracuente to the group and reported that there has been some minor restructuring of office personnel. Mr. Laracuente announced that the office would now be open from 8:30AM to 7PM Monday-Friday, and he hoped to soon open as early as 8AM to accommodate residents.

Chief Roger Burton did recommend yours truly to fill the vacant GNW Watch Coordinator position (which my wife will surely help me with) and the board approved my selection.

Maintenance and Recreation directors gave some updates and then the new business started.

Director Sigrid Long who is part of the GNW Scholarship Committee gave a report and provided a letter and information to the directors. In probably the only real fireworks of the evening, and I should say that it was extremely civil compared to previous meetings, Director Garcia asked a few thoughtful questions regarding the Scholarship Committe.

He asked if the board had oversight. Director Long responded yes.

Director Garcia asked if the names or the applications of the past winners were available to review. Director Long reported that there were some hard copies somewhere but added that they may have been destroyed to protect the privacy information of the applicants.

Director Guy Pucci then asked if the scholarship money was drawing any interest? Chairman Besing responded that the program was actually operating in the red.

Director Long stated that it was not actually in the red, but not drawing interest and that in fact, the account was losing $5.00 a month due to some banking penalties.

Director Garcia then asked if there was any criteria that would disqualify a board member from the committee as a conflict of interest. Director Long replied that none of her kids had applied for the scholarships.

I think several suttle points were made and the meeting moved on to the next item.

Director Long questioned why an article she submitted for publication in Passages was not included in the paper. Chairman Besing responded that they ran out of space and that the article will be in the next issue.

The meeting got to the budget discussion at which point in apparent protest (or not - I don't know for sure) several residents (or members of a single faction if you choose) got up and left. Too bad. The fact is, in just a short period of time, the new CM and (once again) temporary accountant have gone through and weeded out a boatload of items that were either mis-categorized or wrong. The budget looks a lot better than it did a few weeks ago. And, because there were hardly any procedural disruptions from the peanut gallery, the department heads were able to address questions the board and other audience members had.

Only one point I care to address and that is salaries. I overheard several audience members questioning the amount of money the staff is paid. We have a staff of between 18-24 employees supporting one of, if not the largest homeowners associations in Texas, covering over 5,000 homes and multiple community facilities, and apparently, many of you would like to hire people for minimum wage or less.

I was talking to my parents and my aunt and uncle this past weekend and they laughed when I told them people are bickering over an assessment fee of $235.00 a year. They pay that a month for their associations. Don't get me wrong; I'd like to see the board lower the yearly assessment if only to send a signal to the residents that they are trying to keep fees under control. But please don't tell me that you want to run the facilities of this association with illegal immigrant wages.

And with that, I welcome your comments. I don't always get it right and I may miss a few things, but I promise, you'll get more information from my notes and sooner than you will otherwise.

NOTE: Regarding the strike through of comments about the Sentinel group, Mr. Martinez advised me via e-mail that he did not recall the conversation I mentioned and further that at least two board directors, Mr. Sharma and Mr. Miflin have never been part of his group. I have no issue with making the correction and setting the record straight.

2nd NOTE: I received a second update indicating that Ms. Long also has no affiliation whatsoever with the Sentinel group. In other words, apparently very few members of the board have any affiliation with Sentinel. I apologize to any board members who may have been wrongly identified as being associated with the Sentinel group.

1 comment:

Lee said...

At present time, the GNW has 18 full time, year-round employees. Traditionally we have 20 full time employees, plus part time seasonal help for the pool operations. This breaks down to 1 CM, 1 DRACO, 1 Recreation, 4 Maintenance, 7 Security and 5 office (of which only 4 are planned to be filled for 2008). Salaries comprise about half of the assessment amount collected. Hourly workers can start as low as $8/hr or up, depending upon skill set needed for the position. The totals budgeted for each department is the MAX possible total, if every position was paid the max range for their position (which they usually are not). There is room for merit raises and bonuses at the discretion of the CM's approval, or for temp help when the workloads are heavier than normal.

Having said that, we did ROLL BACK the assessment for 2008 by $5 to the rate of $230/yr (for properties with houses on them). Properties without houses pay 25% of that rate .

We did fund nearly $60k in capital improvements for the 2008 budget, mostly dealing with the pools. More details will be printed in the Passages.

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I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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