Despite stating otherwise in its flier, the Brentwood Forest Condominiums Board of Managers did not allow unit owners attending Monday’s night’s meeting to vote for or against retaining Gary S. Bierman as a member of the oversight committee.
Bierman, a in April's municipal election, was removed as president and voted off the board of managers entirely on Jan. 16 after receiving "favored treatment and services under questionable services," charged Betty Connor, vice president of the board, during a prepared statement.
Bierman accepted the decision that removed him as president, but he sought to retain a seat on the board until June, when his four-year term was scheduled to expire.
It was denied, prompting Bierman to request an opportunity to address board and unit owners at Monday night’s main event.
Why no vote for unit owners?
Bierman said he wanted to rebut rumors circulating about his removal, present his case to the unit owners and retain his seat on the board.
Joan Smith, who was named president following Bierman's removal, told attendees that no vote would be taken by unit owners. Legal counsel said the board acted properly within its bylaws when members ousted Bierman, Smith said.
“We acted upon a conflict of interest policy, which allowed us to remove a member,” Smith said.
It was a different story only two hours before the 7 p.m. meeting started. Patrick Toohey, a board manager and in April's municipal election, told Patch that the board of managers planned to "take a show of hands to see how (residents) want to vote."
Somewhere, somehow, the decision changed.
Smith’s announcement elicited anger from some owners who expected to vote during the meeting, and sighs of relief from others who accepted the legal opinion.
Smith refused to identify the lawyer(s) or firm(s) involved in the decision and/or legal opinion, which also was not available for review.
Unit owners respond
Roughly 55 owners attended the meeting held at the complex’s clubhouse on Wrenwood Lane. About 10 people usually attend the monthly meetings, said Cecelia Nangle, who has lived at the condos for 15 years.
So why all the people? “To see the contest,” said Nangle, before the interior doors to the clubhouse opened.
Although Bierman's ouster drew most attendees, the opportunity to vote brought other unit owners, like Tom Brackman, a retired attorney who wrote the condominiums’ current declaration and bylaws.
“This document is basically our constitution and the board is like the Congress,” Brackman said. Smith later countered that the constitution “was up for interpretation.”
With a tan copy of the condominium’s constitution in his hand, Brackman accused the board “of connecting the dots to try to mislead” owners.
Prior the meeting, the board left copies of a handout containing selected portions of the condominiums’ declaration and bylaws that it believed enabled board members to remove Bierman.
One side contained information about the association’s conflict of interest policy. The other side contained information regarding the removal of board members.
It included Article XV, section 15.2, which read “any one or more of the board members may be removed with or without cause by a majority of the owners voting.” It also stated that the vote to remove a board member “shall take a majority of all unit owners at the meeting.”
Had the public vote occurred Monday night, it would have been based on the number of units represented (one vote per unit).
Back to Bierman
Bierman, 69, was removed as president of the Brentwood Forest Condominium Board of Managers by a resolution passed by eight members of the 10-person committee on Jan. 16.
Bierman worked as project manager during construction of the complex, and served as the condominimum's first president.
During Monday's meeting, Bierman was allowed to state his case after the board spoke.
Connor read a lengthy prepared statement. With a steady voice, she thanked Bierman for “releasing us from our silence” and allowing the truth to come out.
In her statement, Connor said the board removed Bierman “because we knew of circumstances where you received favored treatment and services under questionable circumstances. You sought to interfere with bidding procedures and influence established bidding practices. You also gave the appearance of interfering with management. You used your column in the ForestLine (the association’s newsletter) to campaign for a Brentwood alderman without acknowledging this.”
Connor also listed specific events that the board believed to be examples of Bierman violating its interest policy. Connor charged that Bierman used a:
- Condo manager to install a ceiling fan in his home.
- Brentwood Forest truck and two employees to remove items from a storage locker.
- Inside knowledge to attempt to influence the bidding process.
Bierman remained stonily silent, looked straightforward and occasionally took notes. A legal file, stuffed with papers, sat on the floor next to his chair.
When Connor, and then Smith, were done with their explanations of the board’s actions, Bierman stood up and spoke.
After contesting some of the information provided by the board—it was not printed in its entirety, he said—Bierman addressed the charges, imploring the owners to remember that there are at least two sides to a disagreement.
Bierman explained his use of a Brentwood Forest truck and two employees.
“I own a construction company—Town and Country Homes—that has been dormant for two years,” he said. During that time he gave away materials to charities, Bierman said.
Bierman said he wanted to donate about 20 items in his storage locker to the condo association, but he also wanted the employees to drop off one item, a tall ladder, to a friend in Webster Groves.
Bierman then discussed his purported influence on the bidding process.
He spoke pointedly about an incident involving erosion problems on the property that would require landscaping. The current landscape company wrote up a bid.
“The price seemed high,” Bierman said. “I invited a small contractor, someone who had been the landscape foreman here for 11 years, to bid. I erased the pricing from the sheet I gave him. He came back with a price that was considerably less. I presented it to the board, with the original bid and the competitive bid."
Bierman then went back to the current landscape company and suggested the bid was high, Bierman said. The upshot? The current landscape company reduced its price and got the job.
The last incident involving the installation of a ceiling fan in Bierman’s condo occurred in late 2010 or early 2011. Bierman admitted to wrong-doing, but said he didn't know it was wrong until later.
Rather than going through the association for the electrical work, he hired a manager to do it. Although the board stated that association office has yet to receive payment for work, Bierman said he paid the employee.
“Now, I hope this over,” he said, as he completed his rebuttal. “I hope we have some sort of show of how you feel, and I will abide by that, but I also hope, now that everyone knows what the opinions of both sides are, some period of reconciliation on all sides - so we can all work for a careful and orderly transition to future association operation and management."
But it wasn’t over and unit owners began to speak from their chairs. Others walked up to the microphone.
The initial response was controlled but escalated as emotions kicked in. While Brackman was speaking, and recalled that he swore he wouldn’t get involved in the politics of Brentwood Forest, a resident could stealthfully be overheard asking: “Then why did you?”
Nangle, the resident who spoke to Patch about the number of residents attending, also stood up to talk. Do you really want to do this to Brentwood Forest, she asked.
Nangle said that she thought the issue had divided the community, a theme repeated by others, unfairly or not. Nangle also said she heard about the incidents involving Bierman.
Brackman returned to his feet to ask how Nangle knew about Bierman's history, and accused the board of leaking information it said it would keep confidential. And that brought a noisy response from others in attendance.
That's when Toohey joined the fray. “The board didn’t raise these issues. Other residents approached the board,” he said. “Look at the chaos you are creating,” said Toohey indignantly, referring to Bierman.
The condominium complex, which dates back to the 1980s as apartments, now has 1,425 one or two-story units spread out over 110 acres bordering Highway 40 near Brentwood Boulevard.