Q&A: Freedom of Information?

Q Recently our board gave us a financial statement that, in my opinion, simply didn't add up. A friend of mine went to the town and school district to get the proper numbers and we found out that we were “not” given the correct information by the board. We met with the board president, the treasurer and a few other members to review the situation and all seemed well. At the next full membership meeting, the board president fined the retired person, who had gotten the information $1,000 for going outside the co-op without permission. Is this legal? What can be done?

—Upset Shareholder

A “It appears that no reason exists for the board president to impose a $1,000 fine upon an individual for ‘going outside the co-op without permission,’ ” says Hackensack-based attorney Donald M. Onorato. “Based upon the letter writer’s inquiry, a friend obtained information relative to taxes imposed upon the cooperative included in the cooperative’s financial statement. It is inconceivable what type of rule the individual could have violated by obtaining information from the municipality in that “going outside the co-op” is not a reasonable or intelligible rule. Moreover, a shareholder does not require the “permission” of the board to obtain public information.

“While cooperatives possess the power to impose reasonable fines if authorized by the cooperative bylaws, it does not appear that a $1,000 fine is reasonable.

“Housing cooperatives are also required under the Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act to provide alternative dispute resolution in the event of a housing dispute. The letter writer’s friend should request alternative dispute resolution since this fine was not legally imposed nor is the amount of the fine reasonable under these circumstances.”

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