Good neighbor Sam

Posted on Wed, 06/01/2022 - 12:30pm

By Ron Cohn

Sam Bullock has been a dynamo on the Malibu East Board of Directors since 2017, with a ready smile and relaxed manner that belie an unceasing flow of ideas and an unremitting drive for excellence.

His soft, Carolina-accented voice picks up volume and crackles with fervor as he recounts the Board’s accomplishments during his tenure and speaks of his personal goals for solidifying the building’s future and the welfare of its residents.

An owner for more than 15 years before deciding to run for the Board, Sam said, “I really had no interest in serving on the Board. Like many people, you just want to be able to come home, shut your door and let someone else take care of everything.”

Deciding to run for the Board

Asked what changed his mind, he recounted, “I guess it was when the Board decided (in January 2017) to replace the balcony railings as part of the façade project, and it was going to be an extra two million dollars. I became very vocal about that. We have good, U.S. steel – all it needed was to be sanded and repainted. I had to go on a campaign to individual Board members to make the case for keeping our current railings, and ultimately the Board reversed its decision. And saved the two million.

That was when my husband, Richard Westphal, said, ‘You have a lot to give. You’re retired now; why don’t you consider running (for the Board)?’

I do have big opinions, and a big mouth,” Sam laughed, “so I decided to give it a shot. I think before that, when I didn’t run, I felt I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t win. That might keep a lot of people from running. For a long time the same people kept on getting elected, and new people who put their name in the hat would lose.”

Sam says he thinks that term limits would be a good idea and would give more people an opportunity to serve on the Board, if there were enough owners who were really interested.

Sam was interested, he won a seat on the Board, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Small-town kid with big-city aspirations

Sam was born and raised in Reidsville, North Carolina, population then around 12,000, where, Sam said, “everybody pretty much knew everybody. This is what Malibu East feels like a little bit – if you don’t know who someone is, you pretty much know them by sight.”

Because it wasn’t that far from good-sized cities Greensboro, North Carolina, and Danville, Virginia, Sam said, Reidsville didn’t really feel like that small of a town. After working for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and also BCBS of South Carolina for eight years, he had traveled enough to know he was ready for the big-city job he was offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association in Chicago. He continued working within the “Blues” system for the next 17 years – until he opted to retire as a still-young man.

Asked what drew him to Chicago, Sam said, “I’d been to NYC, DC, LA and Atlanta prior to Chicago, so it wasn’t the big-city environment that captured my interest. It was the beauty and cleanliness of downtown Chicago that so impressed me on my first visit, that I knew it was something special. After several other business trips here, I knew I’d one day call Chicago home. A little over two years after that first visit, it became reality.”

Sam recalls his first impressions of Malibu East were from the lakeshore. “When I moved to Chicago, I was living downtown, in the Gold Coast, and I bought a bicycle. I would ride the bike path to the beach up here, and this building was always in my line of sight. It was right on the water and I thought, ‘How spectacular is that!’ At my office, I mentioned it to someone, and she said, ‘My friend lives there – I can take you and see her apartment.’

She brought me here on a late spring day and it was kind of warm, so there was that light fog on the water. I went out on the balcony and went to railing,” he laughingly remembered, “and immediately jumped back against the door. The height took some getting used to, but when you see the water from our balconies, it’s breathtaking, spectacular. If you could get everyone to see it, we’d have a lot more people wanting to live here.”

He moved to Malibu East in September 1999 and has lived here ever since, except for two years, 2005-07, when he returned to Blue Cross back in North Carolina.

Richard was my partner then,” he related, “and I had expected him to move to Raleigh-Durham. When he didn’t, I said I would come back up here but wouldn’t live in the suburbs, which was his choice. He said, OK, we should look at different buildings, and I said, ‘We can look at any building you want, as long as it’s Malibu East,’” he recalled, chuckling.

So began the chapter of his life that ultimately led to his dynamic presence on our Board and an important role in improving the lives of our residents.

A record of accomplishment

This is my third term,” he said, “and I don’t know if I will run for a fourth. I’ve accomplished pretty much all the things I wanted.”

Asked to discuss those things, Sam made it clear that there were many other Board members involved, but he essentially spearheaded the following endeavors and worked them to completion.

MALIBU EAST RULES: “At the top of the list would be the rewriting and simplification of the Rules. I always felt that our Rules were too restrictive,” he explained. “I imagine that over the years, new ones were added to deal with some issue or other and just evolved to a point of craziness. I led an ad hoc committee that went through the Rules, line by line, in an attempt to simplify them and create a more inclusive community, particularly with the pool rules, which many residents referred to as the ‘no-fun’ pool.”

RESERVE STUDY: “Another major job for me,” he continued, “was working with Building Reserves, a company that reviewed Malibu East from top to bottom to determine the remaining ‘life’ of all components of our building and when each one would need to be replaced or rehabbed. Once this was done, we worked together to develop a timeline of projects so that building components wouldn’t go beyond their lifespan. It gave us a good snapshot on the health of our building and our reserve fund. This became extremely important after the tragedy (12-story condo building collapse) in Florida,” he added.

COMMITTEE RESTRUCTURING: “When I joined the Board, MECA had 19 Board-level committees. In order to staff each one appropriately, every Board member had to participate on at least six committees. The time commitment was unbelievable,” he recounted, “and, in many cases, unnecessary. I co-led an ad hoc committee that designed a new structure that reduced the number of committees to six to handle most of the work of the previous 19, but in a much more efficient way.”

WINDJAMMER FURNITURE: “The furniture in the WJR had been there for 20-plus years and was stained and very much out of fashion when I got on the Board,” Sam said. “The first thing I pushed for was getting approval to spend a modest amount of money to get some new furniture to ‘dress up’ that room a bit. For just $7,000, we were able to buy all the new sofas, chairs, tables, buffets, lamps and accessories that are in there now. It made an immediate and dramatic change.”

DECLARATION AMENDMENT: Sam finished his list by saying he is currently leading an effort to determine whether the Board wants to recommend that some amendments be made to the Malibu East Declaration. “This is not something the Board can do unilaterally; it will require votes from all owners. We’ll want to put it out there and see how owners feel,” he concluded. Look for more on this in the coming months.

New responsibilities, new ideas

Last September, Sam took on the chairmanship of the newly formed Community Events and Recreation Committee. He said that it faced a high bar on the events side. The previous Social Committee, long chaired by Board member Sandy Chaet, had a stellar record of planning successful parties and events. “Nobody on the Board works harder than Sandy,” he said. “She does a lot for the building.”

The new committee has gotten off to a strong start with the fun of a Halloween happy hour, a “Friendsgiving” potluck dinner and a festive holiday party, all well attended and enjoyable. Their home run so far, to mix a metaphor, was the wild Kentucky Derby casino party, fully covered in this issue.

Riding the success of that event, Sam said the committee is working on plans for a pool party in June and a bingo night in July, as well as other events later in the year. His enthusiasm, as he relates the ideas being considered, is electric.

A good financial plan, rigorously followed, allowed Sam to retire early, well before his pension from 25 years working at Blue Cross kicks in.

I had planned to leave corporate America when I turned 50,” he said, “and I always intended to do something else at that point, after taking a year to figure it out. But I’ve just loved having my time to myself. I read two or three hours a day, and in the summer I spend a lot of time on the balcony,” he explained, not mentioning the generous portion of his “retirement” years he has devoted to tackling every tough job he could for the financial benefit and lifestyle enjoyment of his neighbors at Malibu East.

We are fortunate Sam Bullock is devoting his seemingly boundless energy to making our building a better place to live.