Manager change sparks debate

Ingrid Skjong

A swiftly-made managerial firing has some residents of a student-housing cooperative questioning its board of directors’ reasoning behind the decision.
The governing body for Commonwealth Terrace, a 464-unit family student housing facility on the St. Paul campus, voted to fire the cooperative’s manager Boyka Drashkovich at a March 5 meeting. They cited “irreconcilable differences.”
But some residents claim the board has not been open about the circumstances surrounding Drashkovich’s termination. They are demanding more information with little success.
“We try to disclose as many issues as we can openly,” said Simon Mudge, president of Commonwealth. “But this is an issue of privacy.”
Drashkovich worked at Commonwealth for 12 years before becoming manager five years ago. As the cooperative’s manager, she oversaw the full-time staff and took care of day-to-day responsibilities.
A financial claim against Commonwealth prevents the release of specific details. On the advice of her attorney, Drashkovich wouldn’t comment on her situation.
Uncertainty about Drashkovich’s ability to manage the co-op began several months prior to her firing when she expressed concern that certain staff members were underpaid, said board member Montana Picard.
The board did not understand Drashkovich’s concerns, considering it was her duty as manager to set employee salaries and not the responsibility of the board, Picard said.
After allegedly “difficult” behavior at a board meeting, board members reasoned that Drashkovich’s negative attitude toward them and their inability to work effectively with her fueled their ultimate decision.
However, some residents said they had no problems with Drashkovich. They said they are puzzled about why she was fired. But others are more than willing to offer opinions.
“I felt she wasn’t competent to be running the place,” said Samson Ondigi, a three-year resident of Commonwealth.
Several unpleasant situations with Drashkovich, including a rent dispute, prompted Ondigi to question her position.
Other Commonwealth residents simply question the timing of the firing.
The cooperative’s finance and operations committee was shocked by the news and feels the absence of a manager will hinder budget talks, said the committee’s chairman Andre Kravchenko. The budget is supposed to finalized by May 1.
Under Drashkovich’s management, the cooperative saw minimal rent increases and a significant build-up of revenue.
“Operationally she was exceptional,” Kravchenko said. “We’re strongly opposing the decision.”
While the board is ready to put the decision behind them and move forward, some residents said their concern goes beyond Drashkovich’s firing.
The poor relationship between the board and some residents is causing tension.
Several members of the cooperative said the secrecy and urgency surrounding the board’s decision warrants suspicion. A conclusion was reached and Drashkovich was notified all within a three-hour time frame.
Some residents complained about the lack of communication between the board and residents — especially regarding the firing.
However, Drashkovich has the right to confidentiality. Residents ought to accept it and understand the board’s position, said Picard.
Commonwealth poses a unique situation because, as in most cooperatives, laws governing it are not explicitly outlined, said Donna Handbery, an attorney with Hanbery, Neumeyer & Carney, who is representing the board’s position.
No law suit has been filed, and both sides are negotiating to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, said Handbery.
The University has little to do with the organization of the facility. While the cooperative is located on University-owned property and a liaison meets regularly with the board, the cooperative governs itself.