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Boards feel the heat


BY KATHY BEVAN
 
Controversy swirls at Canada’s two largest real estate boards, with members of both boards voicing a lack of confidence in their executive and demanding better accountability from board directors and staff.
 
In Toronto, the immediate past-president of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) has been removed from his position as a director and had his board membership revoked, following revelations of expense account over expenditures, police investigations and infighting on TREB’s board of directors that has spilled over into the local media. TREB was also without an executive officer for several months, and at least two other senior staff members recently departed.
 
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing TREB is in its ongoing efforts to create a new MLS technology system in partnership with the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV).  TREB has delayed its launch of the new system, which had been planned for September, and has not yet confirmed a new launch date. 
The TV-MLS initiative has raised concerns among members of the Toronto and Vancouver boards about the lack of communication about the costs involved and a detailed business plan.
In Vancouver, a petition asking for more membership involvement with any decisions regarding new MLS directions, as well as more open accountability for board expenditures, has garnered 500 signatures.
 
Organizer Lynn Leslie, a Realtor with Realty World Showcase in Port Moody, needed just 200 more signatures by the end of August for an extraordinary meeting of REBGV’s members to be called to vote on the petition’s nine resolutions.
 
 “Some of these motions involve things which we want to see enacted as bylaws, rather than as regulations at the discretion of the directors,” says Leslie.  “We want more disclosure of what funds are being spent on, and we want more say in what happens to our MLS data.” 
If Leslie’s petition wins the support of 10 per cent or more of REBGV’s voting members – 700 or more signatures – she says a general meeting would have to be called within 21 days of its submission to the board.
 
“Our board has to be accountable to us, and to remember that we, as members, are the board,” says Leslie. “Sometimes I think board staff forgets that we pay their wages, and we are the people they should be paying attention to.”
 
At TREB, splits have also arisen regarding the board’s involvement with MLS.ca, the Canadian Real Estate Association's national consumer-access multiple listings website. 
 
TREB originally voted last spring to fully participate in MLS.ca, rather than just linking to the site, and then reversed that decision shortly thereafter.  The board was to review the possibility of a stronger role in MLS.ca as well as participation in the intranet RealtorLink site, at a mid-August meeting in Montreal.  These two issues are part of the Four Point Accord that Michel Beausejour, the executive director of the Real Estate Board of Greater Montreal, has been promoting to members of organized real estate across the country. 
 

Palander ousted

 
TREB’s board of directors voted to rescind immediate past-president Bill Palander’s membership privileges, effective August 1, after Palander refused the board’s request to repay an estimated $80,000 in expense account over expenditures. 
 
Palander was the subject of an expense account audit conducted by the accounting firm  PriceWaterhouseCoopers last fall.  The audit showed that Palander had some $60,000 in unsupported expenses, and that his total expenditures of over $260,000 were more than double the amount incurred by recent TREB presidents. 
 
PriceWaterhouseCoopers reported its findings to TREB's board of directors late last year, and the directors have been struggling with the implications since then.
 
The board's decision to handle the matter internally has not been supported by all of the directors, some of whom continued to push for external action.  After a review of the expense account audit by the Ontario Provincial Police found no basis for criminal charges, several directors asked the Toronto police fraud squad to conduct its own investigation. 
 
Adding to TREB's troubles is the fact that the country's largest real estate board operated for several months without an executive officer, after abruptly parting ways with Steve van Houten last spring, apparently over a difference of opinion as to the board's future direction.  Some 60 applications were reviewed by a task force, and in mid-August, TREB announced that (Liz, there’s a name to go here this is just to fill space la de daw).
 
While there was no executive officer in place, TREB president Marilyn Baubie and president-elect David Pearce were overseeing the board's operations, and the two have not always agreed upon how the board’s business should be conducted. 
 
The most open schisms appeared amidst the Palander controversy.  While Baubie was privately stressing the need for an internal resolution to the matter, Pearce was talking openly to the local news media about the need for a police investigation.
 
At a membership meeting in early August, a non-confidence motion from the floor was passed, reprimanding Pearce for some of his actions, including his public comments.
 
While this motion was not expected to affect Pearce’s move into the presidency in December, a similar motion in Calgary three years ago led to the removal of then president-elect Shelley Williams from the executive of the Calgary Real Estate Board.  Williams is in the midst of suing the board, claiming $500,000 in damages to the reputation of her independent real estate firm and $300,000 for personal damages.

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