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THE BUCK STOPS WHERE?
We had talked several times on the phone, but when the board secretary arrived at my office at Habitat magazine on a warm March day, he wasn’t what I had expected. On the phone, complaining about his manager, he had seemed a little lost, a little naive, a little crazy even.
I know crazy, too, having dealt with my share of nutjobs over the years. There was the woman in the trenchcoat, delivering the damning evidence against the board, but who acted like a femme fatale out of a spy thriller. Then there was the woman who was going to send me all the evidence she had amassed against a well-known and reputable attorney that would prove he was a crook. “E-mail it or fax it to me,” I had said to her, intrigued by what she could possibly have on this man. Since I had known the lawyer for years – he seemed to be the soul of integrity – I was curious about what she had. Anti-climactically, nothing ever arrived.
So appearances can be deceiving – or not. I thought of this as I met the board secretary, whom we will call Jack. Tall and slightly stopped, with a ready grin, he apologized for arriving early, but didn’t apologize for what he was there about. To talk about alleged corruption by his former manager. Our first conversation had occurred when I was conducting a survey for our 30th anniversary issue. Jack was one of many board members who talked with me about the economic policies in their buildings. At that time, he was blunt, saying his property’s situation was dire: the managing agent had allegedly stolen money, had not paid bills, and had even forged a signature on a check. More specifically, he and another board member had found the manager hadn’t paid back water bills, and the property – with many non-English-speaking Asian residents – had amassed a ton of debt. The board had even assessed the residents to pay back some of the bill, but that money had apparently never gotten into the hands of the city, whIch supplied the water and was now (not unreasonably) expecting to get paid for it.
Something about this scenario gave me a sense of deja vu. The water bills not being paid, non-English-speaking Asian residents, a manager accused of taking money. “What’s the name of the management company?” I asked him.
He told me. It was the same company that had been involved in a similar situation I had reported on a few years before. Coincidence? I called one of the partners in the firm. He was affable and charming. I told him I was looking into complaints lodged against his company by a former client. “Oh yes,” he gushed. “We handled that building for ten years. What seems to be the problem?” I asked him why his firm was no longer managing the property? “They wanted to go self-management,” he said, noting that there had never been any problems with the building to his knowledge. I told him about their complaints; he replied: “Well, if they’ve got evidence of criminality, why don’t they get a lawyer and sue?” I told him they said they didn’t have the money. “There you go,” he said. “They’ve mismanaged the property and they’re looking for a scapegoat.”
Was that the case? In the end, it comes down to a “he said/they said” situation. What is the moral of the story? Hard to say, but one fact was clear: the building was out of money, and the buck stops with the board.
June 21, 2012