From the national political front to the local Belle Isle condo, these truths become more self-evident with each passing day: It’s easier to celebrate the idea of change than the execution of it.
At the Nine Island Avenue condo on Belle Isle, unit owners turned out the majority of its condo board a couple of months back, and that board dumped the building’s entrenched management company, the Continental Group, for KW Management.
The management transfer happened just last week, and just when unit owners and the new board members thought things might be settling down, they got more contentious. Longtime building employees have lost their jobs, quit or been fired, and many longtime residents — including Nine Island’s founder and original resident — are distressed.
Belle Isle Blog has chronicled the leadership turnover and management switch before, and you can read all about it by clicking here.
One of the difficult issues for the changeover involved Nine Island employees. In the nearly 30 years since the condo opened to residents, three groups of its 30-plus staff became employees of the condo, not the company managing the condo. Those employees — the parking valets, security staff and front office (including the assistant manager) — were easy to keep in a transition. But other Nine Island staff — the engineering staff, porters and pool crew — worked for Continental, and during the discussion of a possible transition, it became known that unit owners would have to pay Continental a fee of 30 percent of each of those employees annual salary to keep that if there was a management company change.
In the week before KW took over management of the buildings, unit owners began worrying about the building porters, whose tenures at Nine Island ranged from 20 to 28 years, and who faced unemployment. Letters were sent to the new board, asking them to find a way to keep the porters.
Jacqueline Simkins, the original Nine Island developer and still a resident, sent an email to the board, and copied unit owners, asking them to keep the porters. She wrote:
“These men….have served homeowners with decency, honesty and loyalty for over 20 years….If the Board of Directors does not wish to reconsider the decision to terminate, I am respectfully requesting that a “Thank You For Your Loyal Service” gift be awarded to each of the above employees. This gift from the 9 Island Avenue Homeowners Association will help the employees’ families with the transition, and all the apartment owners of 9 Island Avenue will feel that they have acquitted themselves properly. Usually this kind of a gift would amount to one week of salary for every year of service. This would be very fair.”
Other residents, including some former board members, indicated that a clause in the contract permitted additional employees to be retained in a transition without a penalty — but it turned out that while that clause appeared in the contrcat, the most recent contract did not specify employees by name.
At the board’s brief June 15 meeting, President Jeff Stokols said the board had concluded that it would be financially irresponsible to impose the cost of severance on the association, but that he would be the first to contribute to a charitable fund to help the porters. Later in the week, unit owners received information on the creation of a fund to help the porters. Contributions would be handled by the Nine Island office.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, longtime office secretary Lisette San Pedro quit. On Friday, the new board fired assistant manager Rene Zerquera.
Since then, a letter to some residents from unit owner Chris Goldstein recommended that contributions be sent directly to the porters, because she is not confident that money provided to the “terminators will end up in the proper hands.”
Former board member Chris Growald emailed a letter to unit owners that said the firing of the assistant manager eliminated “the last person who knew the inner workings of the building. There was never a transition period where the experienced employees taught the new ones how things worked and where everything was.
“I am saddened at so many levels about what has happened. The emotional and financial carnage this has caused for all our ex and current employees is immeasurable. Staff members that were not dismissed are fearful of losing their jobs and income. Association members that knew the old staff are now surrounded by strangers. The staff was like an extended family. There is no longer the feelings of security and comfort that existed before.”
That’s a lot for the first week since the transition to the new management company. It’s unclear how many contributions have actually been made to help the porters. But it does appear that few residents are giving each other much trust in their desire to do the right thing.