Is Your HOA Community Election Being Meddled With?
In the State of Florida, HOA Communities for residential homes are some of the least regulated sectors of the housing market. In most cases, it is up to the homeowners to fight their own battles, while the HOA board uses attorneys and community member funds to fight back against the individual homeowners at their own expense.
As it relates to homeownership rights in Florida, residential homeowners get the short end of the stick. In the Copper Ridge Community, some homeowners are working with the Treasurer of the board in order to gain transparency over elections and better access to community finances.
To this end, some of the homeowners had decided to run for the next available seats at the June 7th, 2022 election, only to learn that the rules of the election had been changed by some or all of the other 4 board members and recorded without proper procedures. Procedures such as notices to homeowners as stated in the Bylaws and the Articles of the HOA community where not taken. The threshold for meeting a quorum was 10% for many years, these unprecedented changes doubled that count to meet a quorum, and decreased homeownership rights from the community members, according to two statements by homeowners during the last election. Other homeowners also stated, “they have never met a 20% voting threshold.“
Readers can view the following link, section X. Amendments 1. Of the Copper Ridge Community by-Laws, where it states, “Upon proper notice, the By-Laws may be amended, altered or rescinded by a majority of those members of the board of directors present at any regular meeting…” This statement is also found in the Articles of the HOA. However, proper notice was not given to the community members. Which according to legal experts, those actions should nullify the new procedures of the last election, as the board members violated their own community rules.
This is not the first time specific board members have been accused of skirting the election rules by homeowners, even, potential allegations of illegal behavior as it relates to misuse of proxies during the 2021 election. This has been alleged by homeowners with copies of the 2021 election documents, which they acquired from FirstService Residential during a request. The People’s Olive Branch did review these documents and we were able to confirm inconsistencies in the use of proxies.
Additionally, the previous Regional Director, Rebecca Cioci LCAM, Mediator, had sent a thorough email to the Copper Ridge Community HOA board highlighting the improper way in which the election was held and that their professional advice was being ignored by the board. She stated, “Yes, our professional advice was ignored repeatedly at the meeting. We were advised to stand down in person and via email. Keep in mind this was a members meeting, and there were Statutory and DBPR requirements, such as noticing time frames, proxy forms, secret ballot etc. Hence why we clarified our professional advice was being ignored. So that was not to harm the board, but to protect the board and the members and to the clarify the actions that were being taken were not aligned with our recommendations and or Counsels.“
She also added her recommendations stating, “My recommendations would be to reorganize (hold a duly noticed organizational meeting) So we can all get on same page, and there is clarity whom to take direction from… I would also recommend switching to online voting simply voting or another HOA focused online voting. (to redo the election)“
Even more concerning to homeowners is when she stated, “I would like to also like to have a closed, HR meeting with the board. Vince took direction from board members to stand down...”
Rules for Thee, But Not for Me
During the January 18th 2022 HOA board meeting, the Treasurer of the HOA was handed a document around the first 10 minutes of the meeting. A document that was being brought up as a motion for a vote and one that the Treasurer mentioned in several meetings that she should have received ample time to review thoroughly but was not given that opportunity before the vote.
This particular document was a draft that that the President of the board emailed to the Treasurer of the board about 10 minutes after the start of the board meeting, according to video recording of the board meeting. Further allegations by homeowners imply that this draft was being used as a means to vote on changes to the rules of the election without giving the homeowners proper notice or even a final copy of the draft. The draft mentioned the adoption of Florida statute regulations in general context, which was inappropriately disguising the increase of the minimum required votes to meet an election quorum for the upcoming election in March 2022, which was stalled until early June 7th, 2022.
Prior to this record, the minimum vote was 10%, which was increased to 20%. This gives the sitting board members leverage as the usual vote count in the community is less than 20% of the members of the community. In our analysis, one can agree with homeowners that this reduces homeownership rights without going through the proper procedures as required in the Copper Ridge Community Bylaws & Articles.
During the months leading to the election, allegations of unprecedented changes were being made behind the homeowner’s back. New rules were being created for those homeowners that wanted to take up a seat in the board, but current board members did not have to abide by the same rules.
In one case, a rule was added which states, “I also certify that I have not been convicted of any felony in the United States and have not been convicted of any offense in any other jurisdiction that would be considered a felony in this state.” Link to Notice of Intent to Run.
While many can consider this a meaningful addition to the rules and consistent with Florida Statutes, this had already been violated by a board member currently sitting on the HOA. As public records in the Commonwealth of Virginia show, at least one sitting board member known in public records, had a prior felony for drug possession.
Furthermore, as public Sunbiz filing records shows in their Annual Reporting, this individual has been on the board since 2008, which confirms that actions were taken that violated Florida 720 Statutes, which states that “A person who has been convicted of any felony in this state or in a United States District or Territorial Court, or has been convicted of any offense in another jurisdiction which would be considered a felony if committed in this state, may not seek election to the board and is not eligible for board membership unless such felon’s civil rights have been restored for at least 5 years as of the date on which such person seeks election to the board.”
The board member did take up a seat in the HOA board since 2008, which was in violation of Florida statutes, since the board member’s civil rights had yet to be restored. This was all happening under the watchful eye of the property management company, FirstService Residential, formerly known as The Continental Group.
How much responsibility does the property management company have over proper oversight, due diligence and background checks of board members that take a seat during their contractual term?
What is the DBPR doing about such issues? More on this story and the DBPR in a later report.
From the President’s Desk
During the election, the Treasurer of the board made the homeowners aware that the bylaws had been amended without their prior notice as required. Many of the homeowners were upset & showed discontent towards the other 4 board directors for changing the rules to the election prior to the election date. These changes were recorded on the month of March, 2022 when the initial date of the election was alleged to be scheduled. However, according to statements, it was previously rescheduled to June 7th.
Did this happen with the board and their attorney’s knowledge that time was required to provide constructive (recorded) notice of the amendment changes? Was the election date changed in order to give these amendments time to be recorded?
On the week of the 19th of May, 2022, one of the homeowners of the community with assistance from the Treasurer of the board and other members of the community, walked door to door in order to establish a town hall for the members of the community for Thursday May 19th. Their intent was to discuss concerns over the HOA board members and questionable financial records, according to the small piece of paper posted on homeowner’s doors. This town hall meeting came just a day before homeowners were supposed to receive election documents from the community’s property management company FirstService Residential.
Whether on defense or not, you can be the judge, a letter was sent to the homeowners titled “From the President’s Desk” signed by the President of the board Tim Furr. This letter, labelled as the HOA’s 4 page manifesto by some homeowners, seems to put up a defense against the homeowners working to establish a town hall meeting. The letter labels the homeowners and members of the community as “solicitors” and infers that “staging… self-proclaimed townhalls” is somehow inappropriate.
However, in our search of Section 720 of the Florida Statute and according to our legal counsel sources in HOA association matters, Section 720 does not prohibit homeowners from establishing a town hall to discuss issues outside of board meeting agenda items.
What would be the reason to create misinformation and cast a cloud over the homeowner’s town hall meeting?
Petition for Arbitration
In the President’s letter, he also states that, “…in today’s day and age, there is a proper civil, congenial, true place for this, and it is not the public square. Instead, it is contained in the statutes the Florida Legislature provides, the mediation procedures the Florida Statutes provide, and if there are real issues, it lies in our community’s rules and bylaws which are legally required to be followed, and if not followed, fully enforceable by our Florida Courts against any association, director, officer, or homeowner.”
However, when the homeowners felt cheated by the board members, when the bylaws were amended without proper notice to members of the community. The homeowners decided to file a petition for arbitration with the DBPR, which is Florida’s administrative body that overseas HOA election related issues.
In response to this request for petition for arbitration, the other 4 board members with assistance from the HOA attorney [Frazier & Bowles] filed a civil court action against the homeowner’s and the Treasurer’s request for a petition for arbitration. In the civil court action complaint the board stated, “Pertinent to this case, is the January 18, 2022, noticed open meeting of the Board of Directors, when the Copper Ridge Board of Directors, including at that time Telisha Catchings, reviewed and unanimously approved amendments to the Copper Ridge Bylaws, which included revisions to the election processes… Utilization of secret written ballots to process votes, with a requirement that twenty (20%) percent of eligible votes to be cast in order to have a valid election.”
However, homeowner’s argued that these drafted amendments were exactly just that, a draft that did not state a 10% increase in membership votes during an election in order to meet a quorum. Instead, the homeowners were reasonably upset that, whether by mistake or design, it was inappropriately disguised in the adoption of language stated in the 720 statutes.
Unfortunately, with a civil court action being filed on both sides of the issue, the homeowners at Copper Ridge Community are left holding the bag of expenses. While it is not known how much cost is exactly going into this process, one thing we do know is that the HOA board’s legal counsel was paid $23,735.21 for the month of June 2022 alone. One would think that the HOA board members would want to avoid costly expenses and take the option that the homeowners took when filing for a petition for arbitration. However, in their complaint filed on July 8, 2022 it states that the board “respectfully requests the Court grant the following relief:… Enjoin the Defendants from filing of an arbitration petition based upon the subject matter set forth in the Defendants’ Notice.” Which would leave only one other solution, the civil court route.
Are Your HOA Board Members Trying to Skirt the Rules, Process and the Law in Your Community?
On another public filing on Hover.Hillsclerk.com, a complaint was filed against the HOA Board of the Copper Ridge Community by two members of the community, one of which is the Treasurer of the HOA Board. Where it highlights that the election monitor during the June 7th 2022 election instructed that “the Magistrate Judge has to hold an arbitration to see if the threshold will be 92 or 184,” as it was alleged to be illegally recorded.
According to public filing, the Vice President of the board Mr. Goeckner wrote an email the very next day after the election on June 8th, 2022 stating, “To dispel any questions in regard to the status of the Board, I will let Nathan issue the final but it’s like this; Current members of the Board remain members of the Board without Officers Duties. At our Organizational meeting we will vote for Officers. Shall we have a short Zoom tomorrow for the Organizational Meet?”
In response, the Director of the HOA, Mr. Hirtzel stated, “Good Morning. Not sure a zoom meeting would work at this point in time due to the disparity among Board members. That said I would say the Board is frozen until a decision is made by a magistrate to determine if the election was done legally and within the rules stated prior to the announcement or is to be overturned. Nathan should choose an impartial magistrate. Nothing can be done until this is determined. It should be done as soon as soon as possible.”
However, according to homeowner statements and recording from the most recent meetings, it does looks as if business is back to normal for the board members, which is consistent with the following response the Vice President of the board sent.
According to filing, Mr. Goeckner replied with the following, “As of right NOW, the State Rep has certified the Election. It’s up to THEM to challenge it if they don’t like the results. As this is a meeting amongst Board only, and there is Board business to conduct- the business of the Association continues. That’s my take.”
Meeting recordings show the election monitor representative stating what the public filing states, that the Magistrate has to decide on the matter. Based to this understanding, the statements made by the Vice President to the rest of the board was clearly false. However, since the HOA board decided to sue the homeowners over a petition for arbitration, the matter now goes to the civil courts and the cost will pile up for the community members.
This investigative report is a developing story, some of the Copper Ridge Community homeowners have filed a civil court action complaint over financial transparency and a forensic audit. Similarly, the HOA board has filed a civil court action to stop homeowners from disputing the actions taken prior to the last election on June 7th 2022 when the by-laws were amended without any notice to the homeowners in order to increase the threshold for meeting an election quorum.
From the Managing Editor’s Desk: If you live in an HOA community managed by FirstService Residential or any other Property Management Company and find questionable records, behavior, etc. and need assistance, call our investigative team to look into this further.
Updated for corrections, typos and 1 added link for documents on 9/20/2022