Choices emerge at Belle Isle condo candidates forum

Bay Room was packed

We had a packed house Tuesday night in the Bay Room at Nine Island Avenue for the condo association candidates’ night.

Some headlines and key themes, decoded by your BelleIsleBlog:

— Many people complained about the format, which gave each candidate five minutes at the mike, and the discretion to use all of it for a speech, or speak for a while and take questions. So there was not much time for Q&A. But the 12 candidates for the five board spots agreed to the format before Tuesday’s forum. It wasn’t imposed by Nine Island management or the current board; incumbents and challengers signed off in advance.

— One of the 12 candidates — David Rosen — announced when he got up to speak that he was no longer running. He wanted to give a speech about how no one should vote for the incumbents, but because he had pulled out of the race, he was told he had forfeited his speech-making time.

— The 11 remaining candidates fall into three categories: Four incumbents and a former board member, a group of five challengers who recommend they be voted in as a slate to turn out the incumbent group, and one declared independent — critical of the incumbents, but not part of the challenger “slate.” We’ll identify which is which below.

–There is residual anger over the hurricane shutter contractor who took deposits from many condo residents several years back and then took off with their money. He was prosecuted, has paid some of the money back, but board members tied to bringing him into the building felt the wrath of residents who followed their recommendation.

— Lots of negative reaction from candidates — and the crowd — to the anonymous flier slipped under condo units doors last month. If you’ve got a gripe, fine. But sign your name to it.

— We’ll have a state-mandated auditor at the Nine Island election on Wednesday, March 10, because some 90 unit owners signed a petition to the state of Florida that said the current board has been in place for 15 years. And that isn’t true; three board members have served two years or less and the longest serving member has 10 years. The current board president said the election auditor will cost the association about $1,000.

The session was broadcast on Nine Island’s closed circuit cable channel, and will be re-shown between now and the election.

For a summary of candidates’ backgrounds, check this previous BelleIsleBlog post. Here’s a look at the candidates and blurb on what they had to say on Tuesday:

— Dmitri Andonov said he’s “running as an independent,” a reference to not being one of the incumbents seeking reelection (or a former board member) and not being part of the opposition slate.

Andonov said he was running because of concerns about the  “pending nightmare — the pool deck project….”  He added: “If this becomes a project, it will be the mother of all projects — and the mother of all assessments.”

Andonov said he has experience managing a similar project (while in Wisconsin with a company called Johnson Controls), and will make sure there is transparency throughout.

He was asked if he attended committee meetings on the pool deck. Andonov said he attended meetings early on, but at a certain point concluded he didn’t like the way the meetings were being run, and said “the hell with it.”

— Richard Goldstein, a former board member, outlined his background, which includes a degree in mechanical engineering, work for NASA on the Mercury project, and many years on Wall Street. He said he has served in a variety of roles on the Nine Island board. Helped bring bookkeeping in-house,  as well as several key staff members, which saved a considerable amount of money. He designed the valet booth. He helped guide investments of reserves.

One condo resident challenged Goldstein for his role in the hurricane shutter issue, asking if he was on the board when “a crook was allowed into the building to sell people hurricane shutters.” He said yes. Another resident asked if the board knew the man “wasn’t bondable.” Goldstein said he didn’t know what when he was brought in, but it proved to be the case.

Goldstein said he would be available Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in the card room to talk to any residents who had questions about his candidacy.

— Chris Growald, a two-year board member, outlined a series of measures he said he put in place while serving on the board: Getting a new appraisal for the building, which saved tens of thousands of dollars on insurance costs, changing the building lighting to florescent bulbs (two-thirds savings of energy costs for lighting), bringing in leak testing of toilets in units to save money on water bills. He also is working on repairs to the main air conditioning duct that serves hallways, to improve the air flow on the upper floors.

Growald said he has led the effort to plan what to do about the pool deck/parking garage, and put a stack of engineering reports on the lecturn, which are available for resident review. The process has been open to anyone who wants to invest the time, he said. He also worked to provide closed circuit TV access to meetings to provide open access to residents.

“People say they don’t know what is going on. The door to knowledge is open if people just want to walk through it and learn what is going on,” he said.

He also will be available in the card room on Saturday at 10 :30 a.m.for questions.

— Mora Israel, running for the first time, said she and her husband moved to Nine Island about a year and a half ago. She decided to run for the board because “we love the building, but I don’t love everything about the building. I feel like we live from assessment to assessment.”

She said that after the last assessment, to pay off overages from the balcony project, she began asking questions and learned there had been many problems with that project, from the subcontractors to materials.  “And then I thought about the pool. A multimillion dollar project. What happens if the board screws up again?”

She said she is not a construction expert but can learn what the issues are. She said she would push for more communication between the board and residents and quicker communication from building management when issues arise. She said it took too long for residents to learn why the heating system wasn’t working properly during the January cold spell.

— Boris Klopukh, a current board member, said he has been on board two years. He said “the most important thing for me is that the building is kept in good condition….I’ve done little things but no earthshattering things.”

Residents in the audienced urged Klopukh to say more about his accomplishments — he set up the condo website and updates it, etc. “He keeps the rest of the board in tow,” one unit owner said.

Klopukh stayed low key. “I’ve done a lot of little things but no earth-shattering things.”

Unit owner Merle Weiss asked what he might do “to accomplish this transparency…..wouldn’t it be a great idea — and i am all for you honey — to have a newsletter that went to everybody?”

Klopukh said that would be terrific “someone wants to take the responsibility” to compile it, and noted to chuckles, “but it should be signed.”

— Jim McLean, the newest member of the board, recounted a series of steps he has taken as treasurer and improve financial procedures at Nine Island and make how money is spent easier for unit owners to track and understand. Audits, financial reports and tax returns were completed much earlier than last year.

“We changed a bad accounting system into something that is really good….I’ve been a CPA for 40 years. I know this stuff.”

He noted he became a board member only recently, and couldn’t understand some of the criticism: “it’s hard to think of myself as the establishment after being on the board for five months.”

After detailing improvements he said were made in financial procedures, he said: “And what happened? I read an anonymous letter that said I shouldn’t be reelected….

“I started a p0licy of making myself available a half hour before all the board meetings. I did this to make things ‘more transparent.” No one came, he said.

“I feel like Alice, and the wicked queen is saying, “Off with his head.” I don’t know why, I think I’m doing a good job.”

— Jon Recicar, the board president, said “my position on issues isn’t always popular and my management style is less popular.”

He said he has been elected to the board four times, but his terms have not been consecutive. He said he takes pride in running tight meetings that adhere to the condo rules and Roberts Rules of Order, and he is aware that sometimes operating that way rubs people the wrong way.

He criticized opponents for accusing board members of things that “aren’t true,” and as an example distributed a copy of the petition sent to the state that alleges Nine Island has had “the same board for 15 years.” Recicar said he has been on the board for nine years, and not consecutively. Three of the five board members have served two years or less, he said.

“It disturbs me that a group of homeowners went to the state and asked for an auditor based on incorrect information,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to lie to the state of Florida like that.”

— Blanka Rosenstiel, an original owner of several units and a first time candidate, said she is running because she believes the board needs to set clear priorities and a timetable for the projects that face the building, and must be more mindful of the current financial picture of unit owners as well as the larger economy.

“We know the time has come for a renovation of our building,” she said. “…We need to sharpen our pens and make the right decisions and decide which is the most important job.’

She outlined priorities this way: First upgrade the entry to the building (driveway and entry steps), then the lobby, then the carpets and hallways and last the pool/garage project.  She said the complete timetable for everything should be four to six years.

She said she put the driveway and entrance first because “The first impression is most important — to us and potential buyers and sellers.”

— Jeff Stokols, a lawyer and first-time board candidate, said he was running because there are common themes in complaints about the current board: a lack of transparency, sharing of specific information, special assessments, sensitivity to unit owners.”

He said that some units owners who expressed concern about the cost of assessments were made to feel that they “should move out” the amount seemed too high.

“There is a desire for courtesy and civility,” he said. ”

“I can promise everyone that no board to which i am elected will treat property owners in an abusive, cavalier manner,” he said.

— Cecelia Vasquez, said she has lived in the building four and a half years, and she thinks the first priority of building should be the pool project — and planning for how to handle parking during a difficult and extended construction period.

She said she thinks the board needs to be mindful of costs and impact on unit owners, “always keeping in mind not to over-extend ourselves.”

— Michel Wehe, a first-time candidate, said his family was among the original unit owners in the building, and he grew up in Nine Island. Moving back here as an adult, “I realized this building wasn’t what it used to be. We’ve somehow lost that sense of community.”

He said he would make time to discuss building issues with residents at meetings or “In the hallways, or in the park.”

One unit owner asked him why he is part of a slate — whether it was okay for unit owners to vote for some of the incumbents and some new candidates. “Do we have to take you and get rid of the rest?”

Wehe said he was “approached and asked as to what my interest would be to run,” and he decided to get involved.


5 responses to “Choices emerge at Belle Isle condo candidates forum

  1. Well, at least no one used the F word last night – a move towards civility at 9 Island.

  2. Wow! I didn’t know this blog existed until today. I love it! And appreciate the clear and concise recap of what happened at last nights candidate forum.

  3. Joanne/Errol Rosen

    Thanks for the sane reporting.

  4. Pingback: The conversation continues at 9 Island « Belle Isle Blog

  5. Pingback: Nine Island owners opt for change, turn out incumbents « Belle Isle Blog

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