Kimmelgate Update: No Rudder, Sinking Fast

(Photo: Marina City’s new rooftop lighting scheme. Credit: Looper).

Resident discontent stemming from last week’s high-rise hooker scandal involving former condo board member Gary Kimmel continues to grow here at Marina City. A “Security Meeting” last night–the first for well over a year–billed in advance as a “Q & A Session” with Marina City’s security contractor allowed for no questions until an hour into the meeting when residents pointed out the “oversight”. The evening’s hit query: why had there been no security meetings for so long? The answer, according to our security contractor: because Gary Kimmel, formerly the condo board’s head of Screening and Security, told the contractor in September 2004 that there would be no future need for them.

Postings on an independent Marina City residents’ blog and ongoing discussion in a related email newsletter suggest a condo board at fault. Many posters have questioned how a longtime condo board VP can end up indicted by a federal grand jury without any foreknowledge on the part of the board. Others point out that this is not the first time that the board has sat on its laurels and kept rank-and-file residents out of the information loop.

Examples of board complaints given on the blog include:

-Ignoring the storage of forbidden items on balconies;

-The long-term cancelling of subcommittee meetings;

-Adopting triennial assessment increases that are politically favorable to the board but actually run above the rate of inflation;

-Denying legally sanctioned requests for the review of board records;

and my personal favorite-

-Deferring the repair of the broken fire-life safety fire suppression system in the West Tower garbage chute in order to avoid an assessment increase.

This last one is rich. In the past two weeks, West Tower has suffered through two garbage-chute fires caused by residents carelessly discarding smoldering barbecue charcoal. In both instances, the fire suppression system failed, causing the upper floors of the tower to fill with smoke and resulting in a multi-alarm response by the fire department–and many residents out on their balconies trying to avoid the smoke that was entering their apartments. Better to lose your possessions or your life to a fire rather than to pay for critical repairs to the building systems?

It’s an age-old conflict at Marina City, literally. The condo board is stacked with absent investors and residents who have lived in the building for a very long time, are near or beyond retirement age, and do not want to pay out of what may be increasingly limited personal funds for critically needed assessment increases. Many of use who own or are renting with an eye to owning within the building (like me) feel, justifiably to my mind, that the current board does not care about the residential community as a whole. And that’s a shame. Because that can only lead to those of us who do care jumping ship for buildings with healthier, more inclusive condo boards. And that would leave Marina City with even less oversight for future Kimmelgates.

One blog poster hit the nail on the head when he said the condo board has forgotten its core responsibility of stewardship. And without that, one of the most architecturally significant residential buildings in the world becomes no better than a leaking kayak: no rudder; sinking fast.

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