Co-op housing faces early board changes

Anxiety over the state of University Commonwealth Terrace Co-operative keeps Luis Delima, one of the co-op board members, up at night.

Though the co-op is a University-owned property, a board of directors made up of residents, which then hires a management staff, operates the co-op. Problems within the board and management have forced the co-op to hold a stockholder’s meeting where all the members will vote on dissolving the current board and instating an interim one.

The meeting, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed until after winter break because of space issues.

The co-op’s manager, Eduardo Christ, said the community needs adequate management and he feels he has provided that.

“My relationship with the board for the most part has been a very professional one,” Christ said.

But the system is not allowing him to do his job – if the make-up of the board doesn’t change, Christ said he’ll resign from his position.

“Unless some serious changes are made in the way the General Manager is given oversight from the Board of Directors and committees of CTC, I do not feel I can continue in this position,” Christ wrote in a letter to the board.

“I have been enforcing rules all along,” Christ said, “but when I enforced a rule against a specific board member, then, it became a little bit less than friendly.”

The current tension among board members has been mounting for more than a year.

Delima has been on the board since November 2006, and said he has witnessed many problems among its members.

He said Charles Brown Jr., another board member at the co-op, has neglected to pay parking fees for having four cars parked at his residence.

The co-op’s lease agreement states that each resident is allowed one parking space and a second is given if the resident pays $12 a month.

“Mr. Brown has been parking his cars for more than a year, and never paid those 12 additional dollars that could have helped our community,” Delima said, “basically a nonprofit organization that’s main purpose is to facilitate housing arrangements for students with low income at the University of Minnesota.”

Though Brown has been notified of the offense and that he could potentially lose his co-op membership, according to minutes from a Sept. 17 board meeting, Brown said he is following the rules.

Delima said Brown threatened litigation against management and other board members several times.

Brown declined to comment.

The problems within the board are personal and don’t benefit the co-op, Delima said, but board members recognize change is necessary for the community.

“We want to have a transitional board of directors that’s going to be in charge of restructuring the conditions of which the board of directors is working,” he said.

Fred Frogner, University coordinator of housing properties, said he attends all board and management meetings at the co-op.

The co-op loosened membership requirements so not all members need to be graduate students. Graduate students still receive top priority, but post-doctoral students, undergraduate students with children and married students could also live there.

The changes created 400 new jobs within the co-op, as members are now required to volunteer 40 hours a year for the co-op, Frogner said.

Tracking the new jobs that members volunteered for became a difficult task for the general manager to do, he said.

“The manager felt that the board was not supporting him adequately in trying to uphold the rules and the regulations,” Frogner said. “It gets really complicated.”

Frogner said reinstating fees previously collected for extra appliances and vehicles also caused tension and problems within the board.

“As these issues were being brought forth to the committees,” he said, “there seemed to be a general reluctance on the part of the conciliation and eligibility committee to enforce these fines and carry forth with the new membership structure and support it.”

The North American Students of Cooperation Organization provides workshops that are tailored to the needs of co-ops.

Frogner said the last workshop, in September, was about relationships between the board and management.

If the board disassembles, he said, the University will review the management and membership structure for six months to see if the changes with the interim are effective.

“Over six months, they suggested that we study the management agreement structure to see if the University should have more to do with operating the business and the maintenance part,” Frogner said. “Still, it’s pretty nebulous right now as to what’s being suggested.”

Frogner said the solutions are not obvious to the University yet, but future developments within the co-op will help to make a decision.

“At this point we are very concerned,” he said. “We’re kind of waiting to see what’s happening right now, where they’re going with this stockholders meeting.”