Published: Autumn 2002
Dr. Ruth Finkelstein is a research scientist, well aware of how important
it is to have clear, accurate information readily available. During
her years of service on the board of the large, self managed cooperative
that is her home, she noted that with the passage of time and with changes
in building personnel, institutional memory was fading. She proposed
to remedy this situation and quickly won the support of her colleagues
on the board. A year and a half later, with her own building archives
well organized to capture both past and future board decisions, structural
improvements, employee history, Dr. Finkelstein was ready to share the
fruits of her labors. She contacted CNYC and offered to present a workshop
detailing her own journey towards ensuring consistency and continuity
in the policies of her cooperative. Now this workshop is a CNYC classic,
which Dr. Finkelstein repeats periodically, helping other CNYC members
develop working archives for their buildings. Following is a summary
of her July presentation.
As cooperatives and condominiums mature, personal memory is unreliable
in recalling the long history of past policies, activities and transactions.
This seminar describes an innovative and easy strategy to maintain and
retrieve the history of past decisions and also to incorporate ongoing
programs and policies. The priority is to facilitate effective and efficient
Board oversight of corporate functions and innovations, planning for
the long term and utilizing current technology. Dr. Finkelsteins
own system employs a computer program that was customized to the needs
of this cooperative. Files and index cards can be almost equally effective,
though retrieval will, of course, be somewhat slower.
What is required is a dedicated archivist (or a working team of dedicated
archivists) committed to organizing past policy for ready access and
reference. Their goal is to ensure continuity and maintenance of the
business records of the condominium or cooperative, and careful documentation
of the status and maintenance of the physical plantincluding public
areas, building systems, and individual apartment units. Once the system
is in place, the time required to maintain it is modest, and the benefits
are enormous. The age of your building and the state of past records
will determine the magnitude of the initial task of organizing the archives.
Dr. Finkelstein and her helpers had to look back over their buildings
15-year history as a cooperative and a much longer history of the buildings
physical structure. Reconstituting corporate history required scouring
the proprietary lease, bylaws and house rules plus the minutes of all
board meetings. Policies were organized by topic with citations of their
source and dated records of any modifications made over the years. The
information has been computerized into nine key categories and is readily
retrievable for review as the board faces proposed policy modifications
or as they prepare manuals for shareholders. Your own building may opt
to modify these categories, but they serve as excellent guides.
Board Records, including agendas and approved minutes
of each meeting with cross references to pertinent correspondence
stored in other areas, and any statements circulated to building residents
as well as a complete history of all building policies and any changes
made in the proprietary lease, the by-laws, the house rules, alteration
policy, sublease policy, and a record of a board resolutions.
Physical Plant Records. Here, the ideal is to begin
with the original plans for the structure, adding records of modifications
(community room, renovated laundry rooms, etc.) and establishing files
to record alterations and renovations in individual apartments. Computerized
building plans have been made up and can now be e-mailed to engineers
and architects as they undertake projects. Going forward, computerized
records of completed alterations are required from shareholders to
keep the buildings files current. Dr. Finkelstein also established
a permanent centralized record of all required building inspections
and reports (e.g., Local Law 10/11); working closely with building
staff and management, she developed an standardized building inventory
of major equipment and consumable supplies and a schedule of routine
and preventive maintenance.
Business Records. The corporate accountant was consulted
regarding how long to keep various documents (see accompanying chart).
Files were established for bills, bank statements, payroll records,
etc. along with a schedule for their periodic purging. Permanent files
were also established for contracts on capital projects, leases on
commercial spaces, insurance policies, and files on transactions with
shareholders such as subleases (with a copy in the apartment file).
Professional Consultants were each listed, with a
complete work history compiled and any crucial correspondence retained.
Major Skilled Vendors were also listed, with work
histories and correspondence files; these were cross-referenced with
apartment files as appropriate.
- Personnel Records on each employee were maintained including all reports,
notices, correspondence with the union, records of professional training,
etc. Information on terminated employees is retained for seven years
and then purged unless there is still business pending regarding that
Publications (e.g., Newsletters)
- Procedures This category compiles records of board decisions regarding
particular policies plus any manuals and other communications prepared.
Categories covered include communication with management, getting work
done in apartments, apartment alterations, fire safety plans, emergency
evacuation procedures, strike preparedness, etc.
Apartment Files, centralizing a complete consecutive
record on each apartment, including purchases and sales, refinancings,
alteration records, emergency contact information, and special situations
from leaks in the walls to special health conditions that would necessitate
extra help in an emergency.
Many of these topics are cross-referenced in other parts of the database.
Once this system is in place, the archivists task consists simply
in maintaining it. This is easily done if discipline is carefully maintained.
The minutes of each board meeting must be carefully culled for new decisions
and policy changes, and these must be transcribed in their proper places
in the various files.
Management and staff must adopt procedures which prepares for the archivist
records of all building events and transactions. It is the team of archivists
who decide which of these rise to the level of meriting recording, and
who determine in which files the information will be retained.
Dr. Finkelsteins presentation includes illustrations of the computer
program that was designed for her buildings records. Careful protection
was incorporated, including a window of opportunity of just a few days
after information is entered for it to be proofread and modified. Thereafter,
there is no way to alter that entry. Additional safeguards limit access
to many parts of the file system. Watch future issues of this Newsletter
for announcements of the next presentation of this informative workshop
on Institutional Memory.
RECORD RETENTION GUIDE
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has developed
and distributed detailed a guide for record retention. We reproduce
below selections that may be of particular interest to housing cooperatives
and condominiums and their residents
Appraisals by outside appraisers
Blueprints and plans
Capital stock and bonds records
Charts of accounts
Cancelled checks for
- important payments
- taxes, special contracts
- file with papers
- for the transaction
Deeds, mortgages, bills of sale
Year end financial statements
General ledgers, year-end
- current accident reports, claims, policies
Minute books of directors,
Retirement and pension records
Tax returns and related worksheets
Vouchers/payment to employees, vendors
Keep for 1 Year
Magnetic tape and tab cards
Keep for 7 Years
Accounts payable ledgers
(see exceptions at left)
Expired contracts, mortgages,
Inventories of products, materials, supplies
Notes receivable ledgers and
Option records (expired)
Payroll records and summaries
Personnel files (terminated)
Stock and Bond certificates
Voucher registers and schedules
Withholding tax schedules
Keep for 3 Years
Insurance policies (expired)
Internal audit reports
Internal reports (miscellaneous)
Petty cash vouchers
Sales commission reports
Keep for 2 Years
Duplicate deposit slips
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