Nightmare on Bank Street

Up on Bank Street, we are just barely surviving almost 3 months of having all the front stoops jackhammered to bits, torn out into heaps of debris, rebuilt with wood frames nailed together on the spot, and replaced with poured concrete (ending up, oddly enough, just as ugly as before). Mind you, the work (and noise) has been starting every morning at 7:00 am…and our front gardens have been flattened to scraped dirt (but that’s progress: for the longest time, they had been completely filled with 6-foot-high heaps of concrete rubble, wood scraps, and trash).
Although the stoop onslaught is still continuing, I just noticed that we’re suddenly ALSO having (without any mgt office notice, as per usual): Continue reading

Wag the Dog, June 22, 2011

Daniel Benedict pulled off a major Michael Bloomberg Monday night. Just as New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted for term limits two times, WVH resident shareholders, by a 2 to 1 margin voted for a break-with-the-past board. Term limits didn’t really work for Bloomberg so he squashed them. So to, a board that was not of his own design didn’t really work for Benedict. Each man used his political muscle to get his own way. Continue reading

Wag the Dog, April 10, 2011

An increasingly frequent refrain that we hear around WVH is, “now that we are a co-op, we have to operate like a business.” But just saying that we are a business doesn’t make it real. Real businesses are responsive to their customers, “how may I help you? How was your stay? Could you please fill out this service response card?” Real businesses act like my business is important to them–“is there anything else we can do for you? Please come again!” If something goes wrong, real businesses–at least the successful ones–try to fix it right away. “I’m so sorry you were inconvenienced; please accept this extra item on the house.” Real businesses are so interested in what I think about their goods and services that they try to bribe me with sweepstakes if I’ll only go on-line and answer a few questions. Real businesses want to hear from me all the time. Even the most callous let-them-eat-cake business listens to somebody if it wants to be successful. The same goes for non-profits that listen to donors, their members, and the constituencies that they serve. Whether for- or non-profit, most corporations enlist an array of feedback mechanisms to let them know “how are we doing?”

When I invest in a real business, I get detailed quarterly reports about my investment sent to my home where I can study them at my leisure. I don’t have to nag anybody or beg or plead for information. I don’t have to attend a twice-a-year meeting with no take-away reports or make an appointment to go to an office after work. Everything I need is sent to me. I can even go online and track how my investment is doing day-to-day or minute-by-minute if I want to. That’s how real businesses work.

I think that functionally, WVH falls into the same class of business as utility companies. Shareholders are a captive market at WVH. What economists call “switching costs” are exorbitant (or opportunities to switch are non-existent) and that rarely leads to good business practices (think back to your first cellphone contract). We can’t switch to another apartment complex like we can switch to another mechanic, and so we are locked in. Because we are locked in, our voices can be pretty much ignored when decisions are made, all in the name of “acting like a business.”

Whatever your views about capitalism, the concept is that the dog is the markets (consumers and investors) and the tail is the business enterprise or corporation, including its managers and board. Market forces wag the corporate dog. So does WVH run like a real business?



Wag the Dog, April 2, 2011



Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία, oligarkhía) is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people…Throughout history, some oligarchies have been tyrannical, relying on public servitude to exist, although others have been relatively benign…Corporate oligarchy is a form of power, governmental or operational, where such power effectively rests with a small, elite group of inside individuals…Wikipedia


I think that a lot of the anger at and frustration with the board comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the board is and how it functions. As I’ve repeatedly said, WVH is an oligarchy, but many shareholders keep expecting a small town democracy like some sort of urban Mayberry RFD, Continue reading

Wag the Dog, March 25, 2011

There is a fundamental construct that is anathema to all advocates of democracy–the concentration of power in the hands of a few people coupled with the injunction to “just trust us.”

While the “just trust us” proponents would like to make the debate about personalities and who is or is not a good person, the real issue is about structure. Continue reading

Wag the Dog, March 23, 2011

So who exactly is the board of WVH?  For a long time I was sure it was 7 people–5 elected and 2 appointed by the investor at the June shareholder meeting. I felt even surer of this after I had been elected as one of the 7 in June 2010. Imagine my surprise one autumn morning when I saw a letter on the bulletin board in the lobby purporting to be from the board of WVH. Continue reading